Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Stigma of Choosing Trade School over College (theatlantic.com)
180 points by pseudolus 15 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 245 comments

One thing that is always missing from these articles is the idea that it’s actually good for individuals (and for our society) to get an expansive view of human knowledge rather than a narrow training to turn you into a worker on a production line (or at a computer).

Of course right now that’s a path that’s not accessible to many people, and people may have other financial reasons for going to trade schools, but I think those are the issues we should fix. That is, make our society one where to be financially stable you don’t have to choose between a narrow training and an opportunity to explore the accumulated knowledge of the humanities and sciences.

Except that's what high school should be. And let's face it, general studies courses that make up that "expansive view" of college really are repeats of high school with slightly more work, at least if you take honors classes in high school. And if that expansive knowledge is being surrounded by peers who are in pursuit of higher learning...that's not the typical college experience these days.

High school is becoming more dumbed down so that people can pass state exams and graduate rather than teaching the knowledge that we used to consider foundational. We've lowered expectations and extended adolescence so much that we no longer expect 18 year olds to be mature and capable adults, which shouldn't be the case.

Your view of trade schools is severely skewed though, and is really indicative of the problem discussed in the article. Most trade schools do not turn you into a worker on a production line, they teach you to be a skilled worker or artisan in a trade. You don't go to a trade school to be an assembly line worker, those are jobs that are taught on the job and are typically low paying. You go to a trade school to be an electrician, mechanic, carpenter, welder, etc. These are skilled jobs that are difficult and challenging. They are also jobs that have a greatly accelerated pay scale, and often lead to jobs that pay as high or higher than the large majority of college degrees (maybe STEM excluded), particularly if you are able to start your own business in the trade.

This was exactly my problem with College and why I didn't succeed there.

I came from a really good high school that offered a breadth of knowledge across fields. When I went to college (granted in 1998) to become a "web designer" the curriculum and training was just not there. My first year was taking variations of the same math courses, the same english courses and a couple comp sci courses (teaching Java). It was heartbreaking. Anything design related involved drawing classes.

I dropped out mostly because I was too disheartened by what college was and didn't end up going to class. I was instead hacking in my dorm room on HTML, CSS and Photoshop. When I dropped out it led to immense guilt in relation to my family, who very lovingly had done everything they could to set me up to succeed. It was only a year later when I had a surprisingly decent pay check to show my parents that they didn't consider me unmotivated.

College isn't for everyone. It's especially not good if you know what you want to do and have mastered some manner of self-learning. For those of us that figure that stuff early, it's much better to just jump into the work and figure it out. In those ways I somewhat value a good high school as more important to college. It was there that I learned to learn and could explore my interests in a well-rounded curriculum.

I'm conflicted about how I'll deal with the scenario when my own kids grow up. I married a teacher, and speaking for myself I do very much value liberal arts educations. I just think a lot of those introductions need to be provided in High School, with secondary education focused more towards whatever your career is. If you don't know what that career is yet, I think potentially waiting a couple years to go to secondary education (be it college or trade school) till you know is a better bet.

My big takeaway is there isn't some magic formula for this. Everyone is different and we shouldn't pressure certain paths.

I don’t know about your school, but most of the useful classes generally occur later on. So, dropping out after a year means you missed out on the most useful parts.

It might seem wasteful, but gateway classes are what allow upper level courses to assume basic competency and move much faster. I had a computer architecture class where one assignment was to write a fairly simple program in x86 ASM and the handholding was a recommended book to get you started.

That said, a lot of collages had real issues teaching computers in the 90’s. Competent staff was hard to retain and enrollment was skyrocketing. So many schools tried to shuffle students into other departments.

> Competent staff was hard to retain and enrollment was skyrocketing.

And, from my experience being part of that skyrocketing enrollment, quite a lot of them wanted to learn to "make stuff" and were complaining well into their third and fourth years that they weren't learning how to "do anything" in their computer science classes, since it was mostly theory.

The thing is, they were teaching theory because that's the harder stuff to pick up on your own. Want to learn a specific language? Just do it. It's not that hard, and there are online resources and plenty of books. Want to learn how to make some particular thing? harder, but also mostly doable from self study. But what would spur someone to learn theory of computation topics, or how to do algorithm complexity and runtime assessment? That's the sort of stuff that really benefits from a knowledgeable instructor, and only a small percentage of self-taught people will likely stumble into learning. Computer science is a science, and that's what they teach in school. It also makes you a better programmer, but it pays off in small ways over many years through more intricate knowledge, instead of front-loading all the gains into making you passable right now. That the better solution for some people, but not all.

> Want to learn a specific language? Just do it. It's not that hard, and there are online resources and plenty of books.

This is why I always find myself skeptical of boot camp type programs. So many of them seem focused on specific tools: node plus react! rails plus angular! etc. On the other hand getting a top down view of things is also useful. But I think this is what I enjoyed about my college program; there was time for both. Bottom up theory can seem pointless and unmotivated, and top down practicum can be hard to extend and generalize. The combination is powerful.

I have been able to stumble into it by tracing down jargon and reading textbooks.

Parent evidently came from a college preparatory school. Since most high schools don’t actually prepare students for college, freshman and sometimes sophomore year are remedial education for those unfortunates. Anyone who attended a prep school is going to be bored out of their skull by that crap. As far as I can tell the solution is to allow opting out of the remedial classes, but they are a profit center so good luck. APs help a bit, but not nearly enough.

That’s what AP classes are for in the US. Well prepared students end up skipping most of their first year classes. Though some schools are very picky https://oue.fas.harvard.edu/apexams

How am I supposed to know that the classes will get better? Why should I spend my very valuable time in classes that don't challenge me in the way I want?

Be proactive.

You can look up the required courses for your major/minor to get a listing, then look up corse descriptions in a course catalog, and even look up the books associated with each class.

If that’s to hard talk to seniors with the major you’re considering to get an idea what’s ahead. I even sat through an upper level class in high school to see if I wanted to get an engendering or CS degree.

Counterpoint, being exposed to other people's ideas within your discipline of choice is important. You learn a lot faster when you're plugged into a network of brains that are all generally oriented in the same direction. College isn't the only place to find a good network of brains to plug into for your field, but it is convenient, and the barrier to entry (rapidly less so) is relatively low.

> , but it is convenient, and the barrier to entry (rapidly less so) is relatively low.

Quite the opposite. The barrier to entry of being required to spend 10s of thousands of dollars per year is extremely high and has only been increasing over the last 2 decades.

Perhaps college would have been the best option for getting a "well rounded education" at it's price point a couple decades ago, when it was 1/4th the cost.

But at current prices? I strongly doubt it is the most cost effective way of acquiring that service.

What do you mean? Collage and University is free. You only have to pay for study material and rent! And the Government provide you with free studygrants and loans at an affordable rate and payback plan.

I am not sure what country you are from (or if you are being sarcastic?), but it is definitely not America.

If you have to go 100K into debt, this is a huge barrier to entry. It means that only rich people, or those who are willing to shackle themselves into debt, can afford to go to college.

It's the norm in Europe. I was taking a jab at you guys implicit understanding that university cost a lot, it doesn't in half of the western world.

I was in a similar situation then went back to college and finished up later after I already had the job in software development I was hoping to get from college in the first place. I probably have a very non-typical experience, though I did try college straight out of high school and dropped. Now of course I'm going for a master's for a career switch, and am much more motivated...but that's unrelated.

I think there's a lot of value in learning to work. And you can have ambition and grow yourself with or without college. For my kids, I'd be perfectly happy if they want to go to a trade school or to do something entirely different (like being a stay at home mom, or serving overseas for the peace corp, or whatever). What matters more to me is that they approach life from a perspective of learning and growing, that they have ambitions, and that they are kind and loving people.

Many people learn to do that from college, and that's great for them. For me, I really wanted to learn, but in the end was for a piece of paper. Like many hyped things in life, it seems overrated. Still good...but if you're the type that is already constantly learning, growing, reading, and self motivated, college doesn't offer a lot that you can't get outside of it.

Can high schoolers still test out of college intro courses with high AP test scores? I came into college with a semester’s worth of credits via AP tests and started in some 102 classes.

My college also offered two flavors of popular intro courses... like there was Intro to Biology for people who wanted a taste of it, and a different Intro to Biology for people who intended to major in biology.

I'd argue that expansive view should be coming way, way earlier than high school.

How about before you beat the curiosity and sense of wonder out of 5-8 year olds with times tables, memorizing the dates presidents were born, and repeating the word "prepositional phrase" a thousand times - that would be a good time to start.

My kindergartener's at one of the best public elementary schools in our city. Great middle and high school in her future, too, assuming their quality holds out. Brand new building, too, first year in use.

They give them (the kindergarteners) twenty minutes of recess. Indoor recess, if the weather's bad, is often (part of) a movie. This is all day kindergarten, mind you, none of that half-day stuff.

Since school's largely in the Winter when the sun's up late and down early, and they're getting outside only about 20min a day, best guess is these kids are gonna have a lot of "ADHD" misdiagnoses and they're all gonna be badly nearsighted due to insufficient exposure to sunlight. The low-recess crap is incredibly unhealthy, in ways that will permanently harm many of these kids. Plus, you know, the whole obesity epidemic thing.

The school food's terrible, too. I think they've just done the same thing a lot of parents do and gone for whatever hyper-palatable crap they know the kids will eat (hungry or not) to reduce complaints (from parents—"my Sally just won't eat vegetables! She's going to starve!").

[EDIT] point being yes, schools' priorities—even the "good" ones—are totally messed up starting the very first year they have the kids.

Public education is fundamentally broken in this regard (except for the times tables, IMO much more time should be spent on math in-school vs homework).

History in the elementary school level seems near useless, aside from building reading comprehension skills.

I'd much rather see kids doing things in class that benefit from the use of multiplication, along with exposure to how to do it and arguments for using it, than to just lecture them on repeatedly writing 2x2=4 2x3=6 2x4=8 over and over for weeks.

I'm pretty sure in my own first grade experience that was the point where half the class started drifting towards the "I hate math" camp of now-adults.

Isn't this roughly the idea behind Montessori method?


Also, math education in general has a huge problem around teaching solutions without teaching the problem. (Hence the pervasive question of what will I ever need this for...) I will always know what a limit does, because my precalculus teacher taught it by finding the area under a curve using rectangles. We started with large rectangles, were shown the error. Cut the rectangles in half, hey error goes down. Make them really really small, error goes down even more! What happens if we make them zero? Oops, equation explodes because zero-width rectangles also have zero area... The function is discontinuous at zero. So let's learn limits to work around discontinuous points of a function!

Should parents have no responsibility in this regard?

It isn’t the elementary school’s child.

They should but assuming it will "just work" is foolish.

If society wants universal capability instead of depending on parent ability and inclination (rather scattershot) the answer is yes they do have a responsibility.

Sure. But on a school day my kid spends around 7 hours at school. And only 3 awake hours with me. And in those 3 hours we also have to fit in breakfast, dinner, chores, and getting them ready for school. So maybe 1 hour of actual time where we can do something.

There are also weekends of course. But ultimately kids spend about as much time in school as they do with a (working) parent.

Flat out, you can't leave it to parents. For example, drivers have total responsibility for their vehicles, yet cars still have all sorts of safety measures that wouldn't be necessary if drivers simply drove perfectly and never crashed. It's an acknowledgement of human failure.

Parenting is the same. Not everyone is good at it, and it's in the best interests of society to raise kids to be as productive as possible even if (and especially when) their parents don't do a good job.

Public education has been a huge net positive for society over the last few hundred years. It used to be that most people couldn't even read; such people in the modern information economy would just be total drags on public resources. Better to have the state educate everyone as much as possible to ensure a talented, capable, intelligent workforce and society.

1. Kids also learn through play and downtime and simply going with the adult to do things.

2. Too much schooling is detrimental to learning.

3. Most parents aren't trained in teaching. If we expect a parent to teach a child formal stuff, perhaps we should train the parents on how to do these things.

There is no accountability for a failure to raise a child well, so no, parents have no responsibility.

It is of course a conversation one could have on if parents should be held responsible.

Schools are the only force in childhood held even remotely accountable for the success of those children entering adulthood. Which is kind of where the desolation of inner city schools come from - the schools are punished for bad parenting, but have no real capacity (especially once punished via funding cuts) to do anything about it.

Should we expect anything from parents, really?

An absurd percentage of people can't properly learn the simple task of driving even after taking classes and passing a state exam. How do you imagine these people to perform in the task of raising a human being, from an objective perspective? The answer is they suck. Terribly.

The person you replied to also doesn't mention that just because you attend a trade school doesn't mean you can't acquire an expansive world view on your own, again more stigma that is indicated in the article.

Why wouldn't a linesman, electrician or carpenter be able to self educate? We live in the day and age of the internet, the largest store of human knowledge ever to exist is a few clicks and an inquisitive mind away.

I understand that college exposes you to things you might not have otherwise been exposed to, and provides teachers and mentors to facilitate the learning of that material. But if you attend college with the end goal of getting a degree to cash in for a paycheck like so many college age people do and you're not motivated to actually learn the material you're exposed to in any meaningful way and that information isn't retained then what's the point? Certainly that's not all college kids but I'd argue the vast majority are only there because they believe it to be a ticket to the middle class.

I'm a self-taught software engineer who never finished college, so the trade school stigma hits home. I certainly strive to be as educated and productive as possible in my life and career - and so far that path hasn't held me back at all. I'm employed, highly paid and fairly happy, I just chose not to receive that education in the confines of the classroom

College provides TIME with no or minimal responsibilities beyond your learning. That time for self improvement is the valuable resource that doesn't really exist for most people outside of college.

Not because college is wonderful, but more because you cant get unsecured loans to sit at home and read.

(Also, pet peeve: these conversations often compare highly motivated and indepenhdent people who take the no college route to slackers who attend college.

I never see anyone pointing out the fact that highly motivated and independent people who do opt for college often do much better than they could've without the degree. Often in tippy top status/comp finance, medicine, and tech poaitions.

College doesn't make sense for everyone, but IMO it paradoxically makes the most sense for people who don't need it to enter technical fields like SWE. Because those are the ones who will end up on fast tracks after graduating that would be difficult to get on without the degree)

> College provides TIME with no or minimal responsibilities beyond your learning

This is only true for situations where you live on campus, and your parents give you an allowance for anything not included in tuition. Many, many students have to work while going to school.

Classes + part-time work can easily add up to the same amount of time one spends on a full time job.

Even in that case you're still spending 20 hours a week on classes. I dont know about you, but I couldn't sustain 40 working hours + 20 working hours for 4 ywars.

Also, there's a qualitative difference between a job and a part time gig. my part time jobs in early college were trivial and required no mental, no emotional effort, and no outside of work skills development. My part time jobs in late college were mostly tutoring, which was doubly good becayse I reviewed material and also I could do less of it because it paid well.

In any case, at the very least the combo of part time and no mental/emotional/professional devlopment effort makes a huge difference. At least IME.

College only provides TIME if you're part of a privileged class of people who:

- Had parents who instilled strong academic achievement at an early age.

- are between the ages of 18 and 22 with no family to take care of, no serious medical conditions, and really no major financial obligations.

- are interested enough and have the mental aptitude to study a major that can justify sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

- are sound enough to make it through a sometimes very rough and volatile period of young adulthood and stay focused enough to actually learn the material.

College is a privilege, historically that's what college was, only recently did college become a ticket to the middle class in the minds of most people. I really think that attitude needs to change. In all honesty, I make more than enough money now to go back and finish my degree and I'd probably get a lot more out of college a second time around - because I'd be there to learn, not to try to get the biggest paycheck. The incentives for college these days are all wrong. We need more young people spending their earlier years learning how to actually provide concrete value for the market, once they earn the money, then they can go and get that foundational and expansive education - most of which will certainly better you as a person but you'll never actually use in any concrete way in your day to day life.

> College provides TIME with no or minimal responsibilities beyond your learning. That time for self improvement is the valuable resource that doesn't really exist for most people outside of college.

Sure. But don't you think that there could hypothetically be better ways of doing this, without spending 10s of thousands of dollars per year?

Maybe there is a better "not a college" - college type experience that is more effective at achieving these started goals, for less money.

Not really anything that scales, although that may just be a lack of imagination. College could be cheaper, though. It is in most countries. Not just at point of purchase but also in the absolute number of dollars spent sense as well

I guess that the approach may matter a lot...I worked and paid cash for college (and still am with my graduate degree), so my time has never really been flexible while I'm taking classes.

If I had time now to learn and do whatever I wanted, it'd probably be a huge time of growth with or without college. I guess that combination of taking courses of what you're interested in, and then also being able to study as a hobby, could be really useful.

What I most keenly miss from college, and think self-education lacks, is the peer group.

In college I could sit with a group of 5, 10, or more people who have the background and interest to discuss a wide variety of topics at a high level, from world history to Shakespeare to calculus.

Online isn’t the same, and finding such a peer group outside school is much harder.

* We've lowered expectations and extended adolescence so much that we no longer expect 18 year olds to be mature and capable adults, which shouldn't be the case.*

I'm not even sure this is the case. We (Americans) don't allow an 18 year old to have any sort of alcohol without potentially ruining their adult lives. We didn't let folks vote until 21, but there was an issue with drafts and things. My mother remembers being excited that she was going to vote at 18 instead of 21 - my mother is almost 60. It wasn't that long ago that we didn't allow women to get loans without a spouse, brother, or father signing for it. Women were never really proper adults.

American parents can still be pretty decisive on a college student's ability to go to college simply by refusing to release tax returns to the student. I'm not even sure folks can go to school without them. They certainly won't get loans.

A young person's life is just barely their own at 18, and they don't have full rights of adulthood.

Neotony has been an absolutely integral aspect of homo sapiens’ evolution. We’re fine.

> general studies courses that make up that "expansive view" of college really are repeats of high school with slightly more work

My humanities courses in college were bona fide mind-expanding. The problem is many colleges run their programs more like trade schools, with zero emphasis on balance between the arts and sciences.

I wish mine were more so. It probably does depend a lot on the school.

I took Junior and senior level history classes to satisfy my social science elective requirements. I found them very interesting and enlightening.

I tutored a few people who took the sophomore level "world history" classes that most kids took to satisfy the requirements. Those sounded like little more than brutal rote memorization exercises.

For example, the journeyman was historically required to travel and broaden their skills to advance to master. Even today, breadth of experience remains an expectation for journeymen.

College has the time to add a lot more nuance. People graduate high school with relatively basic understanding of communication, history and economics - and those basic understandings aren’t enough to expose you to the nuances of the world. I’ve always felt like high school gives you just enough to have a very simple worldview, and college starts you on a path to realize that everything is more complicated than you thought.

It probably depends a lot on your high school and teachers. I had a unique high school experience in that I went to public school for two years and private school for two. The private school did a much better job of teaching those nuances, and challenged me 10x more than public school ever did. That probably says as much about the public school as the private school though, which just helps to support my point that we could be doing better.

I went to a way different private school where most of the sciences were a conspiracy against god and the church. Not all are equal (and most of the “school choice” debate is around govt money to pay for the science is the devil schools)

You can’t learn in high school what you can learn in college for two simple reasons: 1) there’s not enough time to learn it all, and 2) even if there was, the human brain does not work the same at 14 years old that it does at 18 years old.

And you don’t get an expansive view of human knowledge in “general studies courses,” you get it by taking a broad array of specialized courses. Again: takes time.

Trade schools are great for learning a trade but there is a lot more to life than a trade. There’s more to a society than who has a higher salary.

I think this is a valid point, but...

The way the tertiary education "system" works is built on a premise that is contradictory to that.

Within a generation or two we went from a university system that was intended to educate and socialize (for lack of a better term) wealthy people to a university system that educates regular people.

The premise for this was/is "human capital." That is the idea that wealth isn't just wealth. Your ability to do earn income with your skills is wealth too. In that framework, education is a capital investment.. something that pays for itself.

A lot of efforts went into making these capital investments. Students spend years. Parents save for decades. Charities contribute scholarships. Governments fund universities. ..and of course, (moreso in the US) debt pays for a lot of it.

The human capital theories suggested that education is such a great investment though, that it's worth it.

It turned out though, that colleges aren't really creating the income differences observed between graduates an non graduates. A lot of what they do is just admit people who will be high income earners. The ambitious, talented, studious, academically inclined... and the wealthy.

Anyway.. The problem is that the investment is big. We (society, students, parents) can't afford for it to have a poor return, and retroactivley rebrand it as something else..

Intellectual enrichment is a very worthy pursuit, if you can afford it. That's what universities were originally for. Most people just can't afford it, on balance.

”A lot of what they do is just admit people who will be high income earners.”

Aka Bryan Caplan’s signalling theory of education:


I don't think that was the point GP was making there.

I believe that they were trying to say that the people who go to college are more likely to be successful than those who don't, regardless of if they actually go to college or not.

It's hard to tell the difference in results when it could be systematic underpayment of value to the labor of the college educated - something that all labor save a few lucky sectors have been experiencing for decades now.

I tend to agree with the commentators on your post. I went the college route, but technically had a "trade school" experience first via the military - it gave me the befit of trying out a career field before I committed to a degree. I have family members who just went to trade school and comfortably clear 6 figures a year - they never even had a desire for college.

We need to stop stigmatizing trade schools and start realizing that college IS NOT a necessity for everyone, especially with recent debt loads people are taking on for worthless degrees (e.g. a top university near me recently removed all the math courses from an IT/cyber degree because students "were not enrolling in high enough numbers" - that would NEVER happen 20 or so years ago). "An expansive view of human knowledge" is not needed for someone who just wants to work as an electrician - which many people are perfectly happy doing. If they are happy with a trade, why force them into something they will be miserable in?

Even now, as an employer in a technical field, college degrees are virtually meaningless because most institutions utterly fail to equip their students for the workforce. We hire based on a combination of experience, personality, and certifications. Only if your degree is in a designated engineering field do we give it any weight at all but, even then, experience is still paramount.

"An expansive view of human knowledge" is not what the modern undergraduate degree provides anyway. For a huge number of undergrads, college is high school part 2, just something they need to get through to get a good job. They are not there to expand their minds, and to the extent it happens, it's a side-effect and pretty minimal for most.

I say that as someone with an undergrad degree from a major state university, and even 30 years ago when I was there it was like that. I don't think my mind was opened to anything really new at university. I learned about what I was interested in (computer science) but I had that interest going in. I did not discover anything new or mind-expanding outside of that.

I would agree, to the extent that Undergraduate studies don't automatically "expand your mind", but provide plenty of opportunity to do so. I finished my undergrad degree in an Engineering field that I chose based on interests and aptitudes, but I also minored in Economics, mostly due to a professor I had for Econ 101. I know, Econ 101 is pretty useless in real life, but it was a stepping stone and walked me through the thought process of the various economists of the times.

My mind definitely expanded when it came to my discipline as well, and I chose to explore other research areas primarily because of opportunities which college gave me.

> I did not discover anything new or mind-expanding outside of that.

Which electives did you choose? Personally took several that have nothing to do with my current job that I still find interesting.

> college degrees are virtually meaningless

…but essential in their gate-keeping aspect for coveted positions.

People going into college don't even get an expansive view of how debt works, and that's what they end college with the most of.

I don't think that view is missing, I think people do not value college like they claim they do if that premise (getting an expansive view of human knowledge) is the goal. Of course that's a great goal, but its also something that should have been happening all the way to adulthood (16-18 years of age), not something that happens in between the keggers and the classes you don't skip.

If you could make that the median college experience, or college graduation contingent upon it, that would be nice. We cannot even make high school graduation in the USA contingent on being able to read.

> We cannot even make high school graduation in the USA contingent on being able to read.

In what states?

Just doing a quick search online, came across this article which suggests 19% of high school graduates are functionally illiterate.


That article does not do a good job of backing up its claims. The CNN article it references makes much weaker claim. The NALS report specifically states

> While the literacy levels on each scale can be used to explore the range of literacy demands, these data do not reveal the types of literacy demands that are associated with particular contexts in this pluralistic society. That is, they do not enable us to say what specific level of prose, document, or quantitative skill is required to obtain, hold, or advance in a particular occupation, to manage a household, or to obtain legal or community services, for example. Nevertheless, the relationships among performance on the three scales and various social or economic indicators can provide valuable insights, and that is the goal of this report.

So, contrary to the article's claim, the report does not define anyone as being "functionality illiterate".

Furthermore, "functionality illiterate" is not the same as "can't read". It's a weaker standard. It's still a major problem, but that is not an excuse to conflate the two and make claims that high schools can't require graduates to know how to read at all.

I agree that it wasn't the most scholarly article.

As an alternate, I just finished a week ago this book by the former Secretary of Education that talked about how poorly a lot of the schools in America prepare students for success in the world, and how often they have lowered their standards rather than working to teach kids better.

He told a story at the beginning about how when he was in college he was going to tutor a star basketball player for a rough school in Chicago. He said the kid came from one of the rare for the area homes where both parents were present and working. He had a stable family life in an area where most kids didn't. His parents were doing their best to set their kids up for success.

Anyway, the first thing the author did as part of tutoring was to give the kid some placement exams to see what he needed work on for getting into college. This was a kid who made the honor roll and was a junior in high school. The guy had a 4th grade reading level. The school system had been promoting these kids every year to the next grade even though they weren't learning anywhere near what they should be.

So it may not be 20%, and it probably isn't in any of the better schools that people hanging around HackerNews are likely to have come from, but there are some really rough schools in America where kids are getting terrible educations.


My wife is a teacher. You'd be surprised. Kids are pushed along to the next grade for valid and silly reasons alike. Sometimes it's a function of an unstable home life, but no one likes to admit that some people just aren't that bright. She spends countless hours tutoring her underperforming students and some... just don't get it.

Pushed along, sure. To graduate, though, I had to pass a written test. The kids you describe who went to school with me just dropped out without a diploma at some point.

I'm a successful college dropout, and I completely disagree. One of the strongest motivators for me leaving school after 1 year was the realization that virtually all of my classes gave me no more benefit than if I had just purchased the textbook and read it myself. As for every other classroom benefit, there are brilliant mentors all over the internet I can discuss what i'm learning with whenever I choose, without having to pay tuition.

A large component of a university education is not so much what you learn at university, but the doors it can open for you later. In general (with some exceptions of course) it is unlikely you would be using very much of your university knowledge after a few years in your job in any case.

You can have a very successful career without a college / university education, it is just easier to do the same with such an education.

It is almost impossible to get certain jobs at all without a university education. For example, try getting into a major investment bank in any kind of well paid position without a good university education or serious work experience - it is just not going to happen.

This is not a comment about trade schools - it should be a completely valid and respected career path, I am just saying that one should try getting a university degree if at all possible and makes sense for your type of career.

The "need that piece of paper" thing is sad but true. I do think it is changing, as I notice more and more IT job postings asking for X degree or equivalent experience nowadays.

Despite advice to the contrary the first step in the hiring funnel for coveted dev positions is to throw out applications w/o a four year degree. Ask me how I know. A bit different than IT, but related.

> Ask me how I know.

How do you know?

When applying for coveted positions in my city, I’m immediately disqualified despite twenty years experience in what they seek. Has been going on for years.

I'm generally happy to see the "or equivalent experience" as someone who squeaked through HS. I picked up programming in my late teens while doing design work and just kind of naturally fell into it. My first 5-7 years working in the field were particularly difficult as more than half the jobs didn't have that as part of the statement, and the HR types typically wouldn't even let you past the gate.

Amazons current job postings (at least at pillpack) advertise the need for a degree or 3 YEARS of experience for every 1 year a degree takes. So 12 years experience = 1 degree.

I’d agree with this. Sadly, the vast majority of the value that I got out of 4 year university was the piece of paper that said I graduated. The software development skills that I needed in my day to day job I had already learned by myself as a teenager. The advanced math and computer science classes were interesting but I can’t say I’ve used any of it after the exam. My career is no better due to my knowing what an eigenvector is. And the humanities fluff/filler they made you take to graduate was an irrelevant waste of time and money. I just needed that damn diploma. It is a signal to employers that says “this person has passed at least one standard hurdle and is qualified for a shot st the middle class,” but that’s about it. As OP points out, many career-training skills can be self-learned, especially nowadays, so I’m not sure why you’d go besides for the diploma.

If this is true, it does not bode well for universities.

> One of the strongest motivators for me leaving school after 1 year was the realization that virtually all of my classes gave me no more benefit than if I had just purchased the textbook and read it myself.

And did you? Have you read and mastered all the textbooks necessary to allow you to pass the necessary exams to get a degree or to get a solid score on the GRE for your academic specialization? If not, that realization, even if it's true for you and others, isn't particularly useful.

Most people can't or won't do the level of self-study needed.

Similar situation and yes I have done that and far beyond. I even work in a field where it is just assumed I have a degree and people are always extremely shocked when I mention that I do not.

I am under the impression it is not possible to CLEP computer science classes or in any way get recognition for this. Is that correct?

Edit: specify CLEP for computer science

You can take the GRE for CS without being a student, as proof of your knowledge. I have heard of very rare cases where people have been admitted to a professional master's program (different from the regular master's program in that it's meant for working professionals) without having a degree.

The Computer Science GRE was discontinued a few years ago.

Good question. Are there any accredited graduate programs or professional programs that will accept students without undergrad degrees but with good GRE scores?

No undergrad at all? That would be fairly rare.

Non CS undergrad? Lots of universities have programs or tracks for CS masters from a non-CS background.

I have seen a few universities set up accelerated professional CS BA/BS in the past five years or so.

A more common path that I have seen from self thought developers that "needed the degree" has been doing a reputable local or online BA/BS part-time.

edit: grammar & formating

A college degree is attestation that you DID learn the curriculum being taught, not attestation that you obtained the materials necessary to learn the curriculum.

A single anecdotal example is not convincing. in general, the data shows collage dropouts do worse on a wide range of metrics such as employment and wages than grads. Even if you can learn the material, having the diploma means more job opportunities.

I wasn't attempting to, nor am I comfortable with suggesting that others can find my same level of success without a college degree. I'm in the 98th percentile of earners for my age. And that's just my salary in the mid level software engineering job. Obviously there's some luck or privilege or whatever in there.

I was mostly arguing against the idea that college is more beneficial than other options for gaining an "expansive world view". I really don't find it necessary at all in the 21st century if that's your goal.

If it's respected in your career path, and you have the means to attend, by all means get a degree.

Well it's also that you don't know what you don't know. The University programs are made by smart people with a good learning and a wealth of experiences and they design courses that goes all the way to the state of the art.

To say that you do that on your own is hubris.

> Of course right now that’s a path that’s not accessible to many people...

Not trying to be too argumentative here, but if the implication you're making is that university is the best way "to get an expansive view of human knowledge", I disagree. You are correct that it is not "accessible" to many people, but an expansive view of human knowledge is, IMO, more accessible than ever in history.

An internet connection costs a lot less than university. The biggest problem with this is: how does a person figure out what to self-learn? To me it might be obvious to just start going through math problems and reading 'the classics', but I guess a person could just as easily start learning conspiracy theories or celebrity trivia.

You make an excellent point. The best part of University that I felt during my undergraduate years was curation of content. The university library is an excellent source of good books in your target domain. The university courses and faculty also help you keep focus. Another main advantage of University is access to a diverse group of peers with somewhat similar knowledge levels.

Unfortunately, many universities are also missing this point (or feel that the market forces them to miss it). My alma mater, though in the process of renaming itself from a "college" to a "university", recently gutted many humanities departments (music, theater, history). Their official line was that those departments didn't have enough majors to justify their staffing levels; but (IMHO) they've failed to acknowledge the enrichment—even in recruiting!—offered by those departments to the entire college community. I sang in choir with people that were majoring in business, engineering, CS, etc., as well as music majors. Those people were clearly enriched by the (now gutted) music department, even if they didn't appear on lists of official music majors. This is a school that proudly proclaims itself to have a liberal arts philosophy, BTW.

I'm not convinced it's good for society to have adults entering it with $100,000 in student debt for a domain that any motivated individual can learn via-self study (books, MOOCS, wikipedia). Especially those that don't lead to lucrative career prospects...

As someone who both writes fiction and programs, I'd really like for some system that would support non-lucrative careers. Many famous authors recieved initial success when they were supported by others; how many more brilliant works is the world without?

Programming works similarly, I found. We'll never know how many open source projects never saw the light due to time needed to develop them, or how truly amazing currently well-regarded open source projects could've been.

These are skills that take more than self-study. They take time- time to build the skills and connections and knowledge-base. Time to explore and fail and innovate. Authors increasingly make commercially successful debut works in their late 30s and 40s because it takes that much time to develop as a writer. I find the trajectory of software development to be similar.

The main thing missing from the article is intentional conflation of inherently opposing situations.

True, a union apprentice electrician's classwork is not all that wide. However, I may be one of the only people here on HN who took my first 64 credits and an associates degree at a local tech school (for about $50/credit, admittedly quite a few years ago) and I received credit for 48 of them at the institution where I later got my BSCS. I assure you I had to sit thru the same intro to sociology, psych, public speaking, physics, and calculus classes as any other freshman. The main difference was trade school students tend to be older and more serious and pay more attention in class. The quality of lab equipment in degree granting fields (EE) was similar in trade school and uni. The quality of equipment in non-degree labs (physics) was vastly inferior, yet good enough.

Neither of my experiences have anything to do with "semester long coding bootcamps" and similar training mentioned in the article.

True, that university education is all pretty much the same; however, "everything that is not going to college" has quite a bit of diversity.

Speaking of diversity, there is zero permitted diversity of thought or political opinion in university today; they are single political party indoctrination centers. Surely almost any other post-high school experience would better prepare students for the diverse real world.

So you would say your average 22 year old college grad has "an expansive view of human knowledge"? I realize this sounds like it should be a strawman, but it is not! That follows directly from your supposition that 'college is good because it provides an expansive view of human knowledge.' If this is at all true then your average grad should have something at least vaguely resembling an expansive view of human knowledge.

I think university can nicely compliment individuals' own personal strengths and attributes, but I do not think a university can turn a lump of coal into a diamond no matter how hard it may press. To take for instance Harvard, I think Harvard graduates are Harvard graduates long before graduating from Harvard - in some cases before they're even admitted.

Abraham Lincoln as an extreme example had less than a year of formal schooling, giving up on formal education to help to take care of his family. Far from being an ignorant redneck, as would be the typical caricature of a person with no education running around in on rural land with overalls with a axe, he loved reading and taught himself an immense amount about the world and society. And this is in an era when access to information was exponentially more difficult and expensive to come by. Today it's easier than ever. In a different time he'd be another Harvard grad with people wowed at the caliber of individuals they continually manage to produce. No, it's the caliber of individuals that they manage to attract.

I'm in complete agreeance with this. I notice a difference in behaviour of "working class" vs "white collar" cultures but this difference isn't due to university, it's due to different cultures as adults. In my 20's I'd rarely meet someone intellectual through my professional circles, everyone that age simply wanted to go do drugs at music festivals, talk about the boring reality TV, etc. I know/knew people in academia, however, and this was the one area of my life where people largely had intellectual interests.

What if there were humanities bootcamps?

That probably sounds like a joke...but why should a traditional expensive university be the only structured way to get exposure to broader human knowledge?

An intensive bootcamp model doesn’t actually make sense for breadth (they are designed for the opposite)...but if you told me I could be part of a structured organization in my city where I’d be introduced to interesting broad humanities topics through lectures from experts and assignments over several months then I’d be interested.

But would you be 5 months off of work and $15,000 interested?

If the answer is 'no', we have to ask why people are "4 years off work, 100k+ interested"?

There is a value to history, the arts, humanities. But that value isn't always well captured by our current society.

Optimization systems (like our economy) optimize for what I'd easy to measure, and ignore what's hard. A lot of those fields accrue value to the commons, which is value which is hard to measure, as a result their dollar reward is often lower than the value they produce.

There isn't an easy solution - and often when faced with hard problems the answer taken is fall back to the tools were used to using to measure.

How on Earth does it cost $450,000 to teach humanities to a class of thirty adult students for five months?

I was just taking the costs from most tech boot camps.

So it would appear the Bryan Caplan thesis is consensus among the sample of HN readers that comment, and that honestly makes me pretty happy because I'm fairly sure it's correct. Still, it's always good to examine things from both sides:

A lot of what the 'costly signaling' genre of comments miss is that a costly signal is very valuable. In the old school system where literally anyone could act as legal representation, it can be difficult to figure out who's trustworthy council. The professionalization of legal representation took away the public's ability to practice law, but it also better enabled them to consistently get competent legal counsel. Is that tradeoff worth it? Plausible.

I feel like a lot of the rankling around licensing and professionalization is because the costs of it are rarely taken into account so we let the commons suffer. The truth is that you can only strictly license and professionalize so many occupations. In a society with limited growth and a need for everyone to be employed being sufficiently risk averse means that economic freedom is stunted. That more than anything else seems to be what people are feeling as they reel from massive college debts and 'hustlers mindset'. Licensing costs are probably nonlinear, your nth license restriction costs more than the last did.

To the extent that college is 'sink or swim' it probably has a conditioning effect. I absolutely hate myself for what I tolerated to get my degree, but I'd be lying if I said the spiritual damage doesn't translate into a burnout who knows how to kill themselves going at stuff they hate. That's a very positive effect from an employability standpoint. Multiple times what I thought would be my psychological breaking point just turned out to be another ratchet on the road to scholastic moksha. It's only when you've learned to hate yourself so thoroughly that you can tolerate anything, that you're ready to handle the level of difficulty and nihilism the modern workplace is likely to present you with. Of course that perspective is closer in spirit to Mussolini than Mill, so you can't exactly advertise it in your universities brochure.

It's very possible if we don't do that somehow, you just can't quite produce the sort of highly disciplined person you need to make society work.

I’m not spending thousands of dollars to put my children through school for the “good of humanity”. I’m spending that money so they can get a job and put food on their table.

I also told them that I would not support them getting a degree that wouldn’t be marketable. No they can’t get a degree in Ancient Chinese Art History.

it’s actually good for individuals (and for our society) to get an expansive view of human knowledge rather than a narrow training to turn you into a worker on a production line (or at a computer).

That's true, but have you taught college at a non-elite school lately? Have you talked to most college graduates? The Case Against Education covers these topics effectively. https://quillette.com/2018/06/03/bryan-caplans-case-educatio...

The article linked mentions that the benefit of education increases nonlinearly with years completed, and then suggests that it’s a signalling mechanism for attainment.

I don’t entirely know if I agree with that, as I do think an undergraduate degree’s benefits are meant to be more impactful as you learn and specialize. Political Science students might learn general theories before engaging a specific focus, or electrical engineering students might spend their first year or two getting the foundations in place. I feel like the example is saying that if you taught someone programming with variables and not functions, but then claimed that employers use an understanding of functions as a social signal for hiring.

That said, I do agree with the sentiment that we kind of over prescribe higher education to the general public. I’ve lost count of how many CS majors I’ve met that seem to have wished they did a trade school for programming instead of a four-year degree.

That's assuming a college education gives you "an expansive view of human knowledge." I think that assumption should be questioned. I for one know there were a lot of pointless courses in college. I've learned more by being widely read than I ever learned through college courses.

Prove it. I have heard it said over and over again and get accepted at face value. Fact is companies need mostly low-level drones that do one thing well. They don't value much outside of that. Maybe for your personal gratification you might want an expansive view... but that's on you. Society, corporations, even the government cares little about these things. Maybe a more expansive education might make you have an open mind and that can be politically good so you are not supporting things like anti-vax or xenophobia... but there are studies that show that this is not the case: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ565304.pdf

In fact exposing people to too broad set of ideas may lead to nihilism and a constrained education may be better for mental health.

I don't know. I've been programming for 15 years now, and if I had to do it again, I would drop from school at 16 years old.

I'm not saying it's the only right way to do it. But given my profile and my history, I would have saved years of wasted hours, frustration and money without loosing much.

To me, the one thing we need to improve is to accept that school was a great improvement over what we had, but we now can sometime choose paths that are an improvement over school.

At what point in time has the world as a whole been more educated than we are now? It seems to me that we've made great strides toward this goal, but the reality is that A) not everyone is cut out for it, and B) until we live in a Star Trek like utopia, life will never allow the majority of people to spend years studying e.g. philosophy in lieu of supporting themselves, their dependents, and contributing material value to society.

> rather than a narrow training to turn you into a worker on a production line (or at a computer). Skilled trades can be done anywhere in the world. You are not tied to a production line.

I have seen all the options being discussed here. I joined the Army and lived abroad for years in Europe. When I came home I joined a union with a 4-year apprentice plan. It was only 4 weeks of school a year with the rest being learning on the job.

At night, I went to college with GI bill. After I finished a 2-year degree I started traveling to work. We built and refinished some amazing hotels and residential buildings. Visiting and living in major cities on the east and west coast.

I can use my "trade skill" anywhere in the world. I would suggest any young kid learn a trade. Someone has to build that high-tower so the smarts can look down on us. From their cubical.

This is often dragged out whenever "liberal education" is justified. It's overrated. My friends who went to college are not $50-$200k more expansively educated than those who didn't.

Also, libraries, cheap Kindle books, YouTube, and other internet resources are freely/cheaply available.

Those who want to learn will do so and can for the price of a tablet or less. This reminds me of the scene in Good Will Hunting where the Harvard student is brought down for his overpriced education that could be gotten for a few bucks in late fees at the library.

Yes, but on the other hand, some people just don't like school, and would rather get out and do something practical.

This isn't an easy problem to solve, the UK introduced grammar and comprehensives post war, unified the 2 as secondary moderns, and is now introducing university technical colleges. But at least for the UK, this is all tied up with class. Lower classes did things with their hands. I don't think that association is as strong as it was though. Coal mines and low tech industry have been replaced by high tech manufacturing.

There's a long history behind education, types of it, and the reasons, rationales, and interests behind these. One of the better synopses of these I've found is Wes Cecil's "Myths of the Modern American Mind: Education" (61 minutes, audio only):


He traces the history back to Babylonia and scribal training, Plato's Academy, Aristotle's Lyceum, medieval education, scholaticism and the rise of the Seven Liberal Arts with their Trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and Quadrivium (Maths, Geometry, Music (or harmony) and Astronomy), the emergence of the modern physical and social sciences, and the Prussian Educational System which is the foundation of contemporary Western education.


Throughout virtually all of this there's been a sharp division between intellectual and technical education. The liberal arts were distinguished from the technical arts, also called Artes Mechanicae (mechanical arts), servile arts, or vulgar arts, originally: tailoring and weaving, agriculture, architecture and masonry, warfare and hunting, trade, cooking, and blacksmithing and metalurgy.


Since 1800 or so, the distinctions have largely been between pure skills, including trade, vocational, and technical skills (including STEM), professional training (law, medicine, military, religion, and general administration), and humanities or liberal arts. The relative prestige of these has shifted fairly markedly over this period, as well as the increased specialisation within academic curricula and programmes, with the University of Virginia offering eight fields of study in 1825, and Johns Hopkins University using the term "major" for the first time in 1877. The emergence of technical schools, such as M.I.T. (1861) with specialised courses of study helped drive this transformation.

Cecil's treatment is on the light side, but engaging.

I would argue with the internet we have access to an expansive view to broaden our horizons, and the paid training can go toward developing skills for income. With Youtube, Wikipedia, and Google Scholar I think I've learned more than I ever could have at college.

I think parent is saying that it would be good for trade schools to include basic coursework in things like history and civics, and some arts and literature, similar to General Education requirements in a university.

Getting an expansive view of human knowledge is not done by the universities quite the contrary. Furthermore the expansive view isn't really interesting if you don't know how to apply it to something.

I agree about the expansive view of human knowledge. However there is more than one path to that knowledge...

How “good” is that expansive view of human knowledge? Is it worth $100k? Is it for everyone?

"opportunity to explore the accumulated knowledge of the humanities and sciences". What does this mean? We should be spending vast sums or human time and capital to make sure a sufficiently high percentage of the population needs knows how to shotgun beer and argue about Descartes?

A few decades ago I graduated with a BFA and Business minor from a small liberal arts school and then went to a six month 'boot camp' for COBOL a few years later.

I L O V E the fact that I was fortunate enough to do both. I feel that my liberal arts background makes my life so much richer.

One of my sons graduated from BC with a Computer Science degree. I think the combo platter of CS degree from an excellent liberal arts school is best of both worlds. If you can do it, do it!

As a tradesperson myself, I completely reject the idea that the trades place limits on people.

In my opinion, getting an expansive view of human knowledge has almost nothing to do with where and what you formally study. Indeed, as you progress through higher learning institutions a person tends to learn more and more about less and less.

If a person is curious and motivated they'll have more luck getting an expansive view that those who are not.

It may very well be that motivated curious people attend higher learning institutions more, but those people will obtain their expansive view in spite of their formal education, not because of it. Generally speaking.

If students are coming out of 12 years of general education needing more general education, that is a failure of the public school system. We should fix that instead of pushing people into more school. After 12 years of general education, how do you justify more?

In my opinion, we should be pushing specialized education at a younger age. When students exit high school, they should have skills that they can expand or fallback on. They can then use that fallback as a safety net to explore other options without extreme risk or debt.

> After 12 years of general education, how do you justify more?

A lot of the concepts you explore in university arts classes are things that a 12 year old just won't understand. Exploring subjects in a deep and meaningful way isn't possible until you've got your full adult toolkit of emotions and experience.

> In my opinion, we should be pushing specialized education at a younger age. When students exit high school, they should have skills that they can expand or fallback on. They can then use that fallback as a safety net to explore other options without extreme risk or debt.

How would you see that training going? I went to a rural school that had a graduating class of ~100, and there was little to no funding for extra courses - my choices of vocational training was comprised of "mechanics" or "woodworking".

12 years of school, not 12 years of age. In the US, a student would be 17 or 18 after their full 12 years.

I understand this - I didn't assume that the student would start at age zero. If we're going into vocational training in their teen years, they'll have to starting teaching the classics and philosophy to tweens.

Oh. I see what you mean, although I’m not convinced that 12-year-olds couldn’t handle these topics, at least at a slower pace.

I went to a school where they did try to introduce these subjects to us from a young age. I'm talking the age of 10 onward and it really was pointless.

Of course you can teach things about Roman Legions, or Athenian ships etc, but if you want to debate and discuss the ideas and foundations of these civilizations (and any philosophy) I honestly think you are fighting an uphill battle until at least 17-18.

Your mind is just not developed enough to handle the kind of ambiguitiy and complexity needed to analyse and judge these ideas. Many people never even reach this ability during university and just parrot ideas that are told to them.

There is a reason teaching children to adhere to a religion from a young age is so controversial in some circles.

It can be useful to learn things early and able to revisit them later with a fuller understanding.

Maybe, but if we can't have "Diary of Anne Frank" in class, I wonder how people would feel about the renaissance art viewings.

I think you may be surprised how much more ready they are for those than STEM details at that age.

There are two purposes to modern high schools in the US:

* College prep for the college-bound

* Day-care for the non-college-bound

In contemporary high schools, if you're not college-bound, you might as well not exist. You will be ignored by teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors (unless you are a troublemaker).

I was not college bound and was not ignored. Has this changed now or are you generalizing?

You could devote your whole life to the pursuit of knowledge and still not have a good understanding of the world.

That is how I'd justify the fact that 12 years of access to education is not enough.

By "access", do you mean "forced"? There is no limit to the access of free education today as continuing education after forced public school.

I completely agree that people should continue their education throughout their entire lives. However, I do not think it should be forced, and I don't think that people who pursue a different style of education should be looked down upon. Especially when the standard and accepted system has so many flaws.

Your brain isn't developed (it keeps developing till at least 30) to the point that you are capable of acquiring that expansive world view during those first 12 years. There is a reason we don't trust teenage drivers, and part of college is that transition from being a teenager to being an adult. In high school you are still only seeing people from your neighborhood but people go far away for college where they meet people who are totally not like them.

(Yes, people mature at different rates and some can acquire some of that world view in High School.)

I agree. It's a known fact that guys don't develop fully until well into their late 20's, early 30's. For example: I took accounting and finance courses in college and I hated them. I did not understand accounting concepts and felt stupid while others seemed to grasp them. Fast forward, I am now in my early 30's and the same concepts now make sense. I actually enjoy looking at finance topics (not so much accounting, but I understand a lot more of it now). I've often questioned the timeline on education and why we try to learn the most important topics in our early 20's when half of us cannot comprehend them entirely until late 20's. Sure, there are always those who do get the information and advance quickly, then go on to achieve great things, but what percentage of the whole population does this?

The problem is not the school system but rather too much education and commodification of education. 100 years ago , knowing how to read and write and do basic math was special and made one employable, but now such skills are so commonplace, so more advanced education is needed to differentiate one's self

Back then, high school graduation had an exam and a higher standard that most folks could do now. Can you amortize a loan? Close a ledger? Calculate return on an investment from a series of data points? Most can't today, regardless of college education.

So, real education still has value.

Back then, most people finished school at grade 8.

Those who went to High School were smart and motivated to further their education. So curricula could be correspondingly more challenging/faster-paced.

I'm 44yo now... my great grandmother was a school teacher starting in the 1930s, and her 5th grade books for English alone was far more difficult than anything I had through H.S.

What kind of book, grammar, literature? What made it so difficult?

"5th Grade English" a lot of the content itself was centered around proper use of grammar. In practice, these days, it feels like nobody really cares.

It doesn't help that most prescriptivist poppycock is flat-out wrong, either.

reading and math and education in general aren't meaningless values in zero sum games, they enable the creation of wealth. The purpose of attainment of education and skills is not to differentiate yourself, it is to enable you to do things that you were unable to do before.

> After 12 years of general education, how do you justify more?

You cheat yourself by treating it as an overpriced trade school but delude yourself into thinking its something more grand. The average college graduate in the US has a 9th grade reading level at best and many cannot follow simple instructions.

You can start with the hiring process by differentiating between skills and education. I would hope the people that are hired to a given job are competent in their skills but instead people are often hired according to the candidates available in the marketplace. When in doubt you can at least discriminate against some of the unqualified candidates by education level.

The crazy thing is that most colleges have evolved non-academic party tracks, or simple tuition-extraction tracks: https://jakeseliger.com/2014/04/27/paying-for-the-party-eliz.... Talking about "college," as if it's just one big unified thing, doesn't make sense today (if it ever did). I spent ten years teaching college, and I wish this point were better emphasized in the media narratives.

> The crazy thing is that most colleges have evolved non-academic party tracks, or simple tuition-extraction tracks:

I suffered through a computer science degree. I didn't make much progress figuring things out after the first year (on account of my head injury [0]). My father values my degree more than I do.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17734058

When I was finishing up my first year at teh university, I thought I was wasting my time. Pops said, "just get your degree, then you can do what you want." That piece of paper was rather expensive. Later I came to appreciate that college is mostly about signaling.

Quotes from your link:

> Men by and large compete to be selected by women, but my anecdotal observation is that relatively few women perceive this because they’re in turn focused on a relatively small number of high-status men, with status defined differently in different context.

I had to explain this to a passenger one night [1]. She'd remembered me from the time I'd almost taken her somewhere, maybe two months before...

[1] https://www.taxiwars.org/2016/02/the-difference-between-boys...

> Why would a high-status, high-skill man want to marry a random woman with limited skills or prospects?

I have notes for a followup to my blog post, tentatively titled "the predicaments of girls and boys". One of my passengers told of a woman who'd snagged herself a "high-status man". After four years she got kicked to the curb. I suspect she was attempting to upgrade herself from 'trophy girlfriend' to 'trophy wife', but her high-status boyfriend probably thought that was beyond the scope of their arrangement.

Not what I expected to come across this morning, but quite interesting. Thanks for an enjoyable tangent.

Do you think the college model makes sense for science/engineering?

I think it does. I got an EE degree at a state university, and couldn't imagine how anyone could just learn all that on their own. There is so much abstract/esoteric knowledge and skills you need to develop. Having a guided step-by-step process to learning is huge (along with experienced teaching profs to help you). Plus, at least with EE, you need to have access to some absurdly expensive tools like Synopsys Design Compiler.

If you want to learn as fast as possible, I think it does.

For me, my computer science program in college was finally a place to get answers and move on when I did encounter that one stumbling block.

Even if I could learn 99% of whatever material I was interested in from reading things online, I'd inevitably spend at least that much time struggling with something I didn't get that really held me up.

For example. For the life of me, I couldn't understand why, a computer program wouldn't know at compile time how much memory its data structures would use. So while I could read about malloc, I just didn't get the use case (as dumb as that sounds). As you can imagine, asking someone who knows what they're doing leads to a real quick "ah ha, of course" moment.

This was in 2001 before stackoverflow existed, and it felt like I was living in a bubble. Maybe things are different today. If I were learning from scratch now, I'm sure I could have learned the answer to that question and much more on my own.

But I have to think that I would have just entered college a little bit further, stuck on slightly harder questions.

To say nothing of the things school made me do that I wouldn't have done on my own, like learn how a compiler works, or take a database course. Two things I feel are paying dividends to this day.

School should be a place of discovery. By being exposed to multiple things, you're encouraged to find your interests and talents. Society should help students find their path and encourage them to pursue it. Not everybody has the same sets of talents and sensibilities.

There are child living in poverty that have the potential to be great doctors, scientists, programmers. And there are adults in these professions, today, that are miserable because they were pushed and pressured into obtaining the education and skills to do these jobs.

Society should help individuals reach their full potential, whatever that potential may be. If someonewants to be a welder, than help them be the best welder they can be. If they wants to be a doctor, than help them be the best doctor they can be. Imagine what we could achieve when everybody is firing on all cylinders.

Jobs as status symbol is ridiculous.

With regard to computer science I doubt many students could tell you the difference between their college curriculum and a trade school, aside from taking extra classes outside of compsci. If you go to college hoping to learn how to code or to learn a programming language, imo you are treating college as a trade school.

Trade schools teach a skill. Colleges provide an education. Those are not the same. With the proper discipline you can teach yourself a skill, and with programming, unlike many other trades, you often have all the tools you need already at home.

* Education - https://www.dictionary.com/browse/education

* Skill - https://www.dictionary.com/browse/skill?s=t

In short a skill teaches you to do something. An education teaches you to make decisions. The number of computer science graduates that cannot make simple decisions about the code they write is stunning, to the point of negligence.

I think the confusion comes from why people attend college. If you ask them the common answer is "To get a better job!". College doesn't get you a job. It isn't job placement or vocational training. Trade schools often do provide those. I suspect it is disappointing to graduate college and still have trouble acquiring a better job.

I'm a regular college grad, but always liked working on my own car (and didn't always trust professional mechanics.)

That lead me to consider becoming an auto mechanic at one time but after hearing some stories - and looking at the pay scales - I jumped back on my desk and rode off into the sunset.

The stories -

1) Constant complaints by mgmt about productivity. 2) Grueling work schedules 3) Pressure to upsell additional work 4) Customers blaming you for new problems

Sounds a lot like working in tech for 25% of the pay, doesn't it?

Media is really selling the "trade school" thing HARD lately.

I recently was talking to a relative of mine who is in his freshman year of college. He wanted to drop out because "If I am an electrician, I can be making 80k in 5 years"

So, I decided to fact check his thoughts here. If you look online, you can see in the average pay in his area is really more around 40k. So he is already being lied to. 25% of what a software engineer can make, for back-breaking, dangerous labor. Sounds like a great deal to me.

I feel like this comment, among others in this thread, really hits the nail on the head.

I want to focus on how hard a lot of trades are on your body. You do not realize how IMPORTANT maintaining your body is until you are a bit older and in pain. You only get one body.

A lot of trades, specifically electricians, lead to overexertion and stress injuries.

I'm 29 right now, and I have recently decided to get my health in order.

I know several people who were injured during high-school sports, who are now basically unable to exercise without pain. A few others were in the army, and it shot their knees. My father was a funeral director for 30 [0] years, and he suffers from similar stress injuries.

You do not understand how profound an effect stress injuries can have on your life until they happen. Consider the opportunities you are losing out on.

Working out and getting fit? Painful. In danger of further injury, further disabling you.

That hiking trip you wanted to go on? Walking a few miles? Visiting a foreign country? Playing in an intermural sport? Keeping up with your children? Standing somewhere for a long period of time?

0: 30 years, not 50. If it was 50 he would have been directing funerals as a toddler xD

I actually know a few people in the trades. There are several caveats when working there.

1. Your advancement opportunities are often far more limited; often, advancing means founding your own company, which can be really hard depending on the competition.

2. It's absolute hell on your body.

3. It has far higher risk of injury.

The biggest downside of being a car mechanic is that your back and knees will be shot after a couple of years. Ease of service and mechanic's comfort are not usually high on the list of desirable features.

Indeed, this is true of many skilled trades. When I have workers come to my house for various jobs, if they're my age, they're broken and hobbling.

That depends. I've known a couple of guys that own their own shops, and specialize how they want to. Those guys did really well, made good money, and enjoyed their work. Being an employee at a randomly selected repair shop would likely suck hard.

This is anecdotal, but a drawback to working in some trades is that the employers tend to be family-owned, which makes it hard to advance if you don't belong to the family. Car repair shops fall into that category.

I blame the recession more than any stigma. There is a stigma around working at McDonalds, not skilled trades.

I and many other millenials definitely applied for trade apprenticeships back when we got out of high school. In my case after doing very well on the electrician apprentice entrance exams I was still 200th in line because of the recession, and they weren't really onboarding many new apprentices. I ended up going to college instead, am doing well as a software engineer, and there is a huge shortage of electricians now . . .

Personally, it would have definitely been nice to work with my hands and not have student loans.

> I blame the recession more than any stigma. There is a stigma around working at McDonalds, not skilled trades.

For at least thirty years we have been telling our children that, in order to be successful, they need to go to college. We remind them of this constantly; college is the goal. That message implies that anything else is less than. There is definitely a stigma regarding trade skills, but not necessarily one we explicitly put forward.

Consider re reading the rest of the parent comment...

In what way does that alter or qualify the statement "There is a stigma around working at McDonalds, not skilled trades"?

>There is a stigma around working at McDonalds, not skilled trades.

There is absolutely a stigma related to trades for some groups of people. I know a lot of younger tech workers, and other college educated white collar workers, who would look down on jobs such as plumbers, mechanics, skilled laborers, etc.

I've found the stigma depends a lot on the area of the country. I used to live and work in New York, and there was a huge cultural stigma to not having completed college. There even seemed to be a stigma against people who owned their own companies doing electrical work or plumbing that were doing quite well. Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule, and not everyone felt that way.

Now that I'm in the Texas panhandle, most people appreciate skilled workers possibly even more than college degrees.

Is 'video production' really a trade school? I think more of the blue-collar trades.

Also, aren't video/music production classes like that usually the realm of for-profit schools like Full Sail and the job prospects dubious?

Any schooling specifically intended to be vocational is a trade school.

So, CS at most non-elite American universities?

cf. engineering. ;)

Between the rise of youtube, the porn industry, "peak" TV and the constant stream of CGI-based movies, there is plenty of work in video production. A degree doesn't really matter, but knowing how to use the tools does. Whether you get hands on the tools at a university or a college isn't an issue.

All of those examples have razor thin margins in the overwhelming majority of cases which translates to not actually paying that great for everyone involved. It's like acting. Few will people make big bucks. Ever wonder why "professional amatuer" porn is such a large share of the market? Less people to pay. Most Youtube channels that have actual costs per episode (e.g. every time Demolition Ranch mag dumps the Barret that costs about $20) are made by a couple people working for free and do weekly episodes in their spare time so they only have to recoup consumable costs.

hah! didn't expect to see a reference to Demolition Ranch here :D

Then, more automation and even better UI will tend to reduce the labor-intensity of satisfying that demand.

Translation: fewer people will be needed.

More content will be produced. A lot more.

That isn't how the entertainment industry works. Automation doesn't reduce the man-hours needed. The man-hours remains fixed and the quality of the product increases. Look at animation. Lots of tasks have been automated. Animators don't paint each cell individually. But the total man-hours put into a film haven't decreased. If anything, they have only increased. The average pixar film is exponentially more labor intensive than any of the great disney animations of old (fantasia et al).

I can't speak for "video production" in general, but I can confidently say (as a former member of IATSE Local 600) that cinematography - as it's organized in Hollywood - very much remains a "trade" with clearly organized hierarchies, unionization, training, and culture.

video production usually consists of long hours on site, moving heavy things from place-to-place , often some degree of ad hoc construction followed by uninstalling all of the above. not to mention cameras are pretty hefty themselves. meet enough veteran cameramen and you'll probably come to notice they all have large arms. the only real difference from a true blue collar job is that the goods produced are ephemeral.

An entire article about the future of education and not a single paragraph about automation. How are trade schools preparing students to reinvent themselves every 10 years or less? How is vocational education setting the expectation that those students will have not one career for the rest of their lives, but many?

This is not to say that liberal arts colleges are much better; but, at least with 4 year degrees, the expectation that you will “get a job in what you studied” is less pronounced (that is, after all, the original meaning of “liberal” in “Liberal Arts”).

Will trade jobs be automated? Plumbers, HVAC, Welders are jobs that seem to be the least likely to be automated..

Advances in materials are probably going to reduce the need for skilled workers. You used to have a wide range of machinist jobs in the US. Now with CNC everywhere everyone is either a "production engineer" (or some title like that) that programs everything or a parts loader/button pusher that makes a few bucks more than minimum.

Obviously this kind of stuff takes many years but someone getting into a skilled trades career today would do well to keep on top of industry developments because the people that do will be the programmers and the people that don't will be replaced by button pushers.

Plumbers I can see from the range and messiness of the tasks as very non-standardized beyond pipe thicknesses, and the diagnostics and HVACs as a cousin likely would have some similar issues but why would welders be a very hard to automate task?

Not dismissing it I just wonder what the "hard for machines" aspect is that I'm missing.

I know there are plenty of robotic welders out there and that progress implies they'll either expand more into "humans can't do that" territory and possibly become cheaper over time.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but sounds like you are thinking of welding in a factory?

I know a lot of welding is repairing damaged equipment. Especially older or already Jerry-rigged devices. I'd imagine it would be extremely difficult and expensive to develop an AI and a machine that would be adaptable enough to do these sort of projects.

Would construction welders be any less 'non-standardized' than Plumbing or HVAC? I would think welders have to problem solve far more than them for their tasks..

Ah that explains it - a maintenance vs construction thing - notice how repair has become the expensive option compared to creating new? Manufacturing has a far more constrained process which allows for readily automatable braindead repetition because it gets results. If construction now isn't readily automatable surprisingly doesn't matter too much. Building new things can be reengineered to a "friendlier" option like say screws and nails instead of joins but maintenance needs to take what they have and their moving parts.

Building everything to a schematic is easier to automate but I believe that already isn't the bulk of labor demand.

Theoretically a smart system with diagnostics could be more readily automated but those would be more expensive and probably be new constructions and come with their own host of technical and logistical issues. Sure it would be nice to have clogs and leaks mapped and remedied but it would take a while to become universal even if they were rolled out tommorow and worked perfectly.

Will cars ever be automated? Who knows, but there’s a reason Uber drivers make less than cabbies did 10 years ago. Are you willing to bet the next 40 years of your working life on something not being automated?

Yes, cars are on there way to be automated. Google, Apple, Tesla and other big tech companies are all pouring millions of dollars into research in order to have cars drive themselves.

For some jobs, automation will be a concern for those workers. I don't think its a number one concern for a lot of people but all jobs lie on a spectrum of how possible/soon they can be done by a machine. That pressure is only going to grow in the next 40 years.

I know the article doesn't touch on automation but college-educated jobs are some of the most likely to become automated by machines in the near future. Young people that see this is going to happen will be more likely to believe trade apprenticeships are a better route to go than college.

>college-educated jobs are some of the most likely to be automated by machines in the near future

The college educated are most prepared to shift their career to adjust. A broad-based education where students develop emotional intelligence, learning agility (the ability to learn new tasks), and leadership skills is more likely to carry them through massive disruptions in industries.

And if it doesn’t - they can always go learn a trade. Getting into and completing a four year degree after entering the workforce, having children, buying a house, is much more difficult.

>where students develop emotional intelligence, learning agility (the ability to learn new tasks), and leadership skills

Based on my experiences, this makes me laugh... I definitely feel that most colleges fail at this or at least achieve magnitudes lower than what we should want them to do for our students. And I don't see how skilled laboured positions don't or can't teach these skills as well.

The line of work is so broad for an electrician, if there are massive disruptions in the industry, the ones who are able to/have a desire to adapt will adapt. I don't believe just simply because you have a degree you will fair better from changes than someone who has same years of experience in skilled labour.

I agree with you that we live in a social system in America that makes it very difficult to go back to school if you are pretty set in life. I think similar problems also applies to getting a masters degree later in life as well.

-Thank you for the discussion.

I don't know why more tech companies don't do apprenticeships straight out of highschool. You can pay a high school student with some programming experience a fraction of the salary of a college graduate and it probably doesn't take that much longer to get them productive and they won't be saddled with student loan debt.

Poor return on investment given risks involved, you're better off offloading that cost of education/training to the individual and then just hiring them when they signal they are worthy of employment.

At least part of this is because we devalued the high school diploma. We were concerned that many people weren't getting that high school diploma which made it difficult for them to get jobs. Now we lowered the standards and shoved everyone through to the point that 20% of high school graduates are functionally illiterate. Now a high school diploma is no longer a useful signal to potential employers.

I have hired high school drop-outs and academics, both the best and the worst performers came in roughly equal proportions from both groups.

That is because the signal that college is supposed to provide has also been devalued to an extreme degree. It's simple - a bachelor's degree will soon be the equivalent of a high school diploma.

That is why for a lot of roles a motivated, smart high-school dropout is a better hire than a college student.

I don’t know what you hired them for, but if it was a skilled labor task they had some sort of signal in their resume they could do the job (github repo). We are talking about basically taking HS graduates with nothing except grades/extra curriculars and investing N months in training them for some job you have no certainty they will be able to do, and no assurance they won’t just go to your competition afterward.

That's because your interview process is already biasing the result. To get a fairer comparison you should take a random sample from both groups (out of all the applicants) and see (although self selection bias is still in play here).

>>You can pay a high school student with some programming experience a fraction of the salary of a college graduate

Lol. Pay? A tech company willing to open its doors to highschool students need not fork over actual money. Just ask. You will be deluged with resumes. Running an internship program isn't about the money. It is about the hassle of administering it. Regardless of the economic numbers blasted on the news, getting a decent tech job is cutthroat. Highschool kids will kill to get tech company internship on their pre-collage resume.

Or you could do what Hollywood does and get the older, multi-year interns to supervise the junior ones.

The people you would recruit that way would be way different than the people you recruit from college; it doesn't work very well.

How do I know this? My country has an apprenticeship system and software developer is actually an option, but nobody does this because it doesn't work very well. My company tried it; the person failed to produce even very rudimentary programs.

College really isn't about the education it provides; it is all about signalling that you can deal with deadlines, people and semi-complex problems. That signal often doesn't work though.

YMMV The company I work for has taken on a few people through a apprenticeship scheme straight from high school and they've all been superb.

That's interesting, did you have any kind of pre-selection? What area was the job in? In my case, it was development of tooling in Java and C++.

It's not that I can't imagine it working - in fact, had I done an apprenticeship instead of a university degree, I doubt my output would be much different; it's just that it really didn't seem to work in our case.

I wasn't directly involved in the selection - but I know the team doing it were pretty selective. The folks involved also did a lot of training over a year or so.

Perhaps one reason is that job-hopping is very common in the tech industry. I wouldn't expect many apprentices to hang around long enough for there to be a payoff to the employer.

True this. I don't want to teach a high school graduate (or college grad) what interfaces and abstract classes are.. or basic good design of code. My job depends on making progress, not training.

That said, my org supports up to 4 concurrent interns (typically we have 2-3 at any given point), and they could work for 4 months to 2+ years if they want, 15-40 hours/week -- adjustable for summers, etc... But they need to be at a stage where code review is going over application of theory, not telling them about when to use functions.

We lose a lot of interns after 3-5 months, but if they came in knowing the basics, we usually get something out of it (though the cost-benefit is usually negative). We want to support internships, though, so we keep doing them.

I've always found it challenging to give programming projets to someone who is only here for a few hours and days a week.

Where with clerical tasks you can just have them get back to that pile of paper tomrorrow

The trick is to give them either very small tasks, so they can do them in a sitting, or let them work on independent, but speculative tasks -- so time to completion isn't a big deal. Ex: many years ago, we had an intern working on a Google Glass interface, it didn't work out, because Google Glass, but it was a cool project for him, and it prepped us for thinking about secondary displays like smartwatches.

> My job depends on making progress, not training.

You could say the same thing about a professional taking an apprentice in any trade ... and yet they still take apprentices

My best guess is that is due to HR and mangement wanting to cover their ass when making hiring decisions. If a candidate is hired and they don't do well they can appeal to the authority of the degree the candidate had to make their decision seem rational.

I went straight from high school to a very entry level web development job. I didn't have any chance at getting a job at a larger company but small web shops provided an opportunity for me since I could be hired at a low wage and the owner of the company was the one hiring me.

Now I am grateful to have moved up the ladder over 10 years time and I have a much higher paying job and no student debt.

The degree opens doors, and it makes management people feel that it's a good predictor of outcomes but in my opinion from hiring, we found Curiosity, Ability to Learn, Ability to Listen to be the three best predictors of good outcomes.

HRs graduated from social and humanity sciences don't want to devalue their degree by hiring a non degree person.

For as long as I've been on tech interview loops, it's not HR but the manager who makes the call with (sometimes strong) advice from the interviewers. Maybe the recruiters don't take the self-taught as seriously as they should …

I can imagine that graduates with the insecurity of student loan debt are more loyal to a secure job. A high school student that has been made productive can easily leave for a (riskier) more lucrative position.

Because no one wants to work with 18 year olds. Post-Secondary education is time for individuals to mature and learn how to fit in.

My bigger concern would be that the shelf life of a job seems to be getting shorter and shorter, and it is harder to transition careers with a trade degree than a more general 4 year degree. Not saying that people learn more / are better prepared by a 4 year degree, just that it is easier to get past the resume screening phase of a job hunt.

The apocryphal story here is as that of the successful plumber. He works hard, learns his trade, and eventually starts his own plumbing business. This business employs two other plumbers. He also has a wife and three children. As they age, his business grows. By the time his children are 17, he employs twelve other plumbers and is worth over two million dollars.

He speaks to his sons about joining his business. All three decline. They want to go to the fancy, expensive college that will wipe out a substantial chunk of the two million dollars their father has worked for. He offers to give them paying jobs, right away, and promises they will eventually take over the business and help grow it to make more money. The four of them, he tells them, can grow the business to the point where they can all easily make an excellent living. The three sons persist.

So he gives in, and his three sons attend college. The first majors in poetry, the second in art history, and the third in dance. They go on to make a spotty living, as compared to the steady income of their father.

The father, as he grows older, wishes to pass some of his responsibility to a subordinate. By this point, his business employs fifty plumbers. With no son to inherit his business, he chooses his most loyal employee.

He dies some years later, leaving his sons each five hundred thousand dollars. All three spend it on an increased standard of living; it lasts each around seven years. After which they are again broke.

The plumber's subordinate, meanwhile, has grown the business to over one hundred employees. He was worth over fifteen million dollars, and was exploring the sale of the company to another, a deal that would likely net him roughly twenty million dollars personally. He lived happily ever after.

We could tell my story instead. My uncle was an electrician, I didn't take high school that seriously, so my parents wanted me to apprentice for my uncle. I said no thanks, got a low level tech job, worked my way through undergrad and then PhD school, and now I have a cushy, well paid job where I sit indoors in a private office for eight hours a day and think for a living. My uncle had to crawl through attics on hot summer days, fight with rodents and snakes, and deal with live electrical wires and people who don't pay their bills. On top of that, he wound up dead from mesothelioma, probably from spending most of his days just breathing in insulation fibers.

So, thanks but no thanks, basically. You can romanticize the trades all you want but from my experience watching my family and friends from back home, "the trades" are exchanging the better years of your life in time and health to rich people in exchange for an early and painful death.

Some people just want to spend their time learning about Gothic art or about Persian poetry instead of fixing other people's plumbing, there's nothing wrong with that, quite the contrary.

And to add a further non-apocryphal anecdote: I'm probably never going to be reach (I'm approaching 40 and you kind of feel this sort of things) but were I to die tomorrow one of my best memories/things that happened in my life would be the fact that I got to appreciate the poetry of Hafez [1] because of my dad. He had a book of his in our library, I knew my dad liked his poetry so one day I just picked the book and I liked his poetry, too. It became a sort of a new bond between me and my dad that I can still feel now, 20+ years after I had first read Hafez's poems.

More to the point, not everything in life is about money.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hafez

Not a ding on poetry or art. More the fact that I have heard many accounts of boys giving up the family business to go pursue such things as a career.

More seriously, I've also heard of similar situations where the boy majors in management or something to that effect, gets out, and can't find a job (this was more common in 08-12). Tradesmen pretty much always have work.

08-13 was fucking brutal for folks in construction in most parts of the country.

But then, us tech folks forget the dot com bubble when things are good too.

During the course of your story, the worker-to-owner ratio has grown from 1:1, to 100:1. So the chance of the three children actually improving their lot as plumbers has actually gone down, not up.

And your story doesn't mention the recession, or the replacement of plumbing labor by technological innovations.

A similar story is happening in farming.

But it's a good lesson, as it teaches the relative productivity of capital and labor.

Perhaps their chances as plumbers are slightly lower. But as businessmen and owners of the 100-person company, they have excellent odds of improving their future. It grew to 100:1 with one owner. In a well-run business, each boy could work on expanding the business and hopefully balance that ratio back out as time progressed.

And yes, technological innovations might be a concern. But the job of middle management might well disappear before the job of a plumber. Ask yourself which is easier to automate.

Farming has been on such a course for a very long time. Quite evident if you look at the tiny percentage of the population that produces America's food today, compared with everyone growing their own only a few thousand years ago.

On this and your point about productivity of capital vs labor, do you have a solution? Quite frankly, I've heard a lot of issues raised around this point, but few good solutions, let alone solutions that don't involve the government.

Since we're just making these things up, how about a story where the dad is a deadbeat HVAC repairman who fucks up his back and gets addicted to pain pills while his three kids study medicine, law, and computer science and go on to be a general surgeon, judge, and tech billionaire

That's ridiculous; it's more of a parable than it is "just making these things up". I have, if not in those exact words, heard of such things happening with some regularity.

What I wrote is supposed to make the point that you can be successful as a tradesman and that college is not absolutely necessary. What you wrote makes no point about the importance of college education vs trade school (the topic at hand, if you will recall), but rather seems like the baseless writing of someone with a chip on his shoulder.

The lesson in BOTH parables is "work hard on things that matter". Having them side by side is useful because many people draw the wrong conclusion if you only show them one.

I'm the last person to defend colleges, but in this story the father did a poor job of being a good long term role model if all three sons failed at life relative to their father's work ethic, financial habits, or positive encouragement. It wasn't the fault of the college. Someone other than the father "sold" the worthless-degree college route and/or kept the sons brainwashed well after college.

Possibly. I have sadly known many teens that made poor choices as much to spite their parents or to "be themselves"/"develop their own identity" as much as anything else. I didn't blame the college, the boys were responsible for their own decisions. I believe this is known as the second-generation problem: the first generation is very successful due to their family's recent immigration. The second is often much less so (or even less successful) due to their taking everything for granted. And it's not just a theory; I've seen more examples than I could count of this.

Since we are just making things up, was can also say they father is in crippling back pain past his middle age due to all the plumbing work he did before. (This was from a plumber who was lamenting to me while repairing my water heater.)

One of the nice things about the bootcamp movement is that it has legitimized vocational schooling for at least part of the software development industry.

I'm actually not a big fan of bootcamps, but most of the reason is that most of them talk a big game yet don't really open job opportunities. I am not at all opposed in principle.

Honestly my biggest shock coming out of college was 1) how unfamiliar I was with the toolset/processes in real world development and 2) how little onboarding on these topics I received from a major tech co. It probably didn't help that I was in a technical role tangential to "real" SWEs but honestly I think attending a bootcamp to round out my skills would have been a great idea.

I'm inclined to think that there ought to be a four year college degree that teaches a number of different trade skills as part of its core curriculum. A student in such a program might take history and mathematics courses similar to other college students, but would also learn concrete skills like welding, electrical wiring, HVAC, etc. The goal would be to have a graduate that might be able to find work in a variety of different trades, not just one particular one, and also provide graduates with some of the more traditional educational breadth associated with university.

University ought to make you a more rounded person, and a better citizen, and it ought to make you more employable, all three.

The trouble is, that graduate wouldn't be much more worthwhile than a fresh high-school grad. Taking a few welding courses won't make you employable for most jobs, it takes quite a lot of time to build up that skill. And while a bit of knowledge of other trades is always a good thing, it takes more than a few classes to prepare someone to work in HVAC. While the liberal-arts model of small amounts of exposure to different fields is good, more specialization and focus is needed.

For instance, I'm glad I took some economics classes in school, but in no way am I prepared to work in that field.

Further training might be required, but if there's a shortage of trained HVAC people, an employer might prefer to hire someone that already knows something about the field, and who happens to know a bunch of other stuff as well (because that indicates they're good at learning new stuff).

For the prospective employee, there's some advantage in not being deeply locked-in to one field in particular. Depending on economic circumstances, you might need to switch trades half-way through your career. The idea is that having some basic experience in a number of different skillsets will make a switch easier if you need to do that.

That's the theory anyway. I don't know whether it's really practical though.

It's great that The Atlantic is finally putting out articles de-stigmatizing trade school. But, over the past several decades, The Atlantic has been a major contributor to the problem by churning out articles claiming how great and necessary college education is for all and how we should provide more subsidies and loans for higher education, without providing nearly as much attention to the utility of trade school. I'm sure countless Americans who would have been better off going to trade school instead of college have made that poorer decision as a result of The Alantic's editors and readers pushing too much for college degrees.

Their argument is based on a very privileged person who had every option and chose the one he liked best.

That's great. Good for him.

But my concern is that people get pushed towards trades for a variety of bad reasons. It's not that trades are bad, but a lot of them are pretty brutally hard work. You end up destroying your body. In exchange you get a working environment that seems continually more and more worker hostile.

What would happen if we posted jobs that said preference would be given to applicants without University degrees?

Then, still others disqualifying people with a master's or higher?

It would encourage people who were so exceptionally competent that they could survive in their fields without the degree, and filter anyone who cheated or faked credentials at the least. Fun thought experiment.

The essential benefit of a quality education is the person has learned how to learn ... the Greeks nailed this by teaching the trivium : grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric ... armed with this educational foundation the person can listen, speak and write on any topic ... how ? because they have the skills to teach themselves ... this approach to education was used in the West for 2000 years - up until about 1900 ... outsourcing education to the government which has conflicting rewards and motivations has resulted in our current malaise

Time is precious so staying in mandatory education until a person is 18 is criminal and counterproductive for many children ... a resurgence of quality trade schools is happening and we as perspective employers need to step up and hire based on a real time assessment of those trivium qualities not on bloated automated parsing of CVs

What stigma? Isn’t the novelty of college wearing off by now? We have thousands of courses from various elite universities accessible online for free now, not to mention places like khan academy. If college is for broad knowledge then I’d argue it’s no longer necessary. For a narrow field of experience a trade school or a condensed program should be all that you need. With automation ever increasing, kids will need to change their careers multiple times anyway. Why would you spend so much time in college on any one specialized field if there is a high chance you won’t stay in that career path forever?

I have a toddler and I plan on letting him decide if he wants to go to college or not when time comes. I won’t encourage or discourage it. Personally, college did very little for me as may be evident by my grammar, but I’m happpier for it.

Let's face it, with more than a trillion dollars in student loan debt, any disturbance to US salaries could result in a student loan crisis. Higher education is only getting more expensive, and the bubble is going to burst when babies born during the great recession drop enrollment across the board in 2026. Hopefully, we can get to a more sensible place in terms of the distribution of degrees, and their types, we need to create a maximally effective society. I believe trade school is a big part of this and on an individual level, no one ever outsourced a plumber!

From my perspective, the best aspect of undergraduate programs is that you get the chance to study lots of interesting things outside of your core discipline. That is harder to do once you are working in the field.

The worst aspect is the crippling debt, which cannot be discharged even in bankruptcy.

I went to a student loan web site recently and clicked on something like "discharge eligibility" leading to a form that said that you may be eligible to stop making payments if you have "become deceased." I'm glad they sorted that out.

When I was born it was still possible to learn your trade (engineer, programmer) without too much onus if you didn't attend college. Without college now your options are strictly limited. This is one of the reasons why we have a real problem in the US: those who are capable and self/job taught but discriminated against and those who didn't have (self imposed or otherwise) difficulties during school years and were encouraged or raised for success.

I think the days of college being a needed step in order to enter the workforce are ending. Unless you want to work in academia or need a specialized track of education like a career in the sciences, the days of the Ba opening doors are basically over. The corporate jobs that require a Ba are hardly worth the bother these days. Electricians and plumbers can make more without all the PC mind control crap in the corporations.

If I had kids, I'd absolutely tell them to at least consider things like electrical work - from low-voltage network cabling for businesses to plain old electrical to specialized high-voltage stuff. Some of it may not be glamorous, but at the high end where you're doing diagnostics and fixes for problems, etc. I guarantee folks are making some money and while you might never get rich, you'll also probably always have work available.

Everyone thinks more kids should go to trade school instead of college. Very few think their own kids should go to trade school though

I agree with the article's message. I have a lingering question though. The only thing that puzzled me is why Toren Reesman, the person being examined in the article, didn't opt to be an industrial designer. It's a very hands on major where you create physical things. Why didn't he like it? Was he even exposed to it?

It's not just a stigma; school is a structural mechanism to create professional options, and it's nearly impossible to get back into once you leave it. You need recent letters of recommendation from a teacher/professor to get into a good program. Pure gatekeeping. Good luck, kid.

What are some trades you can learn that have the highest salary floor and ceiling?

As a developer, I always feel lucky that our junior level salaries and architect++ level salaries are quite good

I really don’t understand this aversion to trade schools as a viable career path. The college-is-the-only-path-to-success is distinctly American and to me seems more like a narrative perpetuated so that parents feel justified paying 80k a year to send their kids to any back-alley no-name school in the states. I think it’s pretty disgusting and exploitative.

Many roles we classify as trades are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from the roles we typically associate with college education. This is partially due to the fact that they are increasingly technical, partially due to the fact that trade schools are offering training and certification in fields that were once exclusively in the purview of colleges, and partially due to the fact that our jobs are becoming increasingly cross-pollinated (mechanics using augmented reality, electricians building custom electronics, plumbers using GIS mapping, etc.).

This makes defining the idea of a "trade" much more difficult. I think for the purposes of clarity, we should find some sort of line that distinguishes trade education from liberal education. I think the best way to do that - and this is obviously just my opinion - is to classify as a trade any work that doesn't directly question and debate theory or, put another way, any work that almost exclusively implements theory. So in this definition, you would obviously include the existing trades, but it would also include things we typically associate with college education like nursing, most software developer roles, therapists, architects, most engineers, etc.

I think the reason most of those roles are task-oriented (performing a function according to outlined requirements and expectations) but still trained at the college level is that they arose from more theory-oriented areas of study but never made the shift away from college when they entered mainstream, non-theoretical application. For instance, computer science was born from mathematics, but at this point, the average software developer doesn't need a PhD level of understanding in math to do their job at all. Nursing, similarly, was born from specialized forms of medicine, which was always a university-level field, but in recent years is shifting into 2-year programs and a more trade-like structure at the entry-level.

When you think about things this way, it suddenly makes the stigma against trade school seem silly. Most of us are doing trade work anyway. I write software, my friend wires buildings, my other friend does plumbing. We are all trade workers because we are ultimately just implementing theory, not discussing and questioning it.

This should also inform how we judge education. I have a couple college degrees, but I do not have what I would call a liberal education. I have not trained extensively in philosophy, law, theology, art, etc. My education is exclusively applied topics like finance and software. When I judge the quality of my own education experience, I am using different criteria than I would for someone that has training in English, history, or law. Their standard for "success" in the context of education is primarily defined by whether or not they take a role of social leadership and influence in their community (education, politics, writing, etc). Mine is different because I judge my success on whether or not I deliver a completed product in the context of my technology job.

TL;DR College-industry PR/advertising, made effective at scale by government subsidies in the 1950s, grew a social algae bloom aka economic bubble in academia and made some people richer.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact