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I'm not a big believer in minimizing college debt. I'm a believer in minimizing college.

People who grow up in wealthy families naturally find themselves on a college track that seamlessly routes them to elite schools when they're 18 years old.

People who grow up in poverty aren't on that track and might not even have much agency (due to their circumstances, requirements to work young, entanglements with the law) until they're in their 20s.

The fastest growing stable white collar jobs all require a 4-year degree. Even if college were free, people of reduced means wouldn't have equal access to it, because taking 4 years off the workforce isn't an option for most people. Meanwhile: a 4-year degree has actually not much value in predicting one's ability to perform as e.g. an HR director.

So what I'm suggesting is the startup that finds a way to turn smart, enterprising 24 year olds working in retail jobs into HR directors, credibly enough that they'll be competitive with Russian Lit majors.

(I'm not picking on Russian Lit; it's just, that's the undergrad degree my sister got at UChicago before becoming a lawyer, so it's the first one that pops into my head).




College in Poland is free and there are options for very limited stipends which can sustain you (albeit on a poverty level). That did lift me from a poor, but educated, family into the world of computer software and a relatively successful career it seems. As it did for countless of my peers.

Please don't discount free education as "not changing much", in the US I would be probably working at Mc Donalds or dealing crack and in jail.


I'm not opposed to free education. I'm certain free education is better than $150k education. But gating stable employment on 4-year degrees is problematic for reasons other than tuition costs, and, equally important to this thread, startups probably can't make college free, but they might be able to replace college for a pretty big set of white collar jobs.


I think colleges should educate people and not only train them for a job. This is only really viable with free education and much harder to do with the alternatives which are discussed right now.


Sure, but training them for an economically viable life is certainly higher priority than a so-called well-rounded education.


Probably yes but I feel that general education is, especially in this community, a little undervalued. Democracy fundamentally depends on its population being educated and in more ways than just STEM. Better socioeconomic decisions are made if more voters are educated in areas other than programming (figuratively) and this is only achievable if this type of education is a viable path for young people, for example through tuition-free universities


We should better fund community colleges, and make pursuing a technical degree free. That is the degree whose goal is a job.

For a BA, MA, etc, the goal shouldn't be a job, but the pursuit of knowledge. Part of that is the value in knowledge itself, but it also gives you a broader skill set that can be applied to many kinds of jobs, where a technical degree is much more specialized.


Employers who require trained workers should bear the responsibility for training them (and control the process of doing so).

On the other hand the public has an interest in liberally educated neighbors and voters.


I would argue against that.


I agree, otherwise the proles might become too uppity.


Thank you so much for teaching me the term "proles."


Haha, it's so useful. :)


> I'm certain free education is better than $150k education.

Is this really the case? Sure for identical education free is better than non-free, but I know even in software development if you're applying for jobs in the US and your degree is from Poland there are places that won't interview you, let alone hire you.


In Argentina, the University of Buenos Aires is free and I know plenty of people who went from there to Google. They got better scores than Harvard in ACM last year. So yeah, free education can be as good in quality as paid education, at least in some cases.


sorry, misunderstood you, apologies.


Largely - It's not an education problem. It's a jobs, discrimination, and "qualification creep" problem.


Not to nitpick, but in my experience growing up in the Midwest of the US most "poor, but educated, families" like mine pushed children into state schools where they pay in-state tuition and graduate with $10-40k in debt. Most careers are open to them and you would almost definitely not be working at McDs or in jail.


So ok, we're comparing realities that might not be comparable. I also didn't have as bad as others, but in my case something like "in-state tuition" was essentially unthinkable as well as any sort of debt. If you have nothing, first it's unlikely someone would borrow you the money and second it's a terrifying prospect and a lot of money.

The US poverty line is about 15k for a two-person family. That would mean that earning that much would make 1-3 years of family income in debt.


> If you have nothing, first it's unlikely someone would borrow you the money

In the case of education this is not the case; the federal government provides (or backstops) the loans.


Not only that, but the degree to which you have nothing directly affects the amount of aid (loans) they are willing to provide.

I have a twin sister whom was better at saving than I. When it came time to apply for FAFSA loans, she had $2k in the bank and I didn't. She qualified for exactly $2k less in loans than I did.


Absolutely. In the book "Ahead of the Curve" the author describes his MBA classmates at HBS emptying their bank accounts by buying BMWs so that they qualify for more student aid. I've also seen medical doctors in private practice leave for a public health or VA job when their children are nearing college so that they can qualify for more aid, then return to private practice after the children finish college. When the system is set up to charge a high sticker price and then discount based on an "ability to pay" formula, people will do everything in their power to adjust their finances to appear unable to pay.


The lesson there is that those whom are irresponsible get further ahead (by having the irresponsibility discharged).

This is what always irked me about how the bailouts were handled. They should have been controlled government regulated destructors that would tear off and re-attach resources that were viable to other companies and leave the investors with none of their investment.


I think the issue here is a lack of awareness about the options available. This is true across many social programs.


For many people who have nothing and earn little, being free of debt is an absolute core value, far beyond the mere numberical delta. To people who perceive zero debt as a central measure of personal achievement and self-valuation ("at least I am not in debt"), going deep into the negative for some quasi-entrepreneurial investment that may or may not pay off feels extremely wrong.

People on HN may ridicule them for being stuck in an optimization for a terribly low local maximum, but the danger of feeling "rich" on a fat loan is real: "if it's ok to burn through a decade worth of low wages to get to where I can easily pay it pack, what difference does it make if I burn through a few years more?" Valuing debtlessness is the established safeguard against that and going deep to exit high would be perceived as close to amoral by their peers.


There are problems with free Uni in Poland

- people studying for 10 years just to extend the childhood. (government pay 15k a year to the uni)

- some Unis accept people just to get money off of the government (accepted 500, graduate 100)

- lack of quality due to poor funding

Uni should not be free, but cheap. (50% of yearly median salary)


If people have the means to support themselves while studying for 10 years, why not let them study for 10 years? They are certainly not receiving a scholarship for these 10 years.


In Spain the first time you take a subject the University is almost free. The second time (if you fail) you have to pay 40% of the price and the 3rd+ times you pay 100%.

Note: in Spain it is expected to fail some subjects in Engineering


@mietek I have no problem if they pay for everything. Tax payers are paying 100%.


That last sentence is almost assuredly a massive hyperbole. The US is not that bad...


The idea that many poor adults work at McDonald's is assuredly not hyperbole.


Largest non-violent per capita prison population in the world? Not that much hyperbole.


Maybe the trick is to view college not as a service you must buy, but as a service you must perform. An educated populace is a productive one. Maybe we should pay people a living wage to go to college. I can think of far worse ways to spend taxpayer money.


I have a theory that making education free and universally accessible, meaning anyone who is willing to put in the time can get a bachelor's degree in any major they want, would remove the majority of the signaling effect that a 4 year degree has. There would still be some signaling from holders of elite college degrees, but I argue that it is a separate problem.

I do agree with you in principle about the HR director thing. College is treated too much like a white collar vocational school.


Coming from a place with free university education I don't think that is right. More accessible university education, more people get university education, this raises the bar in all fields.

HR still prefers somebody who went through the trouble of getting the paper as it signals putting the effort in.

Now many jobs that previosly didn't need university education have such applicants and it becomes more mandatory to get one in order to compete. And why would you not, it is free after all.

In the end more people get higher education. it won't necessary help you getting a better job but I think it is good for society anyway.

For many others this "useless over education" is one of the reasons to introduce fees to schools. To make vocational studies worth more again and force people to think education more like an investment.


The signaling from a college degree comes directly and only from the fact that getting that degree is difficult. If you make getting the degree easier, you reduce the efficacy of the signal (assuming all the relevant people are aware of the change in difficulty). Of course, employers could start looking at other things, like grades or other academic achievements, to use as new signals.


Yes that's true. I meant making education more accesible in terms of making it free not making it less difficult. It becomes cheaper for people to give it a shot and more people end up graduating. It's true that this devalues the achievement and nobody really can hire you just because you graduated. On the other hand in a society where most of your peers have (devalued) university education you won't even get to job interview without one.


Making it free does make it less difficult, and thus weakens the signal. Many (probably most) college students go through financial hardship or at least financial inconvenience during college.


One concern is that, especially during the transition, job descriptions requiring "4-year college degree" would become a de-facto (and legal) means of discriminating by class or social status, assuming that the rich would overwhelmingly continue to send their kids to college.


My concern is that they already are that.


They almost certainly have already become that.


<People who grow up in poverty aren't on that track and might not even have much agency (due to their circumstances, requirements to work young, entanglements with the law)>

Why do you equate poverty with inevitable entanglements with the law?

In my experience, those of us who had to work (formally employed) young are less likely to have entanglements with the law, as one natural result of spending time working is having less idle time in which to get into trouble.


It would be helpful if white-collar employers were more willing to hiring eighteen-year-olds. Many of my twenty-something (and older) peers at $Megacorp actually started this way, with some earning a bachelor's degree part-time.




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