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A College Degree Is No Guarantee of a Good Life (theatlantic.com)
236 points by pseudolus 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 478 comments

I have been reading through the comments and I am very curious about a few things -

1. What "bullshit" degrees people are talking about? Are they the liberal arts studies? If so, as a society do we not see value in the fine arts? Expertise in music, language, anthropology, history, etc do not necessarily lead to a well-paying job.. but they give intellectually satisfaction in and of itself.

2. IMHO, the pay you are likely to earn should never be a judge of value of a degree. A degree gives you an opportunity to learn something in depth. As long as you are able to reach that, the degree is valuable. The sad part of being in US (and other places) is that the depth is not valued. Trying college fees to ability to earn is an incorrect optimization.

3. If I were a poet, an author or a painter, do you think I should expect that I will be able to pursue my passion on a nominal pay (maybe as a teacher/tutor, basic income from government etc)? Most of the "golden age of civilizations" had this property. When everyone needs to fight for survival, that reflects poorly on the state of things and it is more of a dog eat dog world.

"1. What "bullshit" degrees people are talking about? Are they the liberal arts studies? If so, as a society do we not see value in the fine arts?"

I don't see value in graduating with 6 figure debt for those degrees. In the words of Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting:

“You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.”

I didn’t get a CS degree. Just started programming when I was 8 or 9. I’m in the $200k/yr, house paid off, never had college debt, and 23 year-ish of gains in stocks following a “buy and hold” approach since the 90s. Apple at $8-$9/share right before that iMac was a good call.

I also have deep and engaging conversations with mathematicians and physicists. I’ve tutored them in odd math they’ve simply never encountered.

Unless collective resources are needed for something like a nuclear reactor design study, a whole lot of application doesn’t require the college debt.

It’s almost as if we just need to agree on what some things are for social stability reasons, and we can debate the rest.

Instead we seem keen to be filtered for willingness to go into debt on education and housing, so we can justify demanding $200k/year for something open source programmers do for fun.

I’m pretty sure a whole lot of why we do things is satisfy social memes, and little to do with economic utility.

If you’ve been working since the 90s and are only making $200k/yr in tech (less than the total compensation of some new grads going into FAANG), then you’re actually a case study on behalf of the value of a (good) CS degree.

Funny to read about these salaries from Europe, where you can hire two pretty GREAT programmers from that money. For me it doesn’t tell anything about university degree AT ALL.

OP's perspective is clearly very skewed, even for the USA. $100-150k is considered absurd compensation for most of the country that isn't silicon valley.

I agree with you up to a certain point. College isn't necessary to learn most things. For many disciplines, very little of your college education will be applicable. However, it can be much more difficult to get a job with no degree. Part of what you're paying for is that you get to be a product that the university sells to industry. There's a very stable and consistent path to employment for some degrees. That's worth $80k+ for many people.

Yeah, that's my stance too, even though it can come off as arrogant. The way I'd put it is "don't finance an education that won't get you a good paying job". I know some of these degrees can get you a foot in to a job that doesn't pay crazy well, but is fulfilling... That's okay too. It's also okay if that's your passion and you get someone else to pay for it.

Regardless of any impact on employability, it's pretty clear how society as a whole suffers when large sections of the public are so ill-versed in the general state of human knowledge that conspiracy theories flourish among them.

I do not believe in this over-simplification. However, the point about going to debt for those degrees is a question specific to US at this point in time.

We should talk about free college education or heavily subsidized one, but this same group here has been heavily against these ideas because they are socialist. However, happiest countries in the world seems to be mostly social democratic[1] and for one, if possible, I will happily trade my US pay for a lower pay, less worried life.

On a side note, I have a feeling that US prefers a "dog eat dog world" because everyone here thinks they will be the ones doing the eating and caring for the underdog is a sign of weakness/waste of resources.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurabegleybloom/2020/03/20/ran...


If I was the leader of this country, I'd see placing market pressure on the citizens would coerce them to yield to market efficiency. That is to say, if people have to pay for college, it would push more people towards degrees that run the economic/productive component of this engine (due to the higher salaries from the demand). The wealth generated from this omni-cultural push will benefit the country, both it's leaders and it's citizens. Deep down in the depths of the human mind is a little chunk of the brain that is terrified of death and inferiority. This goop collectively bubbles up to the surface sometimes, taking the form of war.

If this is one of the prices to pay to live in a country that no other country in the world could conquer, i'd say it's worth it. Human history is full of evidence that reality.

[0]This comment is just a one dimensional thought experiment

> We should talk about free college education or heavily subsidized one

It already exists. It's called the internet. You can learn almost everything you need, and in much greater detail, than a traditional 'higher education' offered by a brick and mortar institution.

The problem is only convincing the gate keepers.

There is no comparison. College is not a vocational school. Internet is not a library, more like acres of dusty piles of tattered and strewn books. More importantly, it's also a shitty source of: collegiality, constructive criticism, respect for scholarship, access to intelligently-vetted new experiences, and well-reasoned communication.

What I remember most, and consider most valuable about my college years, is not the teaching/coursework. The net cannot begin to compare. Facebook is free.

That is simply untrue. You cant learn, for example, advanced cryptography outside a classroom.

Applied Cryptography[0] is available for $18.97 for a used hardcover copy on Amazon. The only thing that doesn't come with that a classroom does is someone to hold you accountable to read it.


One could memorize Applied Cryptography, and still not be qualified to create a new encryption algorithm. That requires advanced education.

Additionally, Applied Cryptography is an outdated (“classic”?) book. It’s most recent introduction clearly states this, and refers the reader to a different book (“Cryptographic Engineering”) for more current information.

Can you give me a bibliography of books readable by a person without an advanced degree, that would teach them how to create brand new, secure fully homomorphic encryption algorithm?

Edit: my spell checker changed “homomorphic” to “homophobic!”

why couldn't you? of course you can

what is stopping you from buying and reading books on cryptography, number theory, security protocols etc?

> this same group here has been heavily against these ideas because they are socialist.

This is a caricature. It's not much different than saying people are for free college because they're lazy and don't want to work for a living.

> I have a feeling that US prefers a "dog eat dog world" because everyone here thinks they will be the ones doing the eating and caring for the underdog is a sign of weakness/waste of resources.

I have a feeling the reason you think this way is because you haven't made a serious effort to empathize with the people who disagree with you.

Your list is a list of countries that also happen to be at the top of this one [1]. They are the countries with the most freedom and capitalism. People are generally happy when they're free to own property and become prosperous.

[1] https://www.heritage.org/index/ranking

I think you are confusing social democracy and communism[1]. I agree with you that people should be free to own property and become wealthy. However, I do not think it should come at the cost of removing social net for the less lucky.

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

Feel free to disagree with me, but I believe I very well understand what "social democracy" is supposed to mean.

Is that the same social democracy as in Russian Social Democratic Labour Party?

On a side note, I have a feeling that US prefers a "dog eat dog world" because everyone here thinks they will be the ones doing the eating and caring for the underdog is a sign of weakness/waste of resources.

The default or dominant culture in America is upper class cis het white male. Historically, yes, those people could pretty count on being the ones doing the eating.

Women and people of color were the ones taking up many other roles and it was possible to sometimes care about them -- or just treat them like absolute crap while benefiting from a relationship to them because they had little to no recourse -- without that impinging on the professional part of your life where, by default, killer instinct could rule the day.

I think part of what is messing things up is the rise in human rights for women and people of color. This is disrupting these historical patterns which have something of a tendency to carry forward.

We are largely failing to ask "So, just what kinds of patterns actually work for a world in which we assume all adults have similar rights and opportunities?" Many people are quite oblivious to the many layers of baked in assumptions about, for example, how work gets organized and how we provide benefits to the people.

It is largely invisible the degree to which we assume a man is doing certain kinds of work and there is probably a woman at home doing the cooking and cleaning and other "women's work." And I tend to get a lot of flak anytime I try to comment on it because I'm a woman and HN is overwhelmingly male, so people (seem to) think I'm some man-hating, feminazi who is intentionally shit-stirring or something and tend to not think I'm someone who has actively studied the space because of the ways it has negatively impacted my life, so I'm somewhat knowledgeable about such topics.

I became a single father when my youngest was a baby. I was juggling a baby plus a two year old and all that comes with it (obviously I couldn't breastfeed) with full time work. I saw the results of years of womens studies first hand. Zero services available to fathers of babies since every single government funded program was only for mothers. Being questioned about potential unsavoury activies because my two year old said they like wrestling at home with dad and everyone distrusts a father who is raising a baby by himself. How the entire gender studies academia misses that the culture in raising babies is hostile to men I don't know but I trust their professional opinions about as far as I can piss.

EDIT: I'll flesh this out with an example of why I don't value liberal arts degrees. Approaching one Christmas I was struggling. My work didn't go on break until 5pm on the 23rd, I was juggling that plus parenting plus all the other tasks that go into preparing for a family Christmas. I stumbled across a news article that I would summarise as "We need to thank all the women that are working hard right now to make Christmas special for us". I emailed this journalist, a graduate of the liberal arts, and mentioned that there are a number of men out there in situations like men working towards the same goal and the gendered language can be harmful. The journalist reponded that it's mostly women so there isn't an issue with this language. The same journalist who writes about how we need to make STEM more hosptitable to women, etc.

Her formal liberal arts education only taught her to see gender issues in one direction and didn't give her to critical ability to think about gender issues in a broader sense. So yes, I don't value when people have some parts of a liberal arts education.

First off, this really has nothing to do with anything I said. It's you projecting your baggage onto me.

Which is par for the course.

I do not self identify as a feminist. The things I'm talking about having studied aren't the things you are thinking of.

I have a pretty good track record of being even-handed about gender issues in my comments in this forum. I still get a lot of flak. This discussion is a good example of that. My comment was downvoted and it currently has one reply -- yours -- which is openly hostile.

Given that I have been here eleven years and yadda, that gets frustrating. After eleven years of being reasonable, you would think that other people here would do a better job of meeting me halfway on certain topics.

Our current mode of working tends to create jobs that only work well for cis het white males with a wife at home whose primary responsibilities are taking care of the "women's work." This fact equally screws over not just people of color and women, but men like you who did the single father thing.

You have valid criticisms of how far too many women are openly hostile to men as their default position for trying to self advocate. I'm just as critical of that shit. I don't self identify as a "feminist" because my feeling is that "feminism" boils down "women are entitled to real careers, just like men have, and fuck all y'all men and to hell with the welfare of the children."

It actively disregards the very real sacrifices involved in having a career with the traditional pattern of male success, which includes often barely knowing their own children, and I was a full-time wife and mom for two decades. My adult sons still live with me. There is no way in hell anyone is going to get me to agree with a position of "Women are entitled to careers, even if that means shitting all over the children to get there from here."

I'm human. I certainly don't get everything right. But when I talk about the need to change how we work because the world has changed and our patterns of work are still largely based on this idea that "workers" are cis het white males with a wife at home doing the cooking, I'm not talking about "Fuck all y'all men." I'm talking about "This is why we default to certain patterns and those patterns aren't working for the world currently and there is no objective reason we need to continue to cleave to those patterns."

Some crappy things that happen at work are rooted in real world metrics. For example, harvest time on a farm is always crunch time because food is only ripe and fresh for a short period of time. If you don't harvest it in a timely fashion, it rots. It isn't going to keep and wait until later.

But many of the things we do today are more or less unexamined habits from the past and it's enormously difficult to have any kind of reasonable and productive discussion of that fact because you cannot talk about patterns of work without talking, to some degree, about historic patterns of gender roles and even slavery in the history of the US and people get very touchy about that and it actively interferes with trying to figure out "What piece of what we do is actually something the work, per se, imposes on us? And what piece is bad habits from a different era that are failing to die?"

We are all victims to some degree or another of the ghosts of the past in the form of cultural norms, existing built environment and so forth that keeps alive patterns from the past even well past the time that humans began actively and intentionally changing the things those were rooted in. As just one example: We outlawed slavery in the US, yet Black Americans are still quite far from having genuine equality with Whites. They see high rates of incarceration, high rates of unemployment, high rates of poverty, etc.

Trying to find patterns that are good for people in the here and now is hard and it's made harder by the inability to have a good discussion about the topic to begin with. Far too often, by the time the world agrees that X is bad and Y would be better, Y is also out of date and we should really be doing Z but we can't do Z because Z is the new thing no one trusts or understands and will not accept.

Thank you for replying to me instead of just downvoting my comment into oblivion.

Have a good day.

I replied to you because you felt the need to cover your statement with:

> tend to not think I'm someone who has actively studied the space because of the ways it has negatively impacted my life, so I'm somewhat knowledgeable about such topics

Those who have actively studied in this area have had large negative impacts on my life. I felt the impacts of gender policy, derived from the liberal arts academia, during the hardest years of my life. I'm sick of having the fact I'm a cis het white man thrown in my face by people "educated" in this area. Here's something I wrote here 8 days ago:

>That video reflects purely on skin colour and I feel that can be harmful. My skin is white but I'm descendant from the Australian Stolen Generation (google it if you want to see more). I was raised in a poor country town and I literally joined the military to escape that life......I make decent money now since I used the military for a CS education but when I go shopping I choose to go to the low socioeconomic area. I don't fit in culturally at the upper middle class shopping centers. I don't dress the same, talk the same, hold the same values, etc. Not feeling like you don't fit in isn't just linked to race.

I don't fit in culturally in upper class white areas. I was born and raised in an area that is in the top 5 for every single crime in my state. My family still has baggage from literally being stolen and given away, not to mention being half casts (part aboriginal). I became a single parent. And yet, I've worked my arse off and managed to carve myself a good career and a lovely life.

I see plenty of black people, women and gay people do very well in life. The trick is to be born in money or into a culture of success (i.e. did you know 2nd generation Nigerians and Ethiopians have better educational success than the general population?). The issue is that a large majority of slave descendant black people are born into a cycle of poverty. In my home town I've seen programs attempting to break this cycle and it's brutally hard.

I'm much more interested in breaking these cycles of poverty than I am in restructing the way society manages productive work. Free, educationally-programmed daycare from 6 months of age? Daycare that has the ability to accomodate people working non-business hours? Some form of universal income to keep people afloat? I'm all ears here, and this will benefit marginal communities immensely.

Blaming it on cis white men? My ears will close. It's a single-digit percentage of white people born into the privilege that those at top have. People of all races can be born here but due to historical reason it's pretty heavily white. The majority of us aren't born into that and are sick of being blamed.

Blaming it on cis white men?

That isn't remotely what I'm saying at all.

And you are making erroneous assumptions about what I've studied.

This is a pointless discussion.

Have a good evening -- or whatever time it is where you happen to be.

> do we not see value in the fine arts?

We could simultaneously see value in fine arts but also not see value in a four-year full-time program with a heavy accreditation component in the fine arts—and certainly not as a gatekeeping requirement for jobs that have nothing to do with the specific subject being studied!

If anything, if we wanted to promote these subjects to more people, we ought to make learning about those subjects more flexible, less stressful and less expensive. (It's not just about the direct costs, either—even a free full-time program comes with a massive opportunity cost that most people can't afford.) It seems like the only way to make that realistic would be to decouple signaling and career accreditation from the education itself.

This is much easier said than done, of course, but I think just mentally separating the different aspects of a college program—education from signalling—is crucial for understanding what's going on and how it could change.

What music jobs, other than teaching, require a degree? The world's major orchestras have blind auditions. Most performance work is based on word of mouth reputation.

The arts (orchestra/symphony, opera/musicals, etc) are a luxury good. There is a small, niche market for these things, mostly centered around certain cities - so we can only have so many artists.

The mass arts that the masses can afford to consume (TV, streaming music, and movies) are by definition based on popularity, so we can only have so many artists.

I don't know why we fund so many people's arts degrees. We need less funding for arts degrees, and more funding for the arts instead. Someone being able to live a basic (but self-sufficient) life has nothing to do with funding arts degrees.

The arts (TV, movies, music, and related fields such as tourism, architecture, design, advertising) are massive industries in the United States. Then of course there are the soft power benefits of having much of the world grow up staring at America at the movies, singing along to American music, wearing blue jeans, etc. Same goes for many other developed economies.

I admit I am someone who appreciates art for its own sake, but after years spent eroding the post-WW2 edge in science and manufacturing, creative endeavors are part of what sustains us materially as well as the intangible ways.

You need a bunch of artists for one Breaking Bad, the same way you need many startups for one Facebook or many scientists for one Einstein.

The fact that a relatively small percentage of worldwide artists have a large chunk of the worldwide audience only furthers my point: mass arts are by definition based on popularity, so we can only have so many artists.

But my point still stands: How many of these artists got art degrees? Rihanna didn't, Kanye dropped out early, Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift didn't go to college. Michael Jackson didn't go to college. They do have support staff and some of them may have gone to art school, but there are plenty more folks with art degrees who are struggling.

There are better ways to support the arts than to fund arts degrees. UBI is one example.

Not that I’m arguing against you, but it is interesting to point out that a lot of the music performed by Rihanna and the likes is written composed and produced by people from Sweden, which has a great music education system

This is a viewpoint centered around seeing art as a commodity. To me that's like saying we only need so many scientists. Is perceived value the best metric?

There's a lot of art out there in the world. A whole, whole lot.

If you want to make something artistically creative for people to watch, listen to, or read, you are competing with Mozart, the Beatles, Edgar Allen Poe, Tolkien, and countless other prodigies. Artistic creations made by individuals are a winner-takes-all market where a small fraction of the creators enjoy the majority of the revenue. Artistic creations made by large groups are somewhat fairer (but still often on the low end) in their compensation, if you manage to out compete other job applicants and get the job.

Regardless of whether you as an individual treat art as a commodity, you have to square your viewpoint as a artist with the fact that you have to put bread on the table. Society will very likely reward you very poorly for your artistic contributions.

There is a near-infinite amount of value to be provided by science. Art is inherently zero-sum.

UBI will probably do more to promote the creation of more and better art than subsidizing loans for high tuition degrees.

>orchestra/symphony, opera/musicals

You've chosen the arts which require massive organisation and expense. What about painters, singer-songwriters, writers, poets, etc.?

What about being a painter, singer, writer or poet requires a four year degree? In some cases (in particular, the visual arts) conventional wisdom seems to be that going to school for such a thing narrows artistic vision and creativity into a box.

Actually organizing events requires an entirely different skill set- while having an appreciation for the arts absolutely can help pull off a successful event, it is by no means a requirement.

In visual arts, deep knowledge of what other artists have done, of history, of literature, of geometry, of techniques, of composition, colour theory, etc., etc., generally at least some of these things are crucially important for a visual artist, such as a painter, a print-maker, or a sculptor. Random local artists off the top of my head, Bill Hammond, Tony de Lautour, and Neil Dawson all draw very heavily from at least a few of these things.

> The mass arts that the masses can afford to consume (TV, streaming music, and movies) are by definition based on popularity, so we can only have so many artists.

I'm unreasonably picky and I can never find find enough books / games / tv shows / etc that I actually like. They exist for sure, but I burn through them too quickly, and then I'm left without anything to read/play/watch for a while.

So if we could have ten times as many TV shows to pick from, that would be great as far as I'm concerned. Whether the economics exist to support that is another question of course, and likely the more relevant one.

> The mass arts that the masses can afford to consume (TV, streaming music, and movies) are by definition based on popularity, so we can only have so many artists.

maybe it's a bit los in translation for me, but I wouldn't consider those things really art. For profit gigantic corporations don't produce art. I would say that most art is inherently not able to be a mass-product and therefore every city etc. needs its own art-scene.

Every small town has a church with a choir, that's as much arts as a downtown orchestra.

Most have a theatre nearby too.

How much do we fund arts degrees, compared to, say, engineering, business, and clinical fields? It would be interesting to see the breakdown.

We fund it through Hollywood and Netflix.

Tying college fees to ability to earn is important because most students are told from every authority in their lives that getting a college degree is the "guarantee". If students weren't told that, then sure, maybe there's other things to focus on and talk about, the problem is most people are being told and sold on the "guarantee".

> If so, as a society do we not see value in the fine arts?

There's lots of value there - art for art's sake and all that - but these degrees (and many others) don't directly translate to employment. The problem is that many people are expecting college degrees to give them lucrative employment when this isn't what college was necessarily designed for in the first place.

"This knowledge is valuable in itself. It will make you a better, more well-rounded person, who has a richer life." That's a completely reasonable statement.

"This degree is valuable economically. It will lead to you having a well-paying job that will lead to you being economically successful". For many degrees, that statement is false.

The problem is that, when we talk about the value of a college education, much of the time we're talking about the second statement. But that statement is true only of some degrees, not of all of them.

Is the first statement still true? Sure. But is it true enough to be worth going deeply into debt for, without an economic payback for the degree? That's much harder to claim. And many people think that they're getting the second benefit from a degree when they're getting a degree that only provides the first, and they feel like they didn't get what was promised.

A degree used to show someone was capable of learning more advanced topics. Companies hired broadly regardless of major and trained for the tasks needed.

Degrees as having economic "worth" comes from the shift away from career training and apprenticeship and towards an expectation of readily available career skills (and unpaid internships, a related issue).

Isn't that the result of increasing complexity.

If we're talking about society as an utilitarian construct, one doesn't necessarily see value in another's intellectual satisfaction as much as one does see value from being able to acquire food, plumbing services, etc. A degree is a commitment of 5-10% of a person's life, and it's meant to support the person's ability to contribute to said society for much of their adult life.

Is there value in having _someone_ have expertise in classical music? Sure. Is there value in everyone in the world pursuing expertise in arts at the expense of society's ability to produce food? Obviously no.

The idea that everyone should have equal opportunities to pursue the arts doesn't work on a fundamental level because the distribution of what needs to be done vs what are "desirable" occupations do not match in reality - even when we account for automation. Put another way, everyone wants to be the rich instagrammer posting cocktail pics, not the person serving said drinks at minimum wage.

So, is it really a surprise that even though more people have access to arts degrees nowadays, that they are unable to realistically sustain themselves on the back of these degrees?

>If so, as a society do we not see value in the fine arts?

Yes but most people are complaining that they have this degree and not making enough, so what's the solution? Make government/tax payers pay for these degrees who the salaries match that of guys in STEM?

>. The sad part of being in US (and other places) is that the depth is not valued. Trying college fees to ability to earn is an incorrect optimization.

Lots of people who studied with me didn't like STEM but they did it just because it will give them better salary and life. These people made scarifices, it's rediculous to assume that all people study STEM are studying because of some passion or enjoyment which they don't get from studying music or acting.

>When everyone needs to fight for survival, that reflects poorly on the state of things and it is more of a dog eat dog world.

There is no solution, we can't have our cake and eat it too. If you offer same salaries in both music and engineering, lot more people will go to music and other art subjects. Then who will survive market demand for STEM.

Art is not a typical 8 hour job (if there is any...) as artist typically produce things decoupled from everyday needs of a Consumer. Consumer is raised to drink/eat big corp goods, which are neither fine, nor arts

The market already takes care of all of these things:

1. Society does see value in arts and rewards them commensurately. But democratic access to the arts means that those who are regarded good by the many are rewarded by many and those who are regarded good by the few are rewarded by few. Nothing seems wrong about this to me. Free people give Kanye more money than Killswitch Engage. And as for the liberal arts, if you're Karl Popper you'll live a productive life. If you're Joe Schmoe the Philosopher-Barista then maybe you're not going to reach his heady heights but that's because you're not as useful to me.

2. Each person has a concept of what you value. If you would go into lifelong debt to know about Kierkegaard, then so be it. Good for you! You have that option.

3. You shouldn't expect anything but the same fair shot anyone should be given at life. If we have surplus money and we wish to spend money on people who want to paint, then we will. If we don't, we won't. And we will be fickle. Adapt or die. Your business model is not my problem.

in many societies not the market itself, but the government shoulders a big share of the costs for the arts. Societies came to the conclusion that they need to publicly fund the arts in order to give everyone access to culture and not turn it into a luxury commodity. It's astonishing how much many things like entrances for museums, theatres and art installation would cost if they would need to pay for themselves. Many would not, or hardly able to pay such a premium price, shutting them off from the culture that defines the societies themselves.

I think it's interesting how few read to the end. The author is a "professor of the practice of public leadership." At a business school.

It's worth asking what a "professor of the practice of public leadership" is, because - with my combined liberal arts and STEM academic background - I honestly have no idea.

Which piques my curiosity, because this piece reads like a parable. Second son not interested in college? Never mind. He can always work dawn to dusk - note that work ethic - among "hard-working honest folk." And then join the marines. Where happiness ensues.

As career outcomes go, what could possibly be more wholesome and indeed American?

Which is why should we teach the liberal arts in colleges and schools. Because if we taught the liberal arts - including media literacy and critical thinking - this piece would be seen for what it is: a transparently manipulative piece of propaganda written by someone who works for a right-wing think tank.

Now - you can agree, or not agree, with the political positioning. But unless you are liberal arts-literate, you will not be agreeing freely. You will not know how a piece like this is crafted with stock techniques of manipulative rhetoric to persuade you of a point of view, and a course of action, and in fact a complete moral package, while appearing to be an entirely anodyne but reassuringly plain speaking personal story.

Because - apparently - that is what "the practice of public leadership" really is.

That's pretty much what public leadership is have you ever seen a leader that doesn't do that? I've never had any liberal arts background, but we sure did learn to persuade people in my biology schooling. It's pretty much required to get anyone to care about saving animals and forests over making money.

Public leaders do the same thing every day to get you to agree with laws or decisions they make.

Corporate leaders do it to get people to buy their shit or work for their company.

Leadership, is literally persuading people to follow you. Because in the end, you're going to be a lot more successful as a leader doing it that way than through orders and fear or something.

As to the rest of your post about the article itself though, I don't disagree with you, having written many persuasive things designed to sway people using facts, and perfectly placed numbers, that's pretty much what this is.

Sounds like good old marketing and sales.

> Most of the "golden age of civilizations" had this property

I don't know what civilizations you're talking about, but the vast, vast majority of humans in the past were busy working in the fields to avoid starvation. The classical fine artists were wealthy or had wealthy patrons.

An era of relative peace, prosperity, and cultural production which will define an entire society is often called a golden age. It is rare enough that it needs a mention in history.

Here are a few examples: https://sites.google.com/site/dobsonandphillipsinc/home/anci... - During this era, the economy, arts, architecture and even commerce, flourished.

Golden age of Gupta empire: [https://resources.saylor.org/wwwresources/archived/site/wp-c...] Under his rule, the Gupta Empire reached its zenith, and this is considered the golden age of India. His reign, like his father’s, was marked by religious tolerance and great cultural achievements

There are very similar notes about Persians, middle ages in Europe etc.

But there is no reason why we are not living in one now.

The parent’s point is that even in these “golden ages”, 99% of the population was slaving away on farms all day every day

Not true. They worked a bit to avoid starvation, and hung around resting a lot.

When did liberal arts become fine arts? Not that the examples you give are wrong, but they're not fine arts.

When someone doesn't get a liberal arts education, I suppose.

> A degree gives you an opportunity to learn something in depth.

I'd like to add: "[...], and show people that you've done so."

I can learn a lot of things in-depth in my leisure time, yet I'll never obtain a certificate which states that I've got in-depth knowledge on a certain topic.

The golden ages of civilizations had the majority of their populations fighting for survival. The elite were free to pursue what they wanted.

even then the value is not in the degree but the value produced by the person, someone with the highest perceived value degree can still end up wasting it if they can't deliver, real world value is always found in actual output, a degree of any kind ultimately has no value

You do not need to go to a music conservatory to be a musician. And among the musicians with the highest net worth, few have formal training.

Take for example, Metallica. To my knowledge, none of them have formal training, yet each member has a net worth of hundreds of millions of dollars.

For every Metallica there are 100,000 other bands that didn't make it. They're an anomoly rather than an example.

It'd be more interesting to look at the number of people who make a living from music, and whether or not the majority have formal training. I suspect they do so off you want a career doing what you live maybe training is a good idea. And if my assumption is wrong it'd be an interesting thing to research.

Yes, but the vast majority of musicians do have formal coaching and training. A net worth is not an indication of musical talent and should not be used as one.

> Yes, but the vast majority of musicians do have formal coaching and training.

I really doubt the majority of musicians trained at a conservatory or similar institution exist is what the person you’re responding to said. Having gotten some amount of lessons at some point is not the same as spending even three months at a conservatory.

> A net worth is not an indication of musical talent and should not be used as one.

But it is an indication of how much the public values your work, a very noisy one, to be sure, but by far the most democratic measure if that’s something you care about.

True, but musical talent doesn't mean I should give you anything. If you ask something of me (money? time?) I may demand something in response (entertainment). Should we fail to make a deal, you are out the money/time and I am out the entertainment and we both seek out others who may be agreeable. This is fair. This is free. This is the market. And it is today.

This article is about P(good life|college degree)

Global popularity and net worth is not everything, but you could say that is "a good life", in the context of this discussion.

If we restrict this only to artists, a degree doesn't guarantee a base level of popularity or base income.

This could be explained by selection bias more than teaching success.

I barely skimmed the article, but I don't find this surprising for a few reasons (some of which have been mentioned elsewhere in the comments):

- "University degree" is a heterogeneous thing. While there is such thing as non-economic value, the strictly economic value of a college education tends to cluster around a small subset of degrees.

- Many countries have enacted policies to increase proportion of people who get degrees. Far from fixing inequality, this has instead diluted the value of university degrees.

- All universities are not created equal. While it is possible (and even common) for employers to pay too much attention to the reputation of the school, it is also quite common for students to over-estimate the value of a no-name institution. I've found this to be moreso the case in the two European countries I've lived in for an extended period of time (France & England).

- The exorbitant debt incurred by university tuition in some countries (which need not be named, I think) means the ROI on the university degree has to also be exorbitant.

Have I missed anything?

> - Many countries have enacted policies to increase proportion of people who get degrees. Far from fixing inequality, this has instead diluted the value of university degrees.

I know enacting social change is much much harder than throwing money at problems, but I wish America figured out a way to really strengthen the cultural admiration for the hard-working craftsperson archetype.

Pete Buttigieg took a lot of flak for pointing out that many jobs in America don't require a college degree, and there should be nothing shameful about learning a skilled trade instead of going to college. We have a vast over-supply of many college majors, and (I'm told) big shortages in many skilled trades. There are way too many people with 4-year degrees from top-100 schools working cash registers in retail, when they'd have far less debt and higher income (and a good chance of later becoming successful small business owners) if they'd gone to trade school instead of college.

It's honestly classist to push 4-year degrees so hard. There's something noble about optimizing your own happiness while providing valuable services, despite much of America considering skilled laborers to be a class below cashier workers with useless 4-year degrees. I wish we as a society could better appreciate skilled laborers.

We don't have much positive to show from decades of flooding the college tuition markets with cheap credit / crippling debt and implicitly pushing hard the notion that going to trade school is settling for second-best.

There's something to be said about removing the crippling personal debt from the act of flooding the education markets with money, but without cultural changes, I think a big effect would be further ballooning of college costs. I fear the crippling debt will just get hidden as accelerating the ballooning of government debt without moving the needle much on inequality.

"- All universities are not created equal. While it is possible (and even common) for employers to pay too much attention to the reputation of the school, it is also quite common for students to over-estimate the value of a no-name institution. I've found this to be moreso the case in the two European countries I've lived in for an extended period of time (France & England)."

From what I've seen over the last decade, this is incredibly true in the United States, particularly with the rise of for-profit schools offering online degrees.

("Oh, and X has a Ph.D."

"Oh? Where from?"

"I think it's the University of Phoenix."


> Far from fixing inequality

Was this the purpose? I thought it was to raise living standards by improving productivity. By and large, broader education has been successful at that. (It went off the deep end, in recent years, with the proliferation of bullshit degrees.)

I think you covered part of the problem in the second half of your statement.

In the US, part of the problem is that by making education debts non-dischargable in bankruptcy, and by the aforementioned proliferation of degrees that may qualify as 'nice to have' rather than 'increase earning potential'.

The end result is a lot of people who got a college degree that doesn't really pay for itself, and instead leads to 20+ years of debt, or 10 years of indentured servitude to a non-profit.

Making education debts dischargeable in bankruptcy sounds good in theory, but against what collateral do you take out a college loan? Most bankruptcy includes collateral liquidation. What's to stop someone from obtaining a useless degree that doesn't contribute to the nation's economy, and then discharges the debt in bankruptcy?

I think a big part of the problem is that debt is so readily issued for degrees that overwhelmingly leave the recipient incapable of providing for society in gainful ways.

> What's to stop someone from obtaining a useless degree that doesn't contribute to the nation's economy, and then discharges the debt in bankruptcy?

Nothing, and that's exactly why education debts need to be dischargeable like anything else.

Dischargeable loans makes loan companies have actual responsibility and consequences in deciding who to give loans to. Otherwise, they blindly give out loans (why not, there's no risk!), putting all that much money in the system, which college institutions are happy to absorb in higher tuition.

This is spot on. Currently there is very little accountability for predatory student lending. For my mortgage I had to talk to multiple people on the phone, show proof of income, and have a background check. For my student loan I just had to give my parents' socials and prove I was attending college. I know nothing about the laws around this, but I suspect it was set up this way with good intentions. Unfortunately changing this will probably require a nation-wide acceptance that not all degrees are created equal.

It would be interesting to see insurance companies have more skin in the game - we would probably start getting much more accurate breakdowns of ROI by major, degree, and school.

This will increase inequality, people from richer background will get loans easily.

What America has now is a good system, where anyone can use these loans to pull themselves up.

What government or maybe banks need to invest is in more career counseling.

But it could lead to plenty of people making the smart decision to file for bankruptcy even when they have a good degree. Bankruptcy at 22 isn’t that big of a deal, generally.

I’m not sure what the answer is, though I think an economic approach is key.

If the lender can garnish future wages, I think the incentives are still pointing in the right direction. The only way the lender loses money is by lending too much to someone who will never be able to pay it back - which is what you want, presumably.

Bankruptcy negatively affects your credit score by a large amount, so it's not exactly an easy decision.

It would be a very easy decision I think. Can you rebuild your credit in less time than it would take you to pay off your loans?

If you're still going to be paying your loan off in 7 years, bankruptcy would be an easy choice.

What if you need do anything significant with your money in those 7 years? Like rent an apartment? Have a car to get to work?

The debt doesn't just magically go away. Chapter 7 requires liquidating assets, and chapter 13 requires paying some loans back anyway. And besides, I don't see why loan companies couldn't require cosigners to reduce risk on these college loans.

>Like rent an apartment? Have a car to get to work?

Then you rent an apartment or buy a car. Are you implying you can't do this after bankruptcy? It's much easier to do these with a bankruptcy on your "record" than with a $1000 monthly payment.

I'm implying that these things are affected by your credit score.

Cash is King

If you've got an 800 score and no money, no one will give you a loan. If you've got a trash credit score, but an extra $1000 that isn't going to loans, then you can 'afford' to get fleeced on 36% 72 month auto loans for 7 years until your credit is rebuilt.

Depending on the market, I can’t imagine it being easy/straightforward for someone with “trash credit” to find a landlord willing to lease an apartment at the market-rate.

That $1000 is likely getting spent no matter what, either in repaying loans, or paying a premium over the market rate to get a landlord to agree to lease you an apartment instead of someone with an 800 score.

Make 10% of the balance become dischargeable at the end of each year after graduation.

Agree, that’s a strong point.

> What's to stop someone from obtaining a useless degree that doesn't contribute to the nation's economy, and then discharges the debt in bankruptcy?

I assume lenders would take the degree being pursued, institution at which it’s being pursued and applicant’s academic history (and this likelihood of completing it) into account.

Currently, there is zero incentive to do that work.

Some commercial lenders do consider degree/program.

That's a great point.

It seems like we should make the debt conditional on the degree pursued. How much you’re allowed to take out in federal loans ought to be a function of the pay associated with that degree. I’m sure it’s not a perfect system, but it seems a lot better than the status quo or solutions that involve burdening society with the economic liability of a glut of (economically) low-value degrees.

My suggestion to achieve this is to cap repayments (of non-dischargable loans), perhaps at 15% of taxable income, and written off 20 years after signing. That would make lenders very interested in the outcomes of various courses. And their offers to prospective students would convey useful career advice, too.

Note that the average (mean, I assume) student loan payment is $393, according to the article. The median student loan payment is $222 (https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2020/02/03/student...).

$393 is 15% of $2620 which annualizes to $31,512, which is about the median personal income for full-time workers (whoops, before taxes). ($222 is 15% of $17,760 annual, about the poverty line for two.) That's not a wildly big change over the current state.

How about 10% of taxable income?

20% pretax deduction would probably be sufficient for repayment. Of course loan reform in general would probably be a good idea. If there are 10k graduating with a degree in a field with only 100 jobs/year needing that degree, or likewise paying less than $40k/year, should probably not be granting loans for those degrees in the first place.

10,15,20% all plausible figures, the point is just to ensure that it can't get so large that it gets in the way of living your life.

> 10k graduating with a degree in a field with only 100 jobs/year needing that degree

What I'd live very much to avoid is having a centralized body which makes such decisions. Under my scheme, lenders who identify such fields will be reluctant to grant loans, but how they decide what's in the field, and what exceptions to make, the can do however they like.

A few years ago, I read that at least two big-name U.S. universities announced plans to pilot something like this, where tuition was free, and they'd get a fixed percentage of employment income (wages plus bonus, etc.) for a fixed number of years after graduation.

The university takes on the risk, but they have much more information about their students and their degree programs than students, governments, or private lenders, so they're probably best placed to be making informed risk decisions. Under the current systems, the government and the student take on the risk, while the university and the private lenders get the rewards.

That seems reasonable.

I mean, people got college educations before 1998, when student loans were made non-dischargeable except in cases of "undue hardship".

I never knew the date, 1998 sounds super-recent. But digging a bit, it sounds like that's the last step of many, with the first bankruptcy restrictions in 1976 (when the only concern imagined was medical & law degrees!)


Productivity has increased but I'd argue that because of technological leverage and not more college grads.

A large portion of those creating the tech are self educated.

Would you mind elaborating on your experiences in France and England? I'm curious about the situation there. I was under the impression that there are many effective non-college options in those countries (England's pretty robust apprenticeship system comes to mind), and that university is generally both hard to get into and relatively cheap to complete. I also haven't lived in either France or England, so I speak from a place of little knowledge.

It's not hard to get into a university in the UK. It is quite hard to get into a 'top' university, and Oxbridge typically requires a fair bit of luck in addition to being very hard.

There are pretty decent apprenticeships, but only so many people want to work trades regardless. It's not exactly a ticket to wealth or status like a degree might still be perceived.

From an American perspective, it seems extremely easy to get into a 'top' UK university. Oxford and Cambridge admit around 20% of applicants. Compared to Princeton (6%), Stanford (4%), MIT (7%), etc. it seems like a cakewalk. Is there something I'm missing?

> Is there something I'm missing?

Yes you're missing something.

My friends in the US all apply to a very large number of elite universities. In the UK I don't believe you're even allowed to apply to more than one elite university in the same year, and only a very small number of universities overall. One person I know in the US applied to 23 universities.

And then on top of that, in the UK all admissions for elite universities and most below that require an in-person interview, which the US (bafflingly) doesn't do.

I think I applied to one elite and two just below elite.

All of this means total applications in the UK are far fewer than in the US but each is more focused and more realistic which makes successful admissions seem higher. But really people who wouldn't have gotten in didn't apply in the first place.

> it seems extremely easy to get into a 'top' UK university

Also, what's with these scare-quotes? Are you skeptical that they're really top universities? They consistently top international rankings, alongside your best.

> In the UK I don't believe you're even allowed to apply to more than one elite university in the same year, and only a very small number of universities overall.

When I applied to university a while ago the rule was that you can apply to 5 universities only, ie make 5 applications in total. Only exception was "clearing" but thats a different story

UCAS only allows you to pick either Oxford or Cambridge as part of those 5 if I'm remembering correctly.

That's dumb. By what right do they limit your choices?

>> require an in-person interview, which the US (bafflingly) doesn't do.

Not all, but at least premium ones do alumni-driven interviews.

I see; I didn't know that. I was using the quotes from the parent comment; I don't know enough about the UK system to know which are considered 'top' -- which I'm guessing is as subjective and rancorous a discussion as it is here -- to be confident in my own judgment beyond the parent-cited Oxbridge.

Yes, Oxbridge are not the only excellent universities in the UK. The Russell Group is a piss take, Queens University Belfast and whatever the Welsh representative is are not world class but the LSE and Imperial are, among others.

Almost half of school-leavers go to university in the UK. If you look at a normal school in a middle-class area it’s going to be about 90%.

Seems like that can’t be ‘hard to get into’.

I'm not sure for how much this accounts, but the UK allowed polytechnics to call themselves universities. Of course, this then increases the number of people going to uni... but this might've been a bad idea. While there was a prestige issue with the name, they now have to compete on a similar playing field.

Germany's interesting here, since they had/have Fachhochschulen (apparently translated to University of Applied Sciences). Some of which were very highly regarded, and offered a different focus that suited some people. Although after the Bologna Process, this difference is less clear, too.

> "- Many countries have enacted policies to increase proportion of people who get degrees. Far from fixing inequality, this has instead diluted the value of university degrees."

no, what it's done is uncover the hypocrisy of the meritocracy underlying western narrative--when university degrees were exclusive to the upper class white guys, degrees exhibited a "meritocratic distinction". naturally, only smart and capable people got degrees, not just people in a fiercely-defended and exclusive club.

but when educational attainment became more wide-spread and democratic, the club moved on and abandoned the university degree as a useful in-group signal. economic value was with in-group membership, not in the degree itself, a decidedly unmeritocratic, and unequal, system.

it's made this relationship more apparent, elucidating why inequality has persisted despite wider degree attainment.

> it is also quite common for students to over-estimate the value of a no-name institution. I've found this to be moreso the case in the two European countries I've lived in for an extended period of time (France & England).

Tuition in France is basically free from what I understood. Even if students over-evaluate the value of the school, the fact that it's free still makes it attractive. And I think that some universities are teaching only (no research) no?

It's only free if you forget opportunity cost. Lots of people working behind cash registers with 4 year degrees would have been much happier going to trade schools and being well on their way to being small business owners/co-owners.

There's no doubt that not having crippling debt is much better than having crippling debt. However, we have this cultural idea that being on the road to taking partial owneship of a small skilled labor business is inferior to being in a dead-end job with a 4-year degree. I fear that an over-emphasis on opening access to 4-year degrees implicitly reinforces this idea of 4-year degrees being universally better and that tradespeople have somehow settled for second-best, even if they have more income, a better work-life balance, and are providing absolutely essential services.

Does the average tradesman have their own business though? I think we like to compare mediocre corporate drones to the most successful tradesman.

Yes, they do. Typically after a few years working.

"Higher education is often described as an investment. But it’s still unclear if it pays off in happiness."

Nothing, nothing will guarantee happiness. Or a good life.

Make the best decisions you can, by which I mean try to make decisions that you will not regret later. (Have I made a crap-ton of mistakes in my life? Sure 'nuff. Would I make different decisions if I could, even knowing what I know now? Probably not.)

And for the love of Pete, stop denigrating those who have made different choices. Sure, it may make you feel better about your situation temporarily, but it is very, very unappealing.

In high school, I had a part time job planting trees, but knew I was going to a university that I was proud to get accepted to and excited to have that opportunity. But kind of thinking maybe I shouldn't brag about that to the other kids who were doing this same job, but wouldn't have the same opportunities for higher education as myself.

Then one day, the subject came up, and the other guys were like "Thank god I'm graduating and won't have to waste any more time reading and studying and sitting in a classroom. I can work outside and make money instead."

And I realized not everyone's path to happiness is the same.

On the flip side:

I spent another summer working with a couple older gentlemen driving a tractor. I said something like "This isn't so bad, working outside, breathing fresh air."

They told me in no uncertain terms "Get a job doing something in an office with air conditioning, you don't want to still be out here doing this when you're our age."

The best job I ever had was life guarding a pool barely anybody used. 70% of the time it was empty and I just browsed my phone. It paid $9.25/hr. Some of the other lifeguards were in their 60s or 30s and as a college student, at first I was judging them a little that they were doing such a menial job in their prime earning years.

Then I realized that if they were happy with their current standard of living their life probably had no work related stress whatsoever and they kinda had it figured out. Now I make over 10x more and am constantly stressed out and anxious taking my work home with me everywhere, and I envy those people quite a bit.

Find a job which pays you enough and you are not over stressed. If your job is too hard for you at the moment you need to find a way to be able to improve your skills

> Make the best decisions you can, by which I mean try to make decisions that you will not regret later. (Have I made a crap-ton of mistakes in my life? Sure 'nuff. Would I make different decisions if I could, even knowing what I know now? Probably not.)

I can't agree with this enough, and it's a very powerful mindset. As a personal example, there was some point in my mid/late 20s where how I made decisions changed. Less of "will I regret doing this" and more "will I regret NOT doing this".

It's amazing how much happier and content with my life I was when I removed speculative regret (what if..?) in favor of actual regret. Turned out I regretted a lot less and enjoyed much more when I actually got out and did.

When you are young, you have a lot of options that you will almost certainly regret later, when you realize that they have closed off other options.

I find the idea of a "guarantee of a good life" very strange, and super myopic. There are no guarantees in life, everything is probabilistic. Based on other people's outcomes you can do your best to infer which decisions increase the likelihood of your desired outcome. Want to be rich? I can't guarantee that -- though I would say give what other self-made rich people did a go: move somewhere where you're in the path of money, with other like-minded people.

> Make the best decisions you can, by which I mean try to make decisions that you will not regret later.

This can be hard as a young adult, when everyone in a position of authority is telling you your entire childhood that not getting a degree means you're a failure.

It's kind of a lot to ask of 18 year olds to truly be able to weight the significance of a student loan for example.

Student loans make it more complex, but I know a lot of older people who regret not going to college, both because of the opportunities they didn't have later in life (my mother, for example) and because of things they were interested in but never had a chance to learn (a retired friend who would have loved chemistry).

> I know a lot of older people who regret not going to college

Sure. There's an equal amount of young people who regret going.

Not that they regret the education received per se, but do not feel that its value is anywhere close to the amount of student debt they are in.

Undergraduate courses should either be publicly funded or employers should adjust their expectations. Part of the problem is that nowdays college degrees are required even for fairly low-paying jobs, which wasn't always the case.

There's so much potential in a better university/college.

Imagine that in society we pooled our resources to make the best video/online courses for a variety of subjects. The best CS courses. The best history courses. The best biology courses. We could focus on making the courses accessible and translated. We could make the best assignments and projects, iterated and experimented on with a population of millions. Heck, we could even hire professional actors that would both help with engagement and with representation problems in various fields.

Then in addition to being places of research, universities become the places we go to facilitate taking those courses and applying the knowledge. Watch the interactive videos, and expert tutors help you understand challenging topics, guide you where to look next, and facilitate labs. At least for undergraduate, this seems much better than what we have now.

And then, why not open it up to everyone? We could all take various courses throughout our lives. I'd love to be continuously taking classes in new fields, but the world isn't set up that way.

I think the real value of a university is the community. What you're describing is basically a new textbook. It doesn't replace the people you interact with. Going to a great college doesn't mean great classes with awesome course material. It's other classmates you study with, it's the TAs that hold office hours, the professors too, sometimes.

I strongly agree.

When I was an undergraduate, the "lower division", more introductory, required courses were taught by specialists in "Computer Science Education", whatever the heck that is. I hated them. They were ... useful, as a basis for everything later, but they weren't taught well and if that is all there were, I would be very unhappy about the time and money wasted. Then I reached the "upper division", mostly elective courses taught by active researchers in the given field. Sure, their lectures and such were not well polished and rather uneven, but their enthusiasm for the subject generally shone through and you could get more insight from a chat with a professor on a ten-minute walk from class than from any textbook you've ever seen.

TAs that could understand the material and see where you went wrong. Classmates who were challenging and who asked questions you never thought about.

The whole package is what makes it good.

So what I'm hearing is that introductory classes could be replicated in a primarily online environment? I'd be a huge fan of moving the first year or so of college online (or at least having the option to do so) for a reduced rate.

Possibly, yes. My preferred alternative would be to make introductory classes more like later classes.

There's no reason that this couldn't work via an online community. Online courses don't do anything to foster this kind of connection, because they have always been a lazy facsimile of the in-person college course experience. If they tried, online courses could easily foster these kinds of relationships and unlock a ton of potential.

I also think that this is a larger societal problem that should be but has not been addressed by social networking apps. There are no social networks that are designed to foster communication about highly specific ideas. Sure I can go to r/history to find people who are generally interested in history, but where can I go to find people who would be interested in book-clubbing G.J. Meyer's 'A World Undone'? If I want to talk about physics in general, I could go to /r/physics. But how do I find physicists who want to discuss matter-antimatter asymmetry? You can glom on to conversations in current social networks, but there is no way to start/find/subscribe to discussions about very specific subject matter.

Point being, rather than saying that the IRL personal interactions at college are a reason why the current model is ideal, we could do a lot of good by figuring out how to port that experience A) onto online courses, and B) onto the world at large.

My only counter to that is socialization in person is a lot different than socialization online... I notice that from my daughter to a lot of younger people in general that spend more time interacting online or via phone apps vs. in person have far more anxiety regarding interactions in person.

As to TFA, I think that for a lot of people trade schools are a better option, and should often be encouraged. I'd like to see more general education regarding retirement planning etc as well earlier on, as this is a place a lot of people get stuck, esp. in the US.

Another issue is that people should be guided towards educational paths that have demand in the workplace. Does it make sense to go 200k into debt for a job that pays 38k/year, or graduate 10k students for a career path with only 100 openings. Some of this onus is on the students and parents, but the schools themselves could do much better with this. Some reform on funding might help, but it's a touchy subject.

The opposite is true as well. Those who face to face have far more anxiety communicating online with peers.

On social networks... I think we may see a resurgence of community bulletin boards online... more focused on subject of interest than over region/locality.

For all the flack that Facebook gets, you may also be surprised to find some very specific interest groups, I wish they had not removed the live messenger chat for groups specifically though..

> There's no reason that this couldn't work via an online community.

We are rapidly testing this hypothesis during the current pandemic.

> What you're describing is basically a new textbook.

Yep. I'm reminded of the MOOCs. The idea was to remove all elements from the class that had a cost (i.e., no office hours, no questions during the lectures). MOOCs turned out to be a better textbook, not a better class.

I can't emphasize this point enough. I learned a ton in the classes I took, but the real value I got from college was the people I was exposed to. I built a ton of lasting friendships and a strong network there, but more important was just the experience of being around smart and motivated people. My peers in college had higher ambitions and expectations for their lives than the people I grew up with. That caused me to shift how I thought about my own life and put me on a very different path. That just would not have happened if I took online classes.

Absolutely agree, the physical presence is extremely important. So much of what I learned was from having inspiring peers, professors and TAs in undergrad.

With that said though, imagine if the baseline for every class in every university was "great classes with awesome course material". Now the differentiating factor becomes what you talked about - the quality of the TAs, the professors and their research, your classmates. Wouldn't that be an improvement?

I'm thinking of it as us automating away the non-creative part of school - i.e. as you noted, the valuable stuff is the interactions and the peers, so why not maximize the focus on creating opportunities for that?

Imagine we collected the best material in written, bound volumes. And nearly every city had a large collection you could borrow from for free.

We did. The professors of history, psychology, art, biology, math, - everything - at the world's greatest universities very often write down what they know in books. We achieved this already.

You can read Feynman's course on physics tonight. Your city library probably has it.

Absolutely, and that's something I'm very grateful for! One of the things I love the most about where I live is the excellent library system, and I have taken a ton of advantage of it. That said, it's not always the best for serious self study, since often books lack answer keys or worked solutions.

I'm not proposing distance ed. I'm proposing that we shape education around automating the rote things, in particular delivering lectures. I don't think the main benefit of being on campus is the lectures or coming up with assignments, instead (as another comment noted) it's the peers and the people you interact with and how they help you learn. And so by automating away the rote part of it and focusing on the creative (research, TAing, peer interaction), it seems like we should be able to create better outcomes.

Why do you think universities still give lectures, as the (contemporary) material has been available in written form for a few hundred years? Thousands of professionals, most of them smart and well-intentioned, have had these choices since the advent of cheap printing. Yet lectures today would be recognizable to the ancient Greeks. Why?

That's a good question. I think two things:

1. High quality video recording and transmission is still relatively new technology, and it seems most lectures are audio visual performances.

2. There hasn't been a push for a paradigm shift. Lectures work well enough, and have lots of benefits like creating a gathering of people. But does COVID change that?

There's a lot of value to paying someone who has spent decades reading all the things people wrote down and distilling the most important information, themes, and principles.

I'm reading The Illiad right now (Pope's version). It's quite nice, but I don't understand it. I mean, I get what's going on, but I don't understand why they are telling me this. Why is it composed the way it is? Why start the last few months into a 10 year war? How does one even successfully camp out in front of an enemy city for ten years? Why didn't someone win already? Why are two enemy combatants duking it out while everyone else watches? Why are they willing to stop when the priests put out their poles saying it's nighttime, battle's over? Why are the priests even willing to go near two people fighting? And that's not even getting into all the literary stuff I'm completely missing.

I have the source material. If I spent enough time reading up on ancient Greek culture, and reading analyses of The Illiad, etc. I'll probably get that. Or I could pay a guy who's already done it to explain all the important parts and point me to the things people have written down that are actually helpful (as opposed to not very insightful, based on obsolete information, pushing an ideology, or just flat-out wrong).

Top universities already put all of their courses for free online. e.g. here's all of MIT's CS lectures: https://www.youtube.com/c/mitocw/playlists. There's no downside to them doing so, because they derive most of their profit from their reputations.

And then if you want a more formalized course structure, you have online courses like KhanAcademy.

And then if you want to personalize your learning, you can find individuals who are great at teaching that constantly are producing online content. e.g. Grant Sanderson's channel 3blue1brown, popular even amongst professionals, because it re-teaches concepts in a much more powerful and intuitive manner.

I think the internet is already set up exactly the way that you are imagining. The only difference is that you won't get a reputable slip of paper.

> The only difference is that you won't get a reputable slip of paper.

I would add the costs behind providing that slip of paper are not insignificant.

It requires having people with expert level knowledge of the field assess your work and your knowledge over a broad range of courses.

So universities in the US are ridiculously over priced, but the value they provide is still > 0.

Oh, for sure, slips of paper can be super-valuable. I don't think their main value, however, come from the implied expert-level assessment. Rather, I think their value comes from the implied gating requirement to even get in in the first place. Harvard is more famous for how hard it is to get into, rather than how hard it is to graduate, and then the resulting exclusive club you get to become part of once you're in.

Being part of an exclusive club and having a built-in reputation opens many more doors and makes getting some jobs a lot easier. So then you have to calculate the value of that potential. Department of Education estimated the earning potential for Ivy Leagues to be on average 40k more a year, up to 130k more a year.

[1] http://archive.is/nOfLQ

If we're comparing a college then with no reputation vs taking only online classes, I wonder if there is much if any appreciable difference per year. Maybe at that point the value of the college education is mostly in the knowledge and skills you gain and the paper itself has negligible worth. So then make sure you're only paying a negligible amount to get that paper.

What? Giving an exam is expensive? How many years of college can you test out with AP classes alone?

CS is already like that.

Let's be realistic, there's only so many compilers books, algorithm or OS books around. And most classes are based around these.

I can go coast to coast and everyone I'll meet who is doing an algorithm class will be doing more of less the same thing, only with variation on how hard the problem sets and labs are.

Have you seen The Great Courses (https://www.thegreatcourses.com/)?

> I'd love to be continuously taking classes in new fields, but the world isn't set up that way.

But it kind of is that way?

There is already probably more course content online than you could learn in a lifetime.

Beautiful idea. Courses that improve over time iterated on research would be amazing.

This is a recipe for a very poor education in my opinion. This sort of mass produced educational content, taught by professional educators rather than researchers, produces students who merely know facts and can perform basic algorithms.

Real understanding of a field comes from long hours engaging with the subject and playing with ideas, and from interacting with others in the field. Working through educational material (where it exist) is obviously helpful, but it's not enough.

tl;dr: Nobody becomes in expert in anything by working through a textbook.

Nobody becomes an expert at anything by going to college. Students who get an in Calculus aren't an expert at Calculus or anything close to, they mostly just drilled homework practice problems until they knew enough to an well on an exam.

The goal of undergrad shouldn't be to make anyone an expert, that's what graduate school can be for.

You can very easily become better than 99% of humanity at a topic by diligently working through an advanced textbook. That’s not genuine expertise but it’s not nothing. A community of practice is necessary for true expertise in mature fields but you can get a long, long way with a series of textbooks.

The four years I spent at my university were four of the best years of my life. I grew academically, socially, and career-wise in ways I just never would have without going to school. However, I have plenty of friends that never went to any higher education than high school, or who dropped out of college early on, and it's not like they're unsuccessful or maladjusted. It seems pretty clear that different paths work for different people.

Yeah, as much as I hate the university as an institution, they're still necessary for a large amount of people (in practice) These threads tend to be filled with comments that assume everyone is a developer and / or should be. Unfortunately many, if not most high paying jobs will still require higher education, particularly the stereotypically well paying ones. You aren't going to become a doctor, engineer (non software), lawyer, etc. without that degree unfortunately.

> Unfortunately many, if not most high paying jobs will still require higher education, particularly the stereotypically well paying ones.

Not just any higher education, though, but specific professional degrees that grant access to supply managed markets. That part seems to be often missed when this topic comes up.

I recall a Gallup study into the top 1% finding that something like 70% of the top 1% have a professional degrees (doctors, lawyers, etc.). The remaining portion was comprised of more people with high school or less than those with only a bachelor degree, suggesting that a bachelor degree alone does nothing to improve your prospects. Which goes against the common thinking.

But is also echoed in the general economy. With the rise of post-secondary attainment, incomes have held stagnant. If there was a financial advantage gained though higher education itself, not through supply management, incomes would be rising.

What you say is true, but there are plenty of smart people who start in the trades and then leverage their way up to making millions in business for themselves. When I said I had plenty of friends who were successful without a college degree, I was specifically thinking of auto mechanics. While I'm the typical "developer" type you reference, my main hobby is classic sports cars (which started during my time at college, coincidentally). From that hobby I know quite a few "high school only" folks who are now independently wealthy and fully satisfied with their lives, from building up automotive businesses.

The article spends a little time, in the middle on the headline assertion "College does not guarantee Happiness"

But spends more time on an anecdote about the author's son to demonstrate that "Happiness is possible without College", which is a different matter entirely. And one would hope the latter is true, since 2/3 of the US population does not attend college.

I agree.

This article is very light on content and I'm kinda surprised something this banal and content-less even made it to an actual publication.

Also, the guy's son graduated high school two years ago, he's 20-21 years old, practically everyone is happy at that age, let's hear about his life satisfaction at 40. That's ignoring the fact that two years is hardly enough time to evaluate the long term outcome of a major life decision.

To be clear, I don't think the author's son will grow up to be miserable, like the parent pointed out, most people don't have a college degree and most people aren't miserable. But this should be obvious.

But then

"It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is only because they only know their own side of the question."

   -- J S Mill

I think as time goes on, I am learning that humans are dissatisfied because they no longer know how to live the life of a human, where (wild) pigs are fully capable of living the life of a pig. The big eye-opener for me was "The Story of B", by Daniel Quinn. Say what you want about the completeness or quality of its anthropology, it has touched on an ineffable fact that we are constantly trying to use more of what is bad for us to try to make it good.

>he's 20-21 years old, practically everyone is happy at that age


This is par for the course for this particular publication

"But he did have plans: He found a job across the country on a wheat farm in central Idaho. This wasn’t a hobby or a whim. He became part of a community of honest, hardworking people. He worked from dawn until well past dark through his first harvest, driving a combine, fixing fences, and picking rocks out of the soil. In the winter he found a job apprenticing to an expert cabinetmaker, and started his own small business hauling firewood.

"After his second harvest, with money in the bank, our son joined the Marine Corps, a dream he had had for several years. He finished boot camp and is now at infantry school in North Carolina. He wakes up at 4 a.m., is tired all the time—and is happy. He is, as a translation of the second-century Saint Irenaeus puts it, “a man fully alive.”"

Happiness is possible without college, but geeze, I think I'll pass on that road.

(On the other hand, I know people who have taken roughly that road; he discovered he didn't like ranching (and it didn't pay squat) and joined the Navy, spent 8 years and two deployments in. Seems to have worked out pretty well. On the other hand, he recently completed a bachelors at a for-profit school (that mostly exists to absorb GI-bill benefits, AFAICT) and wants to go back for a masters for some reason.)

That's interesting because that lifestyle doesn't sound all that bad to me. It's not for everyone, but a lot of people really enjoy working outside with their hands and find sitting in an office going to meetings to be incredibly stifling.

I had this debate with myself when I was younger because I really like physical work but am probably better at knowledge work. The biggest reasons I work an office job is that they tend to pay much better than other work and it's easy to end up in a physical job that can take a bad toll on your body over time.

"And one would hope the latter is true, since 2/3 of the US population does not attend college."

Not to mention the vast majority of humanity! One can get a lot out of a "college education," but there is a lot more to life than that.

Hard to blame a third-generation academic for being surprised that happiness is possible without college.

"Some kids think they know what they want to do after college, but others don’t, so for them college is like buying an expensive insurance policy"

Expensive is an understatement. At the same time, being unsure of what you want to do before college is what makes it a great place to sow the seeds for what you do in life. Funnily enough that happens mostly outside of class through people you meet and projects you work on.

Since the physical aspect of college is in question this upcoming year, I feel that it isn't worth it. You can probably do a lot of school without actually paying tuition, and find new ways to meet people and work on projects.

I passed up a National Merit Scholarship that would have let me go away to school and attend one of the big two colleges in my home state. Instead, I attended a local college for two years, living at my parents, taking whatever federal grant money was available and my parents covered the rest, in part because going to the local college kept tuition and other expenses reasonable.

(I'm 55. Tuition has changed in the decades since and this approach might no longer work. It did at the time.)

I then dropped out without a degree and did the military wife thing for a lot of years. I returned to school when I knew what I wanted to do, career-wise.

I made that decision in part because I was personally acquainted with two people who each had a bachelor's degree (and more schooling beyond that -- one was two quarters short of a master's and the other was working on his second bachelor's) and were financially dependent on someone else while they delivered newspapers (one also spent some time selling shoes and he eventually killed himself).

One was in his thirties and living with his mother. The other was mooching off a wife at the time who eventually left him.

So I was never fooled into believing that a college degree guarantees you a successful professional career. I felt I could deliver newspapers for a living without a college degree and I would be better off if I had such a job without being saddled with college debts like at least one of these two men was.

I don't regret my decision. Given the details of my life, I think I made the right choice.

We need to do a better job of educating young people about when it makes sense to go to school. Far too many people seem to think a degree is a magic wand and don't understand what else needs to happen to establish a career, especially one that pays well enough to justify taking on student debt.

Wait, if you're 55 now, you grew up in basically the golden age of US growth and the easy value of a college degree at relatively cheap tuition. And you had friends back then who were saddled with college debt that led to dead end jobs?

The situation, is way, way worse now. Orders of magnitude worse.

Yes, I know. That's why I added the qualifier I did: I'm aware that not stating I did this decades ago could be misconstrued as saying "You fools just need to live at home and go to the local college. Problem solved!"

I'm not interested in being thusly misconstrued.

No I wasn't meaning to miscontrue you for others to read, and I did see your caveat which is appreciated.

I just felt bad for the people who even back then were having trouble with student debt. And to think they were in a relatively lucky age -- everyone is in that boat now, with far less hope of getting out of the hole.

I think back then it was much more likely to be a case of "This person has issues and they screwed up (or got screwed over by life/their parents)." These days, it's much more a systemic issue.

The two individuals I knew had serious personal issues. I also had serious personal issues. That's why I decided they were good examples of where my life might end up if I bulled on ahead with going to college as if a degree would fix everything.

In any era, some people will slip through the cracks. But a healthy system makes that the exception, not the rule. Far too many people are overburdened and falling down these days to the point where there is fairly widespread talk of systemic failure.

I dropped out of college precisely because I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do.

Did you do full-time college and full-time job when you returned? How was balancing that with all the other life responsibilities?

I went to school part-time and intermittently while very ill and homeschooling my special-needs sons. I also completed a couple of different certificate programs with a compressed scheduled, one in a Summer Camp format where you completed a year-long certificate program in two months, and the other was a month of going to school eight hours a day on my employer's dime when I got a corporate job.

I wrapped up an Associate's with two online classes and testing out of some other things. I then enrolled in an online bachelor's, which was never completed because divorce and a serious, lengthy medical crisis got in the way. I then did GIS school one summer and got a corporate job and they put me through a certificate program and additional training for my entry-level job.

You can look into testing out of some things. This is cheaper and less of a time commitment. You can do self study to help prepare for such tests.

You may be able to get some credits for other things. There are books on how to try to do this. If you have military experience, most American colleges will automatically credit you for some of your military training and schools (like you will generally be exempt from taking any phys ed classes).

Online classes can also help make things work. I did sometimes take classes in person and the commute to class was a huge and burdensome time commitment. When I took classes online, there was no commute and that time went into studying instead.

If you do take classes in person, you can reduce the time burden by choosing a compressed schedule. Sometimes the same class is offered on either a schedule of three one hour classes a week or two 90 minute meetings a week. The class with two 90 minute meetings will save you commute time to the college, which can be substantial. (For me, the college in question was like 30 or 45 minutes away, even though it was in the same city I was in. This added up to an hour to 90 minutes saved per week to go with the compressed scheduled.)

Thanks for the advice. This is pretty much what I was planning to do - part-time and mostly online - but I wasn't confident it was possible to get a degree this way.

I was in California at the time. California Virtual College was a useful resource for finding classes I needed and verifying before I signed up that my program would accept them:


Most successful people have X.

Government: “Let’s give everyone X!”

Over time the value of X is diluted, loses its status signaling, and overall quality degrades.

Successful people move to Y.

We give everyone in the U.S. high school education and we don't make the claims you make above. Why would higher education be different?

The purpose of free higher ed for all is not to guarantee everyone a good life–it is to try and give everyone an equal chance at a good life. If higher ed is highly correlated to escaping poverty and upward economic mobility, then college costs raising at a rate 11 times faster than average income is a form of classism.

>We give everyone in the U.S. high school education and we don't make the claims you make above.

Probably because a high school diploma has been so normalized that it is seen as the baseline. But that underscores the problem. Of course everyone having a high school diploma devalues it. That's part of why its seen as the default. If we make undergraduate education a similar default, it will just devalue that too. Not to mention what happens to the people who can't complete an undergraduate degree. They become even further marginalized in society.

It is faulty reasoning to notice that a bachelors degree correlates with good outcomes and then conclude that more bachelors degrees means more good outcomes. Good jobs are zero-sum. If there are more people who satisfy the requirements for good jobs, the requirements just increase. It's not like most office jobs require a bachelors degree, the fact that so many people have them makes them an effective zero-effort filter.

> Good jobs are zero-sum.

Without universal high school, the USA would still be a largely illiterate subsistence farming nation with high rates of poverty as defined at the global scale.

Even well-paying jobs in the trades require literacy and basic mathematics skills.

So, no, good jobs aren't zero-sum.

At one point a factory job would have been considered a good job. In modern times, they're on the low end. What counts as a "good job" is relative to the current standards of living and so you can't naively compare across timescales.

Yes, agreed. And our high schools evolved to prepare students for those good factory jobs. Now that those factory jobs aren't good, maybe our high schools should also evolve.

But the point is that we can't do away with K-12 schooling. Subsistence farming was, is, and will be a bad job.

Middle school alone would be sufficient for most jobs. Also don't forget most learning happens outside school.

I've tutored a lot of tech school kids.

College Algebra is required to enter a lot of trades. And not just because it's a requirement for the AS, but also because you actually do need to be able to understand the material in order to work in many trades. The students I tutor often fail college algebra, move on to their subject courses thinking they can tick off that useless stuff later, then realize they need a college algebra tutor after failing those courses because it turns out they need to understand how to interpret a table or graph of a function in order to do the job.

College Algebra is really hard for a lot of people. I can say with almost certain confidence that, even with extensive tutoring, they would never make it through that course without years of practice reasoning about mathematical objects in Algebra I and Algebra II and Geometry.

I think people who are naturally talented in STEM massively underestimate the amount of practice some people need to pick up the quantitative skills needed to enter many trades.

I am interested in hearing more about your experience tutoring. Questions:

- Which aspects of algebra do the students have the most trouble understanding?

- What are some good examples of tables, graphs, and functions the students need to interpret?

> Which aspects of algebra do the students have the most trouble understanding?

The basic concepts of variables and functions. I can't stress enough that most of your high school facebook friends posting these memes are doing so non-ironically: https://www.google.com/search?q=math+was+great+until+they+ad...

Which, I guess, means "everything". But really getting over that first conceptual hurdle is the hardest part. After that, it's a lot more hand-holding through exercises/practice than trying to surmount a fundamental conceptual barrier.

> What are some good examples of tables, graphs, and functions the students need to interpret?

Tables and ratios and rates of change abound in the trades. Especially anything related to electricity or water. You really need at least a conceptual understanding of variables and functions to understand a lot of the material.

Also, most tradesmen will want to run their own business at some point (that's where the money is), and tables/graphs/functions abound.

If you're struggling with college algebra, odds are good that you're uncomfortable:

1. interpolating values from a table (1/16 : x, 2/16 : y, ..., 1: z; oh no, I need to know the value for 3/32 and it's not on the table!),

2. evaluating a function at a point ("the equation tells me xs from ys and zs, but I need zs from xs and ys!").

Pick a trade and (1) and (2) are fundamentally necessary skills. Smart phone calculators obviate this some-what, but it's still important to have at least a conceptual understanding even if the mechanical skill of doing the math atrophies. Otherwise you won't even know how to use the calculator properly. See this all the time.

The money thing in particular is super important, though. I do a lot of example problems that basically boil down to "if your fixed cost is $X and the equipment needs to be replaced every 2 years, and if you charge $Y, will you make a profit? What is the smallest value of Y that will make a profit? Etc." Students really struggle with this sort of thing, especially if you throw in seasonal variable with fixed debt payments ("how much do I need to make in the summer months to cover the loan payments in the winter months?"). Questions like this are at the heart of college algebra.

Like, would not be surprising if lots of small businesses fail because the owner doesn't do the work of making sure the unit economics can cover amortized costs, and then end up defaulting on their loan.

TBH even gig economy participants need to be able to do the more basic stuff from college algebra...

You're explicitly saying that good jobs are zero-sum. Why do you think that?

It seems like a non-prediction that having more people with good education will enable new businesses.

At any given moment there are a fixed number of jobs, and so a fixed number of "good jobs". I can grant that the number of good jobs isn't fixed on the scale of years. But people that want/need good jobs usually can't wait years for them to materialize. On the timescales that matter to individuals, the number of good jobs is fixed and so the competition for them is effectively zero-sum.

There also seems to be a scale issue when it comes to the availability of good jobs. That is, not all jobs can be good (i.e. high paying) and there is an essential order-of-magnitude difference between the number of high paying jobs and the number of low paying jobs required to make the economics work. So the proportion of good jobs is effectively fixed even on longer timescales.

>At any given moment there are a fixed number of jobs, ...

I think most economists would say that is called the lump of labour fallacy.


Yep, you are correct. Paul Graham writes in Hackers and Painters about how wealth is not zero-sum.

You can read more about it in his essay here: http://paulgraham.com/wealth.html

Wealth doesn't map well to what we're talking about here. No economy can support an unbounded number of "high paying" jobs, for example. While wealth has gone up steadily since the world industrialized, a good (i.e. high paying) job is relative to the current standard of living and so wont be monotonic.

> No economy can support an unbounded number of "high paying" jobs, for example.

Why not? Is there some economic axiom that states this? Can wealth not continue to increase? And can't wealth be used to create "good" jobs?

I don't understand this. The U.S. would be much worse without free, universal High School, regardless of whether you think it has devalued over time. I believe that if I didn't have a H.S. education, my life would be more difficult, but I get the feeling from these replies that people view a u.s. high school education as throw-away.

Many developed countries in e.g. Europe don't actually have universal academic high school like the US does - they have perhaps 1/3 of people go to academic high school, where it is more difficult than in the US (perhaps comparable to the difficulty of AP classes). The rest go to vocational or semi-vocational school.

Not sure that is actually a good idea as kids with well of backgrounds tend to get the higher tracks.

I remember a native German poster on hn commenting on the subject "funny how the its the brown skinned Germans, who end up in the lower tier schools"

You get there by merit not wallet, I thought usa has it the same to be honest. Sometimes I feel like Americans have very deranged view of Europe where half thinks it's some socialist equality utopia and the other half thinks a communist hellhole.

> You get there by merit not wallet, I thought usa has it the same to be honest.

The problem in the U.S. is that not all public schools are equal, so the "merit" to get into a certain school/scholarship is at least partly tied to your social-economic status.

For instance in my area, all public schools have removed arts/music/foreign language, but in the nicer neighborhoods PTA, boosters, and fundraisers have added those removed subjects back with parent donations. So you have a situation where when it comes to vote for a small tax increase to help our schools, many people are confused as their kids go to a public school with everything they need. These are schools in the same school district. New, upscale homes can also pay directly for their public school in the form of Mello-Roos taxes.

Really and having well of parents live in a wealthy make no difference, not being Neurodiverse also is a big help.

You know that meritocracy was seen as a bad thing when it was coined.

Thanks for that. Yeah, I'm all for education reform and different options so it's great to hear about different programs, but many of the comments here are dismissing education, both high school and higher ed, simply because it is less scarce or not what it used to be.

That's because high school education used to be the X, and successful people moved on to college (the new Y), but college is now the old thing and people are moving on to whatever Z is.

> If higher ed is highly correlated to escaping poverty and upward economic mobility, then college costs raising at a rate 11 times faster than average income is a form of classism.

this is true if you look at the sticker price, but does the actual cost for a low-income family grow at that rate? I'm having a hard time finding a source that shows by year what a bottom quartile family would have paid for tuition at an in-state public university or an elite institution.

I think this is bullshit. Why would institutes put such high sticker price or why wouldn't they put price clearly based on income level. No one likes when hospital do not give clear price for treatments, same applies for university.

Would it better if stores listed loaf of bread at $300 and then people can negotiate the price from there?

> Why would institutes put such high sticker price or why wouldn't they put price clearly based on income level.

they don't put a clear price because they take a lot of different factors into account. take a look at this tuition estimator for vassar: https://studentfinancialservices.vassar.edu/calculator/quick...

the grant is calculated based on your family's income, home value, savings, investments, number of children, and a couple other data points. they can't give an exact number until they see your FAFSA. it sucks that this is so complicated, but I argue most of this is necessary to fairly calculate grants. two different households making $60k might have wildly different abilities to pay for tuition.

Because international students (have to) pay sticker. The schools can't (or won't) discriminate on price explicitly so this is what they do.

That is exactly what has happened to high school education.

Kids are passed along without meeting the standards of the grade or degree so that the institution does not look bad.

You may be too young to remember when this was the crises du jour and the No Child Left Behind program, etc.

Not everyone can get earn a PhD. Not everyone can pass the rigors of high school. Not everyone can run a 4 minute mile either.

I think you are missing my point–I believe free high school education is the U.S. is better than no free high school education, so why would free higher ed not be better as well?

What I am not saying is that education hasn't been devalued, or standards haven't changed, or anything else around the quality of education–simply that an education better than not in the u.s..

We give everyone in the U.S. high school education and we don't make the claims you make above.

We used too. A high school education meant something to my grandparents.

I once picked up a hundred year old Latin schoolbook meant for grade schoolers (fifth grade, I think). It was significantly more information dense than the college course Latin textbook I had.

Latin was much more important a hundred years ago than it is today. Also, a college education was not a given back then.

OTOH, I can imagine the HS-level Physics books were very different from the ones we studied with, with different subjects given different depths.

Latin is a good subject to learn as the foundation of many modern languages, and subsequently other subjects such as logic and philosophy.

You should see the books I was taught to read with. Written in the 1800's. They'd be considered 8th grade reading level these days.

> We used too. A high school education meant something to my grandparents.

Do you have a high school education? The education I got in H.S. had a big impact on my life. I couldn't imagine being done with school at 14 and thinking that was equivalent to 4 years of High School.

There are some things that does make everyone more successful. More education is overall better for society, even if it's no longer a guarantee of "success." Some things don't really get diluted but can enrich the lives of anyone they are involved in (if we disassociate the word "success" from a comparative cycle). For example, healthcare, books, digital entertainment, internet connectivity. The comparative advantage goes down, but the impact to the individual does not.

I think we are witnessing first hand why more education is not always overall better. There isn't much point in having everyone learn British Literature on a 30 year payment plan.

It's important to distinguish between education and the business of education.

I don't think I believe more education can ever be a bad thing. But the business of education in the US is an absolute nightmare that corrupts the spirit of learning it ought to protect, and I agree more of that business will not make things better for students.

> It's important to distinguish between education and the business of education.

distinguish between education and schooling

I like to characterize it as "selling education vs. selling diplomas"

Perhaps we need erudition or an education that is not as formalised and compartmentalized as it seems to be. I happen there is something to be gained from literature for example. But a degree is not necessary for that purpose. The degree ends up being used for signalling or to provide some structure to 3 to 4 years between high school and full-time employment.

> More education is overall better for society

And absolutely vital for a healthy democracy.

That's why you mostly see this push-back in places with horrendously broken higher ed systems.

> More education is overall better for society, even if it's no longer a guarantee of "success."

Perhaps, but you shouldn't make the mistake of equating schooling and education.

Government: “Let’s give everyone X!”

Next government: “Let’s charge everyone for X!”

Next government: “Let’s overcharge everyone for X to the point where the price equals or exceeds the value!”

It's sadder than that, because the latter two implies there were some evil mustache twirling decision makers in government who want to cause grief by raising tuition. Instead, it's a combination of good intentions gone awry: the government flooding the marketplace with money by offering student loans to nearly everyone, regardless of probability of payback; and the universities happily soaking that money up by spending increasing amounts of money on "student experience" and athletic programs, in a bid to attract students.

Giving everyone some baseline of education, I think, can be considered a good that doesn't need to be further explained. Reading/writing, basic math and science etc. Increasing the baseline to more advanced learning means a more informed general population, and therefore much more likely technical advancement and wealth creation.

It is the people that are seen as going beyond that education baseline that are the elite, and get the best careers and the most success generally (ignoring other factors for the purpose of this conversation). As you increase the baseline, what it takes to be elite also increases accordingly. I think we can all agree that it is inherently true that not everyone can be elite, in the same way that it's impossible for everyone to be above average, which is what I think you're getting at.

I think what this view may fail to consider is that the benefits of the baseline come to resemble what was previously considered elite as overall wealth increases. Middle class people now have larger homes, more vehicles, more luxury etc. than the lower-tier elites (ignoring the billionaire class here) did 100 years ago. That increase of the baseline living standard is tied to, though very much lags, the baseline of education.

Put another way, we can not eliminate the relative gap between the baseline and the elite, but, in absolute terms, as the baseline comes to meet what was previously elite in education the baseline well-being and standards of living also come to meet what was previously elite.

More importantly, correlation does not imply causation.

Just because people born to the right family, who are free of crippling disability and disease, and possess the innate traits that enable one to be successful in the workplace also happen to go to school does not mean that going to school will change the traits you were born with, reverse the disabilities you have, and see you adopted by another family.

Funny that was missed when it is the first thing you learn when you head down the road to attaining a degree.

The big question is "what is Y in this case"?

A job at Google? I've seen plenty of videos and articles with titles like: "Ex-googler explains the meaning of life".

Perhaps it is only upon leaving Google that one achieves transcendence?

(Source: I work at Google, yet still see life as often confusing and sometimes terrifying)

Better leave now while there's still value in leaving!

yes sometimes you need to see the worst in order to appreciate the little :-)

Techlead isn't serious

I think we should bring back the guild system. Start a job as an apprentice, mentor with a journeyman, progress your way up, mentor apprentices while learning from others higher up, gain sufficient knowledge to build your masterpiece, graduate as a master in your field, mentor journeymen. Move on.

8th Light is a software company that's been explicitly practicing apprenticeship for like 12 years


As someone who came into the industry through the vocational track this is interesting.

But it is confusing are 8th Light acting as a source of training for other companies or just internal use.

How many years is it 4 / 5 what certification do you get at the end?

Why are you using "trade" terminology normally those doing "advanced apprenticeship" where associate professions and calling us "apprentices" would have got you a hard look.

when I did mine in the UK I was a Junior member of the IMECHE on the path way to full chartered (PE) membership

It does seem a bit light how long is the apprenticeship

If FANG companies where serious about training / diversity this is what they should be doing take bright high school kids at 18/19 and sign them up for a proper 4/5 year apprenticeship.

Guilds are awful for immigrants and racial minorities, who are often the new entrants excluded by the guilds. Many “Jewish law firms” exist to this day because Jews were excluded from existing WASP law firms.

Guilds reflect the societies they are in. Society had more bigotry in the past, and so did the various institutions within it.

Also, it's weird that you call out guilds for being discriminatory but then give an example of discrimination in employment. We have fair employment laws to prevent this type of behavior and arguably could have "fair guild membership" laws if it became a problem.

It's fair to argue against guilds for driving up prices by limiting membership.

You’re overlooking that the non-white population is much younger (the median white person is 42, the median Hispanic person is 28) and they are driving all population growth in the country. (The absolute number of non-hispanic whites started declining in 2010). Given those changing demographics, when guilds act to limit membership (as you acknowledge they do) the bulk of those excluded are going to be non-whites.

And employment discrimination laws won’t solve the problem because the discriminatory effect arises from the legal practice of protecting existing members at the expense of potential new entrants.

I proposed guild discrimination laws similar to employment discrimination laws, making it illegal for guilds to exclude on the basis of protected categories.

That wouldn’t help. In a country where the non-white population is rapidly growing and the white population is shrinking, and also is trying to catch up in terms of education and income, the population of guild members will be whiter than the population of potential new members. Limiting supply (favoring existing members over potential new members) will in practice disadvantage non-whites.

There was a very clear example of this recently in Chicago. Lori Lightfoot explained that she wouldn’t pursue police funding cuts because under the union contracts, cuts would have to be made from newer employees first. (Last in First out.) That would mean that 2/3 of the cuts would be Black and Hispanic officers, even though less than half of the overall force is Black and Hispanic.

Oh interesting. That's a good point.

I’m trying to think of why it would be worse. Is it because skills become less transferable, thus making it harder for an apprentice to move from one master to another?

Perhaps that is by design - companies are wary of investing time and money training junior employees because they can just leave before the investment pays for itself?

Not sure what the answer is here; just playing devil’s advocate.

It’s because it gives guilds the power to control the pipeline of skilled labor and exclude new entrants to limit supply. Guilds are generally run by their members, and the existing members are much more likely to be white and native born than potential new entrants. Their management structure also makes it more likely that prejudices will be acted upon.

When public unions became a thing in the 1960s and 1970s, they systematically excluded Black people, for example.

A federal government can dictate what it thinks morality should be, but in practice cannot enforce morality in a free country.

Even in the US South, the vast majority of millennials and gen Z are not racist. They aren't in political power yet, but in the next 20 years or so, they will be and the zeitgeist of the area will finish its shift (even the people currently in power are abolitionists compared to the previous generations). Travel the world and you'll see that (perhaps outside some European countries) the US of today is just about the least racist country in existence.

Guilds/Unions formed today won't have the same issues as ones from 50-60 years ago because the general view of people today isn't what it was back then.

Guilds and unions are not the same thing.

No matter what the "zeitgeist" is 20 years from now, guilds will still have the effect of artificially limiting the supply of labor to the fields they control, which has been a disaster for fields ranging from medicine to cosmetics.

Craft unions, like in construction, are more like guilds than the industrial unions. You must qualify in one way or another to be a union member before you can get hired by a union company.

But in an industrial union, as an example get hired by an automaker with a UAW contract (and not in a so called right to work state), you are a UAW member.

I think you mean the very early years 1870's and 80' unfortunately the AFL did discriminate against Black and Female Workers.

Who's going to pay for someone to be unproductive at their job? Corporations surely don't want to anymore.

You mean you can't have lower level people working on bug fixes and small tasks while you save bigger more difficult work for more advanced people? Who says they won't be productive? What is your measure of productivity?

I'm talking about the fact that hiring managers expect applicants to have 100% of the listed skills for any position because their corporations would rather spend money on stock buybacks than employee training.

Maybe this is one area where legislation can help enforce a social norm. Corporate training used to be practiced at prior generations of generations- IBM, GE, HP, etc. With corporate profits at the levels at they are today, Big Tech can afford to spend a little more on expanding internship and training opportunities.

People also used to stay at the same company for 30-40 years.

Personally, when I look for a job, I'm not willing to commit to 30-40 years. I think that part would have to change as well.

I'm not sure it went anywhere, because this is a pretty accurate description of the PhD system.

Ph.D's get paid a pittance relative to what they do... and for like 3-5 years.

Apprenticeships for things like plumbers and electricians pay a decent wage interspersed with education.

On the long term a Ph.D may do better than a Master Electrician, but in the short term it's a way better deal. My friend out of HS who started working for Nissan and then Infinity was making 60k+ before he was 21. He's capped at around that much -- like 60-70k -- but most of our high-school friend circle wasn't making that kind of money until our late 20s (and at least one became a teacher, and still doesn't get that much in terms of pure cash comp).

I wouldn't know, I'm just a high school dropout, but if they barrier of entry to getting into a PhD "guild-system" is to also go through Associates, Bachelor, and Master degree, then I don't think its worthwhile for 90% of jobs that only require technical mastery.

Teaching yourself new skills using the Internet.

People always parrot this but how many Doctors do you know with no degree? Take a poll at Google engineers and see how many are actually self taught and have no degree. How many Wall Street bankers/traders/etc have no degree? How many US Senators have no degree? How many World Leaders in history have had no formal education? Not counting dropouts, what percentage of Billionaires have no college education? The reality is still that the overwhelming majority of "successful" people still have degrees. You can argue what the root of this is whether it's the added knowledge or signalling of the degree, or intrinsic self motivation of the person, etc. but that fact still remains.

> You can argue what the root of this is whether it's the added knowledge or signalling of the degree, or intrinsic self motivation of the person, etc. but that fact still remains.

More discussion on "the root of this" might lead to the above changing.

I agree, but it hasn't changed yet. Despite the "teach truckers to code" kind of rhetoric and survivorship bias of self taught coders.

Having your parents fund your startup and getting all their friends to support you until you hit critical mass where you don't need their help anymore.

Usually 2+ years of experience in a certain field.

How do you get enough experience for employers in said field to take a chance on you? It's all about getting over that initial hurdle of 100% unexperienced.

Usually by being willing to work for peanuts for a really low budget place.

And that do all fields have budget places where you can work in for peanuts? Are all fields of the "just figure it out on the job" variety? Software is a weird bubble, but are all industries able to do that?

Yeah, for the most part. You have to get your foot in the door. Usually by having a family member or friend give you a leg up. There are few professions that have some sort of on-the job learning for the inexperienced that can be replaced by college. Especially at the BS/BA level.

If you don't have that foot in the door you are usually spending a few years working for "Exposure" or "Networking opportunities." Sometimes for minimum wage or less. Unless the job is so hard that it's constantly churning workers. I'm sure a lot of jobs will take you off the street with no experience, but they will be dangerous and/or unpleasant.

Naturally when generalizing there will be exceptions. But that was essentially the rule when I got out of college. 2+ years experience prerequisite for most "Entry-Level" positions.

To prove intelligence and conscientiousness? Probably PhD degree.

A PhD degree doesn't "prove" anything. It's a chance for you to build your own education using the resources at your disposal, under a mentor. There is vastly too much variability in the experiences of PhDs, even within any single field, to generalize. This makes it difficult to market the PhD as a credential or meal ticket. It's a license to compete, that's all. And as you can read in this forum, it's held against you by a lot of people.

Luckily, I knew this when I started my PhD program, because of an oversupply of mentors and role models within my own family. Also, I was planning on carving out my own niche anyway because I'm a punk. But it's not for the faint of heart.

Still, I'm skeptical about modifying PhD education to turn it into a "credential" that comes with an employment guarantee. Part of academic freedom is the freedom to study something that nobody cares squat about. Also, many of the people who are attracted to doing that, are unlikely to prosper in a mainstream career anyway.

For myself, I realize that becoming a programmer after high school might actually have been better from a lifetime earnings standpoint, but it assumes that I would actually have survived an entry level job in a code factory or IT department.

A PhD only signals that you have an unhealthy relationship with academia.

I've interviewed and worked with so many PhD from top tier schools and it's astounding to me that someone can spend 6+ years studying a quantitative science, at a school like MIT or Harvard and still not have a basic understanding of statistics, and worse be incapable of genuinely understanding any of the quantitative tools they used for years.

The current generation of PhDs don't know how to do any kind of real research, they simply know how to mechanically replicate the processes you need to survive in academia today.

Another thing with a PhD is that it is no guarantee that you'll even be hireable. I know of a number of PhD candidates who have trouble interacting in a professional setting outside of the of 'I deserve deference because I have a PhD, you don't necessarily even deserve respect' mentality.

I find sometimes a PhD can come with very ingrained attitude issues. I recall working for a company with a new-recruit development program where really the only way to fail out was through attitude issues. One of the people who oversaw the program mentioned that she's only ever seen people with PhDs and higher fail out over this issue.

I wonder if the same people would have failed out of any job requiring human interaction. One thing graduate education does is attract people who know that they would struggle in a mainstream work environment for whatever reason. Some are outright crazy.

Quite possibly. I do know it's common to the point of being a trope that some graduate students are just in graduate school to defer having to enter the work-force. Some see it as a way to put off having to make major decisions or processes like job hunting. Not like there's no real reason some opt to do things like that. It is markedly easier to accept scholarships and do the grad school circuit than find a job if you have mid to high grades.

I'm surprised to read a comment like this. It seems like an incredibly harsh generalization. I know plenty of PhDs who have a good relationship with academia, or even no relationship.

I also think it's unrealistic to expect PhDs to have a "basic understanding of statistics" unless they specifically studied it. I would be shocked and dismayed to see a PhD statistician misunderstand basic statistics; I wouldn't blink if a PhD mathematician or physicist made basic statistical errors. It's hard enough to achieve research-level mastery of one domain in five years, and many mathematicians and physicists (most?) do not need stats.

If you're talking about fields like psychology or sociology, I personally disagree with the expectations they're held to. I believe we would have less of a reproducibility crisis if research projects had statistician coauthors and peer reviewers, rather than just PhDs for whom statistics is not a core competency. That would be fairer and more realistic.

Finally, to be blunt it's hard for me to take this comment seriously when you say something like this:

> The current generation of PhDs don't know how to do any kind of real research

Bollocks. Ph.Ds don't mean much unless you want to do research and provide cheap labor for 5 years.

I'd say a Master's is the new BA/BS. With everyone getting an undergrad degree via online schools, or via 6+ years of undergrad college, it's ability to filter is weak. A brick-and-mortar Master's serves as a way to differentiate from that pack; I'm not sure what an online Master's equates to.

Maybe an online master's will actually be a better filter than brick-and-mortar? I'd say it takes more fortitude to stick with an online program and finish it, so at some point maybe 'online' won't be a pejorative, it'll be a bragging point.

Now there are online degrees from good brick-and-mortar schools that do not mention they are online.

Georgia Techs OMSA, OMSCS, UT Austin Masters in DS, CS online.

> intelligence and conscientiousness


A PhD degree does generally prove expertise in whatever the subject of your dissertation was and provides access to a couple of networks. Not always guaranteed, but if someone has a PhD I generally expect that they are at least competent at whatever their dissertation was about. And I've only been burned once.

The value of the expertise & set of networks, though, can range from "extraordinarily valuable" to "worse than useless".

In STEM fields the expertise & network is usually at least good enough to keep you busy with decent-paying work for a career or so.

In CS it's usually good enough to get you either a 100K job with lots of freedom or a regular old 300K job at a big tech. So, not really worth doing if your goal is just maxing out lifetime earnings, but certainly there are worse outcomes. From there you're on your own, though.

In many of the humanities... not so much.

That just proves how masochistic you are.

Perhaps a degree from one of the "best" colleges/universities in the country.

More like having the best connection's from the university/family/friends ;)

I never said the degree was a benefit itself! Just that it might satisfy "Most successful people have X"

(Although, here in the UK at least, the quality of degrees genuinely does vary by university in a way that roughly corresponds to their rankings. I know that's an unfashionable observable but I have seen enough degree programs at different universities to know it's likely true unless I happen to have seen an atonishingly unrepresentative sample. Partly this is self fulfilling because lower ranked universities are forced to take less good students and the level of the programme has to be adjusted accordingly, but part of it really is to do with quality of teaching.)

It does vary when I worked at BT, one of our students doing a year out had lectures from one of the people who built the Manchester Baby.

On our team we had a guy from ENA and he was the son of a French diplomat and a British mother - we quickly learnt he did not need any hand holding.

The value of college is not being diluted. It's the signal to employers that college degrees is useful filter that is being diluted.

Hiring in general is done poorly and I understand why. It's hard to differentiate between so many candidates especially for entry level positions where a lack of job history makes it difficult to evaluate talent. So it makes sense that employers optimize for lazy signals like completion of a degree.

In general universal education is far better for a country.

Let's turn this around. Suppose we cut back on education, to inflate its value while ensuring that the population as a whole is less educated. This should make us more prosperous. An example is our widespread prosperity thanks to the high value of medical doctors.

It doesn't make sense.

This. Just substitute goverment with society/market/evolution. Government is too small a fish for this phenomenon.

I mean there's a lot more to university than "success preparation". While university is indeed no guarantee for success, it does seem to help a lot with your understanding of the world and your ability to think critically.

I'm lucky enough to come from a country with free decent universities, so maybe it's easy for me to say, but I can't even put a price on how my education changed every single part of how I think and understand the world. That it prepared me for a well-paying job is just a nice side-effect.

How well do you think the misinformation that laid the foundation for the political shitstorm the US is in now could have taken hold if most people had a college education?

> could have taken hold

Yes, especially if all or at least most colleges considered it a high priority to educate people in what used to be called citizenship.

Isn't citizenship a high school subject?

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