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The Coming Meltdown In College Education & Why The Economy Won’t Get Better Soon (blogmaverick.com)
339 points by dwynings on May 14, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 292 comments

Mark Cuban writes: "As an employer I want the best prepared and qualified employees. I could care less if the source of their education was accredited by a bunch of old men and women who think they know what is best for the world. I want people who can do the job. I want the best and brightest. Not a piece of paper."

So, I suppose I could be wrong, but I would be willing to bet a great deal of money that Mark Cuban does not employ anyone in any sort of white-collar job who doesn't have a college degree from an accredited college.

It's nice for Mark Cuban to say that, but the reality is if you submit your resume to Mark Cuban Enterprises, Inc. where you list your education as being from the First Internet School of Book Learnin', Mark Cuban's HR people are going to delete it offhand. They're not going to call you. They're not going to try to find out if you're the best and brightest. They're going to delete it and call the guy who has Yale on his resume. Sorry.

Today the same institutions provide education and certify skills. If nothing else, it's an obvious conflict of interests that's tolerated only because historically there was no other practical way around it. The war for talent and the online classes will soon disrupt that - you'll be able to give interviews/tests in a 2-day examination and get a paper saying what you really know (like SAT is for pupils).

And when that link fails, when you can get a certificate in 3 days as opposed to 3 years, when you can study interactive online courses with top-notch content at your own rhythm as opposed to a 4-year outdated programs, then it will happen: certification will be independent and traditional universities will have serious disruption in their tuition prices and budgets.

What will not happen is the demise of high-end education and student loans. The senate & president won't let it fall; US needs to keep itself competitive, especially versus EU where most states heavily subsidize education from taxes. The society and the police can't afford uneducated children.

> 4-year outdated programs

A good STEM program teaches you how to think, and that never gets outdated.

Colleges offer a smorgasbord of courses to take. If you select courses for the easiest route to a degree, you won't be that employable. If you select courses that will give you the best foundation for your chosen career, that'll do much better.

For example, although I got a degree in engineering, I made sure I also took a class in business accounting. (That class has paid off well for me.)

> A good STEM program teaches you how to think, and that never gets outdated.

Honest question: does one not learn to think before college? Where are the parents? What happened in high school?

What I mean by "how to think" is developing organized thought processes for solving (seemingly) hard problems. For example, breaking a large problem into smaller ones, solving the smaller ones, then assembling the solution into a larger one. When faced with a problem, determining what you know and don't know about it. An organized methodology for distinguishing facts from baloney.

All these skills are developed in the process of STEM training. I know I got an awful lot better at it after 4 years of that, and I can see the deficits in those abilities in people who have not undergone such.

For example, given someone debugging their program - I see many programmers who will just try guessing things randomly. If they get lucky with this approach, they often have little idea of why their change made it work. (Often, nor do they care.) But they do spend an awful lot of time with this method, compared with someone who sets about finding the problem in an organized fashion.

>does one not learn to think before college? Where are the parents?

Maturity plays a huge role. A lot can happen in 4 years of independence.

Everyone learns to think one way or another, and it continues well past 18. The human brain is still physically developing at 18.

So since you're going to learn to think after 18, a good college education provides the shortest cut to learning to think WELL, based on the accumulated experience of thousands of years of human history.

If you exit high school not knowing how to think, you're not going to suddenly learn in college.

If you select courses for the easiest route to a degree, you won't be that employable.

I've never seen evidence that specific courses matter much for employment post college. Do you have data on this?

No, I have done no research on this. But if you went for a degree in EE, and took only the minimum of electronics courses, then you'd have a skill deficit compared with a person who took every advanced EE course he could stuff into his schedule? For example, he layered on analog electronics, and you took only digital, that you'd have a problem when faced with a job that needed a bit of analog?

And yes, I've seen EEs flummoxed when faced with a bit of noise in their digital circuit, when a guy who knew some analog had it fixed pronto. Which engineer was more employable?

I don't think Walter Bright meant that listing the courses you took on your resume is going to make you more (or less) employable. I think the point was that taking difficult classes will better prepare your for work.

I slightly disagree with this position, difficult doesn't mean better (depending on your definition of better). For example, I would have been better served to take a class on databases rather than a class on computational geometry.

I didn't mean necessarily taking hard classes. I meant taking classes that would provide a foundation for your career, rather than selecting classes based solely on how easy they are.

Certificates are fine for IT work, but they can't replace degrees for programmers. A degree at a good school shows that you're smart, not just knowledgeable.

Google seems to be able to figure out smart folks in 5-6 hours with pretty high accuracy.

Isn't Google also notorious for being biased towards the "top" schools, caring about GPAs and turning away a ton of smart people? That's what I've heard, but I've no first-hand experience.

So many smart people apply to Google that they could (at least historically--maybe it's different now) get away with a hiring process optimized for false negatives over false positives. This is only fair, but also probably makes them a poor example as far as hiring practices go.

So yes: they can figure out if you're smart in 5-6 hours. But they can't do the converse reliably.

I guess the reason why companies with a high application volume (like Google) tend to be biased towards "top" school and using your GPA as a selection criteria, is that it is so much easier to "cut the pile in half" and still have a decent number of good candidates, only the average talent might be higher. It reduces the overhead in the HR department.

That means a lot of smart people never get the opportunity to try out for the interview. In my opinion, you have to market yourself better and differently if you want to increase the odds of getting to the interview, where you get a chance to prove yourself beyond what is on paper.

What you say makes sense for the screening rounds - resume shortlisting and a phone screen. These are centered around rejecting candidates. But face to face interviews are supposed to be the other way. As far as I know, Google asks for the GPA mostly towards the end. That doesn't save them any time. It shows they care about academics.

On a general note, is there any company that tries to extract patterns out of their employees performance track records; like a feedback loop into their interview process?

Google does not ask for your GPA in interviews.

Well, funny

I know about people with no college education being interviewed at google

You can blame google for having a broken interview process but it appears 99% of their assessment comes from the interview and it really doesn't matter if your major is in pet grooming or math

Edit 'cause I can't answer: Not "friend of a friend" account, but directly from the concerned person

'"99% of their assessment comes from the interview." Indeed, it's the very opposite since the interview is not where you show that you can |excel in multiple areas."'

I don't believe you are familiar with the Google selection process. The importance of academic achievement (for engineering positions especially) is underrated by google.

You may shine in academia, if you don't get almost a perfect score in the interview you're out.

What you said doesn't necessarily negate tikhonj's statement.

You said they were interviewed. You didn't say if they were hired. If they weren't hired then was it partially due to a bias against people without a college degree?

You also said "know of", which means this is a friend-of-a-friend account, with bearing on the usefulness of that information for this question.

Better would be a pointer to http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2011/04/07/so-you-want-to-... where someone who was on a Google hiring committee "acknowledges that the 3.7-or-higher-GPA myth is widespread, but she discounts it." and says "Academia is merely one way to distinguish yourself, and there are plenty of others. So if your GPA, or your school, doesn't stand out, look for additional avenues. Besides, you'll need to excel in multiple areas to get your resume selected."

I read this as saying that good grades from a good college help, because it's one of the ways to show that you excel in an area. This also implies that excelling in college is one possible indicator on success in working at Google.

That's very different than saying that "99% of their assessment comes from the interview." Indeed, it's the very opposite since the interview is not where you show that you can |excel in multiple areas."

Isn't Google also notorious for being biased towards the "top" schools

They were in the early days, but it doesn't seem to matter anymore. Some regular posters to HN are Google employees void of any college degrees. The change indicates to me that their attempts to filter by education was failing them, which is interesting in itself.

If that's all your resume says, then you're probably right. But there should be something on there that indicates that you can do the job otherwise you wasted your time applying. The point is that education says nothing about being able to do the job in many cases.

If you are applying for an engineering position and you have MIT on your resume, that is certainly going to imply that you very likely have what it takes. But it still doesn't prove anything. On the other hand, if you have no formal education on your resume but you've built a fusion reactor in your basement, I'm pretty sure your resume wouldn't get thrown away.

Unfortunately, "went to MIT" is both easily recognizable and easily verified.

"Built a fusion reactor in my basement" is neither of those things.

Similarly, "check out my GitHub" has many of the same problems. I'm sorry, but most employers don't have time to look you up on GitHub to crawl through all your commits. That will happen if you get past the first cut, but it won't do anything beforehand.

Sure, you can put "Main developer for <some project>" on your resume. Hopefully the person who is in charge of culling applications has heard of <some project>. If they haven't, they will hopefully take the time to go look it up. Hopefully.

I'm not saying that this is the way it should be, but you have to understand that the average person in charge of hiring is constantly inundated with applications. They simply don't have the time to do research on each one. As with anything, you have to find some way to stand out, but in a way that doesn't require them to visit your basement.

>>They simply don't have the time to do research on each one. As with anything, you have to find some way to stand out, but in a way that doesn't require them to visit your basement.

In that case they shouldn't look too surprised if they end up hiring wrong people. Or they end up hiring a person with a lot of paper degrees but can't move a coin on the table.

Because you ultimately get what your truly ask for. You asked for degrees, you got it. Why is this so surprising?

Ask for innovation, creativity, hard work and productivity and you will get it. If you want to hire such people, you may to have to visit their basement or look at their github logs. If you can't do that you shouldn't complain you can't hire such people.

People often ask why do great hackers, nerds and other geeks don't gel so well large heavy bureaucratic corporates. Its because the rewards vs performance incentives are all badly messed up. More often than not somebody who has a degree from X college, with Y GPA gets the money.

We recently hired a guy straight out of college, extremely good marks on paper. He seems to know every other data structure and algorithm in the book. But doesn't last more than couple of hours. On the other hand, I've known people from ordinary background with medium exposure, able to last through tough deadlines and crisis situations with enthusiasm. The latter people make far more better hires than the previous ones.

Your degrees are of no use if you can't perform. That fact doesn't change.

Yeah, I'm not arguing that a degree is a good indicator of performance.

You have to put yourself in the shoes of the person in charge of hiring. If you advertise a well-paid tech position, you will probably get thousands of applications. You can't read them all in elaborate detail. You can't visit everyone's Github. You just don't have time. So how do you cull? Just randomly select 10% and go with that? What if you happen to pick all the bad ones? That's not going to work. Industry experience? That's easy to fake and also doesn't really mean anything. Contact their previous employers? Those interviews are notoriously inaccurate and also way too time-consuming.

If they graduate from a good college, that's possibly a good sign (but possibly not! easy to get a CS degree and have no work ethic). If their resume lists a bunch of personal projects and GitHub links, that's possibly a good sign (but possibly not! easy to push random crap to GitHub that no one will use).

I'm afraid it all comes down to time. Either you hire an army of extremely well-trained HR people who are all capable of evaluating code quality and project performance (in which case, why aren't they off programming themselves?) or you come up with some heuristic for culling applications that doesn't take an inordinate amount of time. It's harder than it sounds, and that's why employers fall back on do-you-have-a-degree - because it sits at the sweet spot of sort-of-predictive and easy-to-cull. Or they end up asking their current employees who to hire, which means they hire their friends (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

Ultimately, it boils down to filtering by reputation. The data says that most jobs are acquired through existing connections before it is ever advertised to the public, but in those outlier cases, a degree gives a nod to you from a known credible source.

In the world of social networks and artificial intelligence, it is interesting that nothing has come up to provide better recommendations. Perhaps because it's not really needed in the software industry at this point (at least if you believe there is a shortage of talent), so it is not noticed as a problem by the programmers who are capable of making such a system a reality.

I've seen a poster around here who is involved with a startup (can't think of the name, sorry) that is working on a problem like that. Amalgating prospective hires and ranking them based on various assets of problem solving, contributions to Github, technical experience, etc.

I wouldn't be surprised to find this sector increasimgly revisited in years to come. I've recently come to experience that programmers without much experience, no matter how well-intentioned, sometimes just stomp around doing far more damage than good on projects.

This is where having a solid referral network and a good technical pre-screening process help.

The screen would be a quiz, puzzle, or other technical challenge which can root out the obviously unqualified (and possibly net you some viral buzz), while being easy for an HR drone to administer. They don't need to verify the code, just that it produces the correct result. Mind that "correct result" should be sufficiently qualified (e.g.: parsing /etc/passwd for valid user accounts will vary somewhat by 'Nix system and Linux distro).

College degree does make for a useful filter. It's not the only one. For a company which is deluged in qualified candidates, the problem isn't making the exact correct hire, but in eliminating obvious misfits quickly. Now, I'd also hope that they'd make exceptions for personal referrals who lack a college degree.

Also: college is itself a place to seed referral networks. Again, not the only one, but there.

The only people who are going to bother solving your puzzles are the ones who are desperate for a job- not the people you want. Qualified candidates have lots of opportunities at places that respect their time, and don't pretend an easily googleable problem is an indication of performance.

Doesn't have to be something horridly complex.

Just enough to show basic competency.

A shell one-liner, a brief function in a programming language, some basic domain knowledge.

Those people you request send a code sample or their Github profile.

You've already knocked off about 75-90% of the applicant pool.

> In that case they shouldn't look too surprised if they end up hiring wrong people.

The reality is that they get so many resumes, like thousands, they are forced to do an initial culling. That cull takes about 2 to 3 seconds per resume.

If you don't have a degree, you won't make the cut. We all know that means some great candidates will be missed. But any means of whittling down those thousand candidates runs such a risk.

In that case they shouldn't look too surprised if they end up hiring wrong people.

They shouldn't, but they probably will anyway. I think you have to assume that lots of companies will be stupid and work with them or work around them.

>Unfortunately, "went to MIT" is both easily recognizable and easily verified.

Most people miss the point on why this is important. MIT doesn't teach its undergrads anything they couldn't learn at the local state school for a fraction of the price. But you have to be really smart to get in to MIT. That's what employers care about - not what you did when you were there, but that you got in.

The root of the problem is Griggs v Duke Power. This problem isn't going to go away until companies can give IQ tests again without the legal peril, because otherwise employers don't have much to go on besides where you went to school.

MIT doesn't teach its undergrads anything they couldn't learn at the local state school

I think it's more subtle than that. If you start with people who are very good at learning (which is all you can know about them at college entry time) then you can teach them more in 4 years than you can the "average" person. So the MIT guys probably really do learn more. The question is of course the extent to which that translates to on-the-job performance, as good learner doesn't imply good doer.

MIT doesn't teach its undergrads anything they couldn't learn at the local state school for a fraction of the price.

As a matter of fact, yes, UMass Amherst is quite competitive with MIT in STEM departments. Thanks for noticing.

You didn't make a clear point, but I want to say this incase people believe you are implying otherwise. I've worked at a few of the largest companies in the world, with the classic HR dept, and they have all had numerous good programmers with nothing more than a high school diploma. I've hired a few myself. It really isn't hard to show someone that you know what you're doing.

My experience says otherwise, but it requires approaching the person and bragging for minutes. Its certainly possible to do this, but not via Internet or paper applications.

Then there would seem to be an opportunity there to automate some of that work. Imagine an algorithm that could give an estimate of the impact factor of an open source project (sort of like the impact factor of an academic journal) and of a particular developer's contributions. You'd end up with a score kind of like karma at HN or reddit, which could be used by lazy HR departments to make the first cut. It could probably be gamed, but somebody's going to scrutinize you more closely for the second cut so gaming it might not be advantageous.

The point is that education says nothing about being able to do the job in many cases.

I work with students for development projects. We don't get to pick them, they pick the projects we propose. Here's a question that tells us in seconds whether we're going to have a tough project with a lot of pussyfooting or one that'll go mad with ideas:

Do you have tech-related hobbies?

Most barely have a few hobbies but some are pretty much involved in every electronics/software niche they come across.


You want to find the people who care enough about technology (of whatever type) to invest their own time and resources in it. I've met too many so-called professionals who see development as their job, and see no reason whatsoever to do it for recreation.

The only "no" answer that I ever respected in this regard was "Hobbies? I am working two jobs to get through school. I have no time to do anything but work and study."

Not agreed. Professional means you do it for money! Again I ask, how many professional doctors do surgery after hours at home for fun? Not many...

I wonder how many accountants, lawyers and doctors have "hobby" projects in their respective fields. And whether they get asked that in interviews.

That's actually a very good question.

Your average lawyer/doctor/accountant ends up in a very predictable career, just like your average engineer.

People who end up in politics tend to have a degree in law or finance and debating as a hobby. For jobs in politics, that's the kind of folk they look for, not just the "I have the right degree so hire me" types. Look at doctors who work in non-profits abroad: you'll find people with a very active engagement in social groups in their youth (I know a few in that profession) .

Anecdotal, but the accountants I know all have side-businesses, which allows them to practice accounting in a hobby context.

Tech-related hobbies are great, but so are not tech-related hobbies.

I take questions like this to mean that the employer expects the employee to work outside of work hours, to not have a family, and and to not do other things. Perhaps that isn't the intention, but it seems to be the implication.

The great irony of this is that the vast majority of these free offerings from which one could conceivably cobble a degree are in STEM, and yet the numbers of students graduating with STEM degrees has been flat for decades.

20 years ago, if you had told people that the world's most widely-read source of general knowledge would go out of print and be replaced by a website editable by anyone, anywhere, people would have said you were crazy.

But that did happen. Yale may not "go out of print", but I don't find it hard to imagine new online schools competing and winning in the battle to redefine education.

The first mistake here is submitting a resume.

You need to be calling your contacts at Mark Cuban and saying, "Yeah, I'm in good shape here, but I'm willing to look at other things."

False. Many of the Mavericks players do not have college degrees.

Mavericks players are not in white collar jobs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-collar_worker

TBH, I have never really looked at the education section on a résumé when hiring unless the person is an existing graduate.

After a few years of work experience, all that really matters is the last 3-5 years.

You could pretty much omit everything before that, because just the last 3-5 years is usually enough to figure out the caliber of work a candidate may have been doing before that.

If all résumés only included the last 3-5 years of an employees life whether or not that includes their education, would it really be worth that much less as a factor using in the decision to interview or hire?

Correct. I have found blog posts where there are snippets about how they are "looking for bright and interesting minds and college degree does not matter" but when you look at their Jobs page, you have a BS Computer Science or equivalent requirement listed there.

How many job postings for the tech field actually make sense? Most of them are written by people who have no idea what they speak of. Shoot, most recruiters have no idea either. If the job seems interesting submit anyway and just hope to get someone who understands what's written on your resume. Can't get the job if you don't try.

It does say "BS Computer Science or equivalent" -- so they're asking for a certain level of education, which doesn't necessarily have to be in the form of a college degree.

It is interesting that they still choose to use college-level credentials as the baseline metric though. Why not "Four years of demonstrable self-directed learning in the study, or equivalent"?

In my mind that's not really the same thing.

Universities have requirements you need to cover in order to graduate. So when a job lists a BS CS degree as a requirement, they're saying they expect you to be familiar with the core subjects of the field. Certainly not an expert in any one subject, but at least familiar. (If they want subject area experts they'll usually be advertising for MS/PhD with a focus in [blah]) Obviously this still gives the Universities a great deal of trust, with the implication that in order to receive the degree, you had to demonstrate your capability. That's a sizable question mark, even though it's what University accreditation is supposed to be for...

Sorry, went off on a bit of a tangent there. Anyways, four years of self-directed learning won't necessarily cover the same subject matter they may expect you to be familiar with.

Because a college degree is simply the most common way that bullet point is satisfied. Why use a more obscure standard to convey the requirement?

At least some data seems to agree with you http://www.businessinsider.com/busted-hypocritical-peter-thi...

It's probably easier to get a response from Cuban himself than any of his HR people. Didn't he invest in a teenagers company on Shark Tank?

Fuck college. It's not the only way to learn, to meet people, or to show your expertise, capabilities and accomplishments anymore. We have this thing called the Internet now. Write a book. Put a PDF online. Record a video of yourself giving an intelligent speech or showing some useful talent. Put it on YouTube. Write software. Put on GitHub. Answer technical questions well on StackExchange (or whatever for your particular industry/field.) Apply your supposed skills and talents on something tangible then put it on the web and be findable. Fuck 4-6 years of your life and $100k in debt. Fuck all that.

Fuck people who bitch about how expensive college is.

You know how much I paid for college? $0.

You know why I paid that? Because in high school I did a lot less than what you outlined above, but it was enough to get a scholarship to go to college. Six great schools looked at my application and offered me somewhere between a discounted rate and a full ride + stipend on top of that. And I was only 20th in my high school class by GPA rank.

If you think that you can match a college degree based solely on self-guided learning, then you should be smart enough to get a scholarship. It's the same damn process. You need the self discipline to stick with a program of learning and working, and you need the intelligence to learn without support. It's just a question of whether you realize that in high school or later in life.

Did the failing mark on your "How to Win Friends and Influence People" book report bring down your GPA? ;-)

I had the same experience as you (college paid for via scholarships), but the scholarships available differ from school to school and community to community. So, not everyone has that as an option.

Hardly, I hand out copies of that book and truly believe it, but tongue-in-cheek doesn't come across well on the internet.

There's a limited number of scholarships to go around, and for those who can't get one, the cost will matter.

I think what krschultz is saying is that if you have the skills to be successful without a college degree, you also are likely to have the skills to get a scholarship to a decent school. They are a somewhat similar skillset and going to college allows you to check the checkbox on an application.

I understand that, but they did also say "Fuck people who bitch about how expensive college is."

Do you think Mark Cuban was a scholarly book-learner? Or that the top Latin student from your secondary school had a successful exit?

0 < correl(school chops, business chops) < 1

How many people in the U.S. do you think follow a career path like Mark Cuban's? Don't use an extreme outlier to make a general point.

I was using Cuban as an example because the book cover visible on the article is so jock-ish. In the above Cuban is supposed to represent that business-successful jock archetype.

There are tons of undergrad programs that are less than $10k per year. Big state schools which will give you all the social experiences you need and some of the learning.

No HR department can interview people without a degree when there are so many people with degrees. A degree doesn't get you in the door, but is a minimum standard for just about any job.

It is too bad school is too expensive, but it doesn't matter.

"No HR department can interview people without a degree when there are so many people with degrees. A degree doesn't get you in the door, but is a minimum standard for just about any job."

Nonsense. I have never been to college and I am currently responsible for the IT Security of a mid-sized health network. Not only was I hired without a degree but I've been promoted several times.

I also have no technical certifications, at various points in the past I had some but have let them lapse. Having a piece of paper may make things easier, but in the end it comes down to whether or not you can sell yourself to the organization.

And on the other end of the spectrum, I've been an "intern" with a 10,000+ employee nationwide corporation for over a solid, full-time year now and have 2 years part time experience prior to this position in the information security and network infrastructure world. Yet I'm waiting to be hired full time (or even part time) until I finish my degree. I've earned several awards for my work, and for one quarter actually turned the security department into a profit center based on information I provided about a vendor causing a major security breech (and the resulting lawsuit).

It's a great company, but my experience doesn't matter to them. Without a degree, I cannot be hired. Schools in my state don't even offer Security degrees, so it's not a matter of what the degree says, it's a matter of having the degree. I literally cannot do anything more to prove my value to the company. They don't care. It's about the paper.

"it doesn't matter"

In what sense? In a social-justice sense it seems like it does matter quite a bit. In a national-productivity sense "the college question" also matters quite a bit. In what sense doesn't $trillions of spending matter?

"It is too bad school is too expensive, but it doesn't matter."

It does matter. The schools that are worth anything are too expensive (exceptions are there of course) while the cheap ones (read < 10K a year) are probably good for nothing. You are better off trying to get a job instead of attending those cheap schools.

University of Texas at Austin, University of Washington, and the Georgia Institute of Technology all have tuition of less than 10k and are ranked by US news as having CS programs better than Harvard. Several others have tuition less than 15k.

Cheap schools are not good for nothing, and price does not equal quality.

It does matter. The schools that are worth anything are too expensive (exceptions are there of course) while the cheap ones (read < 10K a year) are probably good for nothing. You are better off trying to get a job instead of attending those cheap schools.

You are saying this: Ivy/Private School > No college > State School

That statement is absolutely ridiculous.

If the value of college is dominated by its http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signalling_(economics) effect, a degree from the "wrong" school could send such a negative signal (you weren't wise enough to skip the degree even though you couldn't get admitted to the "right" school) that the innate value of the education you received doesn't make up for it. I hope this doesn't hold broadly, because I went to a state university. But I would think less of someone proudly displaying, e.g., a degree from a known http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diploma_mill, so it's at least possible for a degree to be worse than useless—the question is how mediocre a school would have to be.

I can't reply to prodigal_erik because the thread is too long, but the definition of diploma mill you provided is refering to non accredited universities.

I am talking about accredited universities, big state schools that are very affordable and provide fairly good educations.

I would rather attend one of those than no school at all.

I think it's a bit more these days, but I spent about $60k on my aerospace engineering degree from Georgia Tech. That's a decent amount of money, but if you're a self-starter with some programming chops, there is no reason you can't work during the summers and the year to save up $10-15k or so for school.

I went to a <10K state school where I learned the skills I needed to get my DIY education afterwards. Undergraduate school taught me how to learn. It taught me how to not be a slob and be productive.

The domain learning useful for my career came after.

Maybe the monolithic decision of university shouldn't be forced upon us when we're teen-aged and entrenched in dogma.

Maybe the people who think college is a waste of time should try to reach young people with that message. (career day at a nearby school? online forums young people hang out on?)

he's not allowed near schools...

I also paid $0 for college, but that's because I did my undergrad in Europe, and my US university entirely paid for my grad school costs :3

I didn't get a scholarship, I might have been offered one if I took the college aptitude tests, but I didn't feel like going to college at the end of high school - I was sick of high school as it was, nothing but cliques and kids picking on me. I hated it. I didn't want another 4 years of the same stuff. So, I probably wouldn't have gone to college even if I was offered a scholarship. However, now I am considering going to college, (many years later) and I doubt anyone would give me a scholarship now. I've become a successful programmer just from teaching myself.

Fuck people who bitch about people who bitch about how expensive college is

It's hard to overstate the value of a university education... Why are you so vehement? Never went to college?

In Switzerland, which traditionally has seen a low rate in college degrees, and has relied on its apprenticeship system for a long time, we have seen an explosion in new college titles with the bologna reform.

You want to be a janitor? Congratulations, you can now get a master in "facility management". Teaching special needs children? You better get started on that degree! You want to be a librarian? Well, what about getting a degree in "information management"?

You got a degree in communications and have freelanced for a couple of years as a copy writer? What you gonna do? Ah right, you start to teach "corporate PR" at a university. Demand is that high that I could probably start teaching shit like Java, which I don't even know, in a heart beat. Without having any pedagogic qualities whatsoever.

We live in a day and age where everybody wants a slice of that big fat cake. Everyone is entitled to 10k a month. Everybody wants a designer apartment, a BMW. Every year, a new smartphone, vacations in the Maldives. Living the dream. On top of that, costs are rising across the board, mandatory health insurance is killing everyone. Prices are inflating. So what you gonna do? Ah, right, you get a degree, it doesn't even matter which one. Shit, three years ago my mom got a degree (she was a Kindergarten teacher). She is 53 now.

I really don't know how this could last. Maybe it can last for a small country like Switzerland, but I have a very bad feeling. A lot of the people will one day wake up and realize that just because the studied something, they're not going to earn 200k a year, even not 10 years down the road, yet they already live a lifestyle that assumes this to be true.

edit: My girl friend proof reads master theses for people. You wouldn't believe the shit she has to read and correct. Without outside help, many people would fail miserably. If you pay enough you will get your degree in one form or another. And that is precisely what is going on.

To be fair, library science is a field which many people dedicate a huge chunk of their lives to, often through some pretty rigorous undergraduate work. The professional accreditation is usually required for scholarly posts. 'Information science' is another thing entirely (though if that's your point, then, well... OK).

Similarly, at least in much of the US, teaching special needs teachers requires extra certification on top of a normal teacher's license. Without all kinds of extra classes on the various psychological and physical disorders that they deal with in their classrooms, the extra classes seem pretty justified.

Of course you need extra certification for teaching special needs. That's not the point. My question is, do you need a college degree for it?

I used this example because it relates to my mother, who recently got a master in this field. First of all, I'm proud of how my mother pulled that off at that age, while still working at her old job!

That said, the courses were largely theoretical mixed with a minuscule amount of practical studies. How many of the graduates will be able to pursue an academic career in this field after this degree? Maybe 1% (Note, this number is pure guesswork). The rest will actually end up assisting kindergarten teachers with their "disorderly" children.

In many cases, they should function as a buffer, protecting the child from overzealous kindergarten teachers who want to get rid of the troublemakers asap. This is important because a lot of developmental "deficiencies" are not there forever or can be mitigated. I digress. From my point of view, the actual theoretical work was frankly substandard. I don't think it has to do with me applying the standards of "hard science" to a "soft field". No, simply put, those professors didn't know that much to begin with and neither did many of the students.

The purpose of a University Degree (even a post graduate one) has never been to allow an academic career. It has always been the case that these degrees are necessary but not sufficient for an academic career but in the vast majority of cases Masters and Ph.D's go off and do other things instead - like practice in their field. In terms of educational psychology there is a very active and inquisitive community of research developing a number of strands of theory. I don't know very much about it at all, but some of what I have seen with respect to cognition, learning and development is impressive. Some is less so - but all of the people who I have met who are working on this agreed and wanted to change that, which I view as healthy.

As an aside if you were to (honestly) think about almost all fields of inquiry (maths may get a pass, possibly) then I think that you would have to agree with the statement "those professors didn't know that much to begin with and neither did many of the students". We are pretty ignorant about more or less everything when you look closely.

I think you misunderstand me. I didn't use this phrase in a philosophical way. I'm talking about professors teaching statistics and not knowing the difference between the median and the mean. I'm talking about that level of incompetence.

Imagine a course on compiler design where the professor doesn't know what top-down parsing and lexical analysis is. I'm certain that you would call that class a failure, or not?

Of course that class would be worthless. Not all (and in my experience, almost no) classes, however, are like that when one selects a college which has a quality program for the degree of interest. Furthermore, I would go so far as to lay much of the blame for a poor education on the student who fails to select a good school for their degree.

I recently saw a TV show about employment problems college graduates had. One person interviewed had a master's degree. The show was extolling the virtues of a program to assist these people in finding jobs, and a big part of their help was showing people how to write a resume.

I was astonished that someone with a master's degree would need help putting together a resume. Something is terribly wrong.

I have a 4 year degree and I think it's hard to understate its value. I wish I'd spent that 4 years doing different things... I almost certainly would have learned more (and the things I learned would have been more useful). And it wouldn't have cost $120k.

That experience isn't applicable to everyone. Mine invaluable and cost less than 15k.

College is what you make of it.

The cost of a college education is an overstatement of its value.

How many recent grads outside of engineering do you know? Now how many of them are gainfully employed?

Now how much did they pay for school and how much pay and experience did they miss out on by not working for the time they were in school?

I just went through the post graduate job cycle along with a huge batch of my peers and any of us will be the first to tell you that college is broke. The only reason I am employed is because of projects I put together myself, online, outside of the scope of a university education.

If you are looking to meet girls and learn how to drink to excess by all means college is a great place to do it. Otherwise college education in the liberal arts is a complete waste.

That's not exactly true. On average with the current unemployment I think you are correct, but the value of an ivy league degree is still many multiples its cost because it gets into the good ol' boys club.

Most people do not graduate with an Ive League degree.

There are certainly people who have the self-motivation, drive to learn, and grade themselves accurately using self-teaching tools -- but I think you'll find those people are few and far between.

Also, most of the useful information I obtained in my degree was which resources are the best.

And of course, you can't learn medicine (and others) without actually examining people

Would you trust a doctor that only learned on the internet to operate on you?

College isn't just for web programmers.

Seriously. You'd think no one has to learn to use equipment that costs several tens of thousands of dollars and whose sale is rigorously controlled by the US government.

/nuclear engineer


And also medicine, biology, most of engineering, etc

Sad, yeah.

Unfortunately, Hacker News mostly is.

I taught myself to program (which I have no degree in). There was no way I could've taught myself aerospace engineering (which my degree is in).

Not everything is like the software industry. Indeed, most things aren't.

In theory, I agree. In practice, college is a very useful signal. And it's not just the coursework from the college major. College demonstrates a variety of soft skills: time management, the ability to plan and meet deadlines, the ability to work on what's necessary when it's necessary, a willingness to suck it up and do some unglamorous but necessary drudge work, etc. I've worked with a variety of people that haven't gone to college and with few exceptions they were lacking in these areas.

Obviously all those skills can be learned elsewhere, but as a hiring manager, it's a major time investment to try and suss that out whereas having a college degree with good grades means more likely than not that the candidate possesses those skills.

4 years and $50-100k of debt is in no way an efficient way to surface those signals.

I agree that some things like research can't be done online. But I don't think those will remain at the university either. Graduate/research degrees must represent such a small % of a university's revenue that when the majority goes away they simply won't be able to survive.

Just ask the RIAA if they can survive by selling mp3s when they're used to selling overpriced CDs.

Graduate / research degrees are a university

universities exist solely for the purpose of enabling professors to do further scientific research

to do this they need:

* a supply of intelligent grunts (phd candidates)

* an administration capable of turning grant money into a well stocked lab


* a supply of very rich young people who will be taught the basics of science such that when the young rich people run the country they might get something right

unfortunately we have forgotten that one genius well supported can provide value and economic growth for a whole planet (who invented steam engines, fire, wheels, transistors) - and  million English graduates wont make up for it.

I would be perfectly supportive of a university system that publically funded scientific (empirical,  provable) courses, had industry funding for vocational work (engineering) and left arts to do what they have always done. 

But saying let's get rid of the lot? Nonsense.

You are both right in some respect.

First of all college teaches knowledge that you would need relevant to your major. Then college is a signal that you can learn stuff that is required (but not necessarily that you would like to learn). For example sometimes you might just not know what you need to know. Like math. I am glad I was forced to take calculus because I find it useful in my programming job, years later. Taking that made it easy to take understand and analyze algorithms. I am also glad I was forced to take English and Critical Thinking. I stuck with it for 4 years. That also tells something about me to a potential employer (maybe the wrong thing, maybe it shows I can be a submissive grunt that will willingly follow orders, or maybe it shows I can get stuff done to a future startup partner...)

So, taking costs aside, I think there is some value in college.

Now bringing the costs back into it, I agree with you, that all this should probably somehow be obtained for less than $100k. There is a terrible inefficiency some place if it actually costs that much. There is terrible waste some place. I remember my University was building large stadiums, and huge gyms with lazy rivers and other crap in them, while some colleges couldn't afford paper to print exams on and was using single spaced double-sided, small fonts.

> , I agree with you, that all this should probably somehow be obtained for less than $100k.

There are efforts underway to provide the education, filtering, verification and signaling services for $0-10k per person. It can be done. We just have to cut out all the fat.

"4 years and $50-100k of debt is in no way an efficient way to surface those signals."

This seems intuitively true - 4 yrs/50-100k looks like an unjustifiable expense - but efficiency is relative. If we don't have another way of systematically vetting knowledge workers, then talk of efficiency is moot. There's room for improvement/disruption, but the parent's response to the gp's "fuck college" sentiment was well measured and in keeping with the sentiment of the linked article.

The median amount of debt is somewhere around 12k. 50-100k of debt is not at all required for an undergraduate degree. Anyone who chose that route had other options.

At research universities most of the budget comes from research, and most of the work in research gets done by grad students. Undergrad programs are an afterthought.

That's only true for STEM fields, though. Outside of STEM, department's budget is actually correlated with teaching undergrads, so they tend to do a better job of it. Which is why so many undergrads end up switching majors away from STEM in college.

Well undergraduate programs are a thought in that they are needed to produce candidates for the graduate programs that provide value.

And from what I can see most of the budget comes from and is devoted to college football.

> And from what I can see most of the budget comes from and is devoted to college football.

This couldn't be further from the truth. I'm unaware of any major universities in which sports money comes from or is applied to general budgets. Athletic departments are generally self-contained and there is very little (if any) financial overlap into the academic portions of a university. Payroll, and even scholarships, are paid from athletic income, and any left over is not put into general budget.

Personally, I wish the myth of "the cost to the university/tax payers/etc" would go away.

I bet if you broke it down you would find that most research dollars are spent at schools with highly visible sports teams that are self funding.

I believe this mostly because the big conferences have fantastic TV deals and huge research schools.

I agree that some things like research can't be done online.

I've heard this many times. Why is this? I get some research requires access to physical equipment that is out of reach of the common man, but it seems something like algorithmic research in the field of CS could often be done online.

At research universities, undergraduate tuition represents a very small %-age of the university's revenue.

I am in my first year as a mathematics professor at the University of South Carolina. Having moved here from Stanford, I've noticed several things.

(1) Many students are woefully underprepared. In my calculus classes I have found that a great many of the students have not mastered high school algebra. And these are the students who pass our placement exam, and aren't obliged to take one of our many algebra and precalculus courses.

(2) Many of the students aren't all that motivated, and resented me for asking a lot of them.

(3) Many of the students really are highly motivated, and have impressed me with their talent, and more importantly with their eagerness to learn.

But where will they work? There seems to be a relative lack of employers in South Carolina for talented, ambitious people. "Relative lack" doesn't mean none, but if I were advising, say, a talented and ambitious math and CS major who was graduating, my first advice to him/her would be to leave the state.

And yet, we continue to enroll 5,000 new students each year. I wish I felt there was a better light at the end of the tunnel for my students, at least one that didn't oblige them to move far from home. But I am kind of feeling a bit of a bubble.

For now, students continue to enroll in my calculus classes. Despite all their complaints to me, they busted their asses and I am proud of them. I hope that ten years from now they have reason to decide that their efforts were worth it.

Most students are crap at math. That's a fact. There is 0 encouragement to spend high school refining math skills.

Also don't confuse motivation with laziness, priorities, or time management. To a psych major, calc might seem like one of those bullshit classes you have to take. To an EE Major it might just be more hours of work that could be spent sleeping.

I went to public HS in the US, and the math education there was terrible and completely sub-standard. The science was about average. Now, the school wasn't all bad. The humanities (English, Latin, German, French, Spanish, History) were all of very high quality. I had to do remedial math work before going to college, but had a perfect score on my verbal SAT. I've often wondered why that happened. The only reason I can come up with is that it's harder to get qualified and excellent math educators because those people end up making more money elsewhere.

There is a relevance problem, yeah. I personally was motivated to really learn calc in 1st year college, mainly by physics classes. I wasn't a physics major, but I found the freshman physics class really interesting. In particular I found it interesting that via this tool, calculus, you could actually re-derive the entirety of elementary physics (stuff like dist = v0 t + (a t^2)/2), and much more, via a procedure with more internal logic and less arbitrary memorization. It almost felt like a successful good-cop/bad-cop setup: bad-cop high school made me memorize a bunch of bullshit special-case formulas, and then good-cop college explained to me that you could just do calculus to derive the answer.

I could certainly see how those motivators wouldn't apply to all students, though. Honestly they applied to me mostly out of personal, side-project-esque interest. In CS I tend to use statistics and discrete math a lot more than calculus, though calculus comes up occasionally.

i hated math when i entered college despite having passed the AP calc exam in high school. i didn't see the point and couldn't understand why i was learning about functions. i had no idea how to even think about the subject beyond what i had been told to memorize.

the second semester of my sophomore year i decided that my interest in computers and desire to have a job lead to me changing my major from psychology to computer science. i signed up for calc II as my first college math class and felt exactly like you did, getting an A+ despite not having taken math for almost 2 years.

i hated high school math because it felt like pointless memorizing of stupid facts. i loved college math because it was about describing and reasoning about these conceptual objects and i didn't have to memorize a thing if i could just remember how to derive it. they explain how to think about these objects, and once i understand the framework behind the subject i enjoyed it much much more.

the fact they were reasoning, explaining/proving why the math worked, and presenting the logic behind their thinking was enough to make me love it. i went dual math/cs and eventually got a MS in pure math.

Fun fact: at at least one college, the psych department has too many students. They knew they would get into trouble with the dean if they started failing them, and there was no mechanism to impose a cap.

So they added a calculus requirement to cut the numbers.

That's a horrible way to look at a college experience. As a student you're paying good money to get an education. If you treat it as a monetary transaction in exchange for a credential then you are unlikely to get your money's worth.

To be fair, many math professors have the didactic abilities of a monkey.

I remember a professor and made no sense whatsoever. You felt that he was bored teaching Analysis and decided that he'd do everything but.

At one point he was talking about his theoretical work on the Riemann-Zeta function, on another point he talked about his childhood memories. He did this every lecture, hopping back and forth to what he was actually supposed to be "teaching". The equations were splattered across three blackboards in an absolutely illegible handwriting. No one could read that handwriting. On top of that, he switched from English to French to German every other minute. He was not able to maintain a consistent train of thought for longer than 30 seconds. Then, regularly, one minute before the lecture ends, he realizes that there is an error on the blackboard and starts to erase half of all the variables (which we couldn't read to begin with) and starts to doctor around.

In short, we had no clue what that guy was talking about. Not a single fucking clue. And at first, you just think that you are that dumb. That you are going to fail miserably. After all, this was the beginners course! There was one for advanced students! Because I had worked as a web dev after high school for a year and after that, I had to do one year of mandatory army service, I naturally enrolled in the beginners course.

After a month I changed to the advanced course. Of course now I had also no idea what was going on. Good times. Just reciting this story makes me angry.

I've had an absent-minded professor or two, but that's far worse than anything I experienced in 4 years of college.

High school on the other hand is another story. They hired a chemistry "teacher" off the street who turned out to be drunk every day in class (mind you, this is first period, 7:15am!), it took several weeks to figure it out because her personal hygiene was so bad you couldn't get close enough to smell the liquor.

On the other hand that was public school, so I didn't pay anything. Still a better deal than most people pay for college these days.

We had another prof (statistics / stochastics) who had no official course material and recommended ten books worth 1'500 bucks. We quickly realized that you could either write down 12 pages per hour until your arms were sore. Or that you could forgo taking notes and try to understand his lecture. But not both. After a couple of weeks we tried to split duties. After a month we started to photograph the blackboards. Then we wrote a small OCR program for fun and ended up with some form of script for the course.

Anyways, our efforts were pointless because the professor decided that he'd include advanced topics in the exam. Topics which were not included in his course and outside what his defined boundaries for the exam. I think most if not everyone of the class failed to get a passing grade. His laconic remarks were about how at such an "elite" college, you need to learn stuff beyond what is required of you.

I don't know, the first two years at college just left a sour taste in my mouth.

>I have found that a great many of the students have not mastered high school algebra.

That's been my experience tutoring all of my younger siblings.

I think that we'd be better served if all 4 years of high school were spent mastering basic algebra (with exceptions of course).

A mastery of basic algebra will better prepare you for college than a cursory understanding of trig and calculus.

This assumes a few things.

1) Teaching something repetitively means the students will learn more the second time. 2) Basic algebra is all that's needed as a general background in math for all majors. 3) Everyone in high school is there to prep for college.

Those are three massive assumptions. Your viewpoint is rather narrow minded when you consider all the possibilities.

>1) Teaching something repetitively means the students will learn more the second time.

Further clarification of my ideal system--Once students demonstrate a mastery of algebra they can move on. For some students this may never happen, but there is really no point in moving to higher math if you can't master algebra.

>Basic algebra is all that's needed as a general background in math for all majors.

Take my major as an example (Math at Georgia State). Precalc and Calculus are required (you can clep out of either if you want). You don't really need high school calculus or trig even as a math major. You'll get the higher math in college, and my argument is that you'll be better prepared for said college math with a mastery of algebra than you will with a basic knowledge of calculus and trig and algebra.

> Everyone in high school is there to prep for college.

For the vast majority of people, if you're not going to college trig and calculus aren't necessary.

I'm an older student attending my local community college, and I agree with you completely. I watch my classmates in Calculus and Physics courses struggle with algebra much more than the new material we are learning.

High schools should focus on algebra and geometry for the majority of students.

From my perspective, you guys have it backwards. I was screwed in some of my college courses because I did not have enough calculus background, I only had algebra.

I feel screwed taking some online machine learning courses because I can barely do Linear Algebra.

Why did you not take the introductory calculus courses then?

There wasn't time. If I had taken extra time, or if I had known my major earlier enough, I could have. However, the expectation was that I would not take an intro calc course.

I live in a state where there is a big educational disparity between urban and rural areas. Unfortunately, nobody cares. The best universities are geared to sync up with where the urban students get at the end of high school, instead of the rural ones (like me).

The point is, if some high schools start skewing their courses towards "more algebra, less calculus," those students may be at a disadvantage unless/until colleges catch onto the trend.

Are you surprised by this? This is just how it works anywhere. At many schools the graduation rate is below 60% and the average math course GPA university wide is probably around 2.5. Math and Physics are the most difficult subjects at any university. Half or more of a calc I class is going to drop out or change to a non STEM major. The important thing is to not let the inevitable ruin their interest in education (if there is any).

Do not underestimate your importance and the impact you can have for the category 3) students.

My first year Calculus professor 20 years ago had very similar feelings and frustrations, but through his passion he connected with some of us. Lots of great students don't apply to the best schools and for whatever reason end up stuck somewhere close to home. He eventually encouraged me to take his Modern Algebra class and that opened my mind to a whole world of Mathematical beauty.

Enjoy the opportunity to touch young minds as long as you can.

There should be a facebook for those teachers.

One math teacher managed to bring a group of lazy failing monkeys to volunteer for supplementary classes on saturday morning. So much passion, inspiration, and efforts towards us .. there's a threshold above which `bad students` will start to surrender and bring good will into the game.

>I have found that a great many of the students have not mastered high school algebra.

Why should they have? It doesn't take 'mastery' to pass a class, it takes proficiency. Expecting perfection in all previous classes from students is silly.

>Many of the students aren't all that motivated, and resented me for asking a lot of them.

Are you teaching Math majors? If not, of course they aren't motivated. Most of them won't be using calculus in their daily life, they don't see it as valuable. Why should they, either, if nobody is presenting it's value?

Your post isn't a bad one, I just find a frustration with professors who forget sometimes that not everyone is interested in their subject. In an ideal world you would only teach people who want to learn your subject, but this is not an ideal world.

> If not, of course they aren't motivated. Most of them won't be using calculus in their daily life, they don't see it as valuable.

But that's my point, and I'm attempting to bolster the original article's point. I have a room full of calculus students, many of whom don't terribly need or want to learn calculus.

Then why are they there? In many cases you can trace this back to some ambition for which calculus is a prerequisite for some reason or other. But in many cases, they are there because they feel they are "supposed" to be there, or else they feel that a college degree will get them a better job.

Hence the concerns about a bubble.

>Then why are they there?

Because it's a state requirement, more than likely.

> In many cases you can trace this back to some ambition for which calculus is a prerequisite for some reason or other.

Doubtful. Not unless they're a STEM or Finance major.

> But in many cases, they are there because they feel they are "supposed" to be there, or else they feel that a college degree will get them a better job.

Your class isn't all of college. They are in your class because it's a requirement. Nothing more.

Just because they dislike like your class doesn't mean they shouldn't go to college.

>Doubtful. Not unless they're a STEM or Finance major.

You're just wrong about this. Introductory calc classes are some of the larger classes offered at a lot of universities.

I'm a 2010 Computer Science Alumnus from USC and I can attest to the lousy market for Software Engineers in Columbia. Your job choices are pretty much insurance companies, consulting, the state or moving away. This equates to nowhere. There's practically no startup market or cool software products here in the capitol city. Not to mention scarce funding for software.

It's hard to be entrepreneurial when you're crushed by student loan debt. I'm trying to start my own company on side while continuing to pay the bills :/.

To any serious developers looking for a new team member in Columbia: If you're out there let me know ;)

Just today I was talking to this guy who was a serial entrepreneur out in Silicon Valley, and got hired by USC's business school to teach entrepreneurship. Apparently there is at least a small startup community here, and he is trying to grow it.

This guy has balls, and he definitely seemed to know what he was doing. I was very impressed. Would be happy to put you in touch if you like -- my contact info's in my profile.

This was the first comment on Cuban's blog. Can anyone comment on it? I listened to the NPR Podcast, it is specific to private colleges; I am not sure how public colleges fit in.

"The most recent Planet Money on NPR was about the cost of college. [1] They point out that the price that has been rising is the “sticker price.” However, the average price a student pays for college hasn’t risen (except to adjust for inflation) over the past 20 years or so. The schools are raising the sticker price as a marketing tool, so they can give big need and merit based scholarships to woo desirable students.

The reason student loan debt has ballooned isn’t because students are paying more, it’s because more students are paying. Federally subsidized loans aren’t increasing the cost of education, they are serving their purpose to give more people the opportunity to go to college.

I suppose your point that it is a ton of debt and we don’t have a job to give to each college grad is valid. But, I am not sure the classification of it as a bubble is valid because we aren’t really seeing a rise in the cost of education."

[1] http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/05/11/152511771/the-real...

I believe that's true for many well-endowed and non-state institutions; the wealthy who can afford the full $45k tuition help to subsidize the poorer students who can't, and I don't see too much wrong with that.

The problem is that that isn't the entire story. Yeah, federally subsidized loans mean more kids are attending school, but not everyone is eligible for subsidized loans. Many of my friends, and myself, were offered standard unsubsidized loans as generally middle-class students. So for your average middle-class student, going to a less-endowed private or out-of-state institution means either paying full price out of pocket or taking out unsubsidized loans. And as we know, unsubsidized loans are reaching absurd levels under unrealistic terms and they're giving us a generation saddled with debt that will be very difficult to pay off.

More students are going to college, but I seriously doubt the price of education is rising. Spending time on any college campus will tell you that they are spending recklessly because of the education bubble, and I'm not talking high professor salaries (they deserve every penny). Administrators these days make frankly irresponsible amounts of money, schools purchase expensive and unnecessary equipment to have a selling point for certain departments, and construction/renovation is everywhere. The sticker price isn't rising because costs are rising, the sticker price is rising because demand is inelastic (due to promise of better jobs and easy financing) and colleges are finding reckless ways to spend the rest of the money.

So the points are valid, but they don't speak to the entire situation. It sure smells like a bubble to me; student debt is ballooning because demand is inelastic and its easy to take out a loan, schools are spending the money irresponsibly, and I don't see any reasonable way that all of this debt is getting repaid in this economy, especially under the conditions the loans are given. I'd say there's likely to be an impending burst and credit crunch as my friends and I hit the workforce.

>unnecessary equipment to have a selling point for certain departments, and construction/renovation is everywhere.

Exactly. When I started college I remember how ridiculous it was that every damn monitor on campus was a flat panel (this was when flat panels where still a few hundred dollars more expensive than CRTs)

Now that I'm going back to school I'm shocked by the amount of construction going on. They've doubled tuition since I was last there in 2007 and there using it on to buy a multi million dollar skyscraper and build pretty fountains.

The comment is incorrect. Student loan growth far outpaces the number of new students:


Your link doesn't support your claim. Worse, your link doesn't even consider the idea. All it says:

> Obviously the number of students didn't grow by 511%.

Why is it obvious? Show my a source.

Good point. Here's the Census' 08 data:

"In 2008, college enrollment was at an all-time high with 18.6 million students enrolled, up 22 percent from 15.3 million in 2000."


>The reason student loan debt has ballooned isn’t because students are paying more.

That's not true, I've seen numerous articles on the cost of public colleges increasing much faster than inflation.

Anecdote: I dropped out of Georgia State in 2007, I'm going back now to finish my last few semesters of a math degree.

The cost has more than doubled in the last 5 years.

He just refuted that argument by denoting that 'price' as the sticker price. New Mexico for example gives all students attending a state school with a high school GPA over 2.5 a scholorship. The state could just directly give public schools the same money for in state students and avoid the 'scholorship' angle. But, this approach offers better publicity and if you have below a 2.5 GPA in a public high-school you might not be ready for collage.

Which argument are you talking about? If the cost doubled for him to pay out of pocket, it doubled for him. Talking about sticker price vs. adjusted metrics is really arguing semantics in this case if somebody is stuck paying what's charged up front.


If he can afford to pay twice as much and did so then the school was wise to raise it's sticker price. They can then take the 'surplus' that he paid and use it to reduce the price of a more desirable students who are less able to pay.

>reduce the price of a more desirable students who are less able to pay.

A very small percentage of the total financial aid comes directly from the school, so this is not what is happening. The vast majority of financial aid is from the state and federal government which is not financed by tuition.

They are using the extra money by and large to fund additional administration expenses, a new football team and other prestige projects in order to boost the perceived status of the school.

>If he can afford to pay twice as much and did so then the school was wise to raise it's sticker price.

I'm not saying that it raising tuition wasn't the rational choice for the school. However, it only works because federal loans allow them to do it. Almost no one can actually afford to pay the increased tuition out of pocket.

The more money the government makes available for student loans the higher tuition will go.

They are using the extra money by and large to fund additional administration expenses, a new football team and other prestige projects in order to boost the perceived status of the school.

The really fun thing being that all the students, faculty, alumni, and graduate-students hate this shit. If there's all that money floating around, why not pay TAs and RAs something above the poverty line? Why not hire more faculty?

Georgia State is a few thousand per year for state students. Who cares if it doubled?

Edit: Southern state schools should be the model. They're 1/4 or cheaper the cost of private schools and often a better education.

It cost me a little less than 4.5k a year in tuition and fees in 2007, now its up to around 9k. Additionally tuition used to max out at 12 hours now it maxes out at 15.

It's still a great value compared to a lot of schools, but if the prices keep going up at anything near that rate it won't be for long.

Also I don't think its 1/4 of a private school. Total cost of attendance is around 20k, total cost of attendance at Harvard is around 50K (room board, tuition and fees).

Including room and board in the equation is generally misleading when discussing the cost of education (even if a required cost for first-year freshmen). It's a requirement for living regardless of whether you're in college.

Discounting room/board, GSU is $9k and Harvard $44k.

>It's a requirement for living regardless of whether you're in college.

No it's not. Most college students are young enough that they have the option of living with parents. If you're 19 and live with your parents your cost of living is close to 0, but you can't do that if you're forced to live on campus (even if just Freshmen year for most schools).

Additionally going to college full time is has opportunity costs. If you don't go to college you can work full time to pay your living expenses. If you go to college you can't (for most students).

Therefore attending college is forcing most people to look towards loans to support themselves. Loans for total cost of attendance at GSU are only a little less than half of loans for total cost of attendance at Harvard.

Here are the options for a student who got into GSU and Harvard. (actually sounds funny but I may have been able to get into Harvard, I did get into several other top tier schools, but I had no desire to live in boston. I went to GSU b/c they paid me so much money in scholarships that I was making a good deal of extra money)

1. Skip college work and pay expenses--no loan debt

2. Go to GSU take out loans --80K in loan debt

3. Go to Harvard take out loans -- 200k in loan debt

4. Go to GSU live on campus 1 year then with parents 3 years 50k in loan debt.

*Number 4 only works if you are with in driving distance to a good state school, and it's not an option if you're looking for the "college experience".

Transportation to and from a nearby state school plus food is not free even if your living with your parents. 5$ a day in food * 7 and 15$ a day in gas, maintenance, parking, etc * 5 days = 110$ a week * 16 weeks = 1760$ a semester. I went to a state school and adding a 45 minute commute each way was not worth the ~3-4k /year cost savings.

> New Mexico for example gives all students attending a state school with a high school GPA over 2.5 a scholorship.

Where do you think that money is coming from?

Reducing the money they give to state schools. The stated funding source is lottery sales, but money is fungible. It's actually becoming fairly common Tennessee, New Mexico, Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, New York, South Carolina, Missouri and West Virginia are among those sponsoring lottery-funded scholarship programs. http://www.scholarships.com/blog/financial-aid/lottery-schol...

Over time tuition costs begin to increase faster than lottery revenues.

Georgia has had the HOPE scholarship since 1993 (lottery funded), and since 2002 the amount covered has been steadily decreasing.

If student loan availability keeps increasing (causing tuition to rise), total tuition percentage paid by HOPE will be negligible

In theory, since it's a state school, wouldn't that just imply less money coming into the state ... in other words, an anticipated revenue shortfall due to how their enrollment is setup - but not necessarily something where anybody is cutting a check to cover the cost of the scholarship.

The situation seems to be quite different at private schools. Here's a graph of Stanford tuition from 1920 to 2011, plotted on a log scale:


I've put a linear regression line on top. It's a pretty good fit.

I can't find the data now to do a plot for it, but I saw similar numbers for Harvard from around 1970 to present, and they similarly showed a pretty steady growth.

Public schools are much more variable, I believe, because they are one of the few state institutions that is allowed and/or required to get a large part of its budget from fees to its users. Thus, when a state has budget trouble there is a tendency to make state colleges and universities raise tuition.

PS: the tuition data I have for Stanford gives the tuition at the start of each decade from 1920 through 1990, then gives yearly data. I probably should have plotted points, not lines.

Stanford is a terrible single data point to use as a representation for "private schools". The amount of fundraising they do tends to approach a billion dollars per year (2009 was a bad year, they only got $640 million that year) and their endowment stands at almost $17 billion dollars.

Having a boatload of super-rich, super-giving alumni is great, and helps keep tuition costs from rising too quickly... but it is not the norm for private schools.

State contributions to higher education (via taxes) have dropped dramatically in recent decades [1]. Ergo, tuition increases. (Universities drive up costs themselves, too, of course.)

Back in 1961, state tuition at UNC was less than $100 [2].

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Unmaking-Public-University-Forty-Year-... [2] http://www.quickanded.com/2012/04/virginia-foxx-paid-87-50-i...

And as far as in-state institutions go, the prices can generally be anywhere up to the $20k range. I'm sure a significant amount of the loans are being spent on in-state institutions and, because of budget cuts, they don't have as many need/merit-based scholarships to give. That's not doing us any favors either.

I really do not like housing bubble to education analogies. There is a big and quite obvious difference between housing and education. You cannot flip a diploma. You can try to monetize it by getting a good job but it is not something you can sell. The way you monetize it is by living your life a certain way.

Education would be a big investment even if it were free. You still have to go to classes. You still have to expend effort. And if you want to get your money's worth out of your education you still have build a career. So you cannot buy 20 diplomas on credit and flip them in a month for profit (as some people used to do with houses). Which means that education is a completely different beast. Every housing analogy is utterly idiotic.

Now that is not to say that there are no problems with education. Of course there are. But they are different type of problems.

Personally I think too many loans are being given out because of the recent proliferation of for profit schools with dubious teaching abilities and academic standards. I think we need some kind of merit based system that will limit the number of loans being given out. The merit based system may test either the students or the schools or both, and only give out loans to those that pass the test. Thus, we can limit the loans to only those that can beneficially use them.

In both situations, people get themselves in deep debt with the expectation that they'll end up with a lot more money than they started. The housing market collapsed because prices fell after everyone realized the majority of the housing market was built on promises that could not be kept. The education market will collapse because available jobs and salary fell (analogous to prices in the housing market, and largely because of the housing market collapse) and the promises made to young people that they will be able to build a career cannot be kept for every student graduating today. I do not like the analogy either, because it ends with the country hurting hard, very hard.

It's easy to dismiss such analogies as idiotic when you assume that all you need to do is "live your life a certain way" for the diploma to pay off, and when you want to ignore the eventuality that the education market collapse will cause tremendous damage. Both the housing and education market collapses depend on promises made to homeowner and students that cannot possibly be kept for everyone involved.

Of course, limiting loans based on merit is a great solution, but it's not a politically palatable one. On one hand, politicians love to say that everyone will get an education and it will be paid for no matter what. On the other hand, what happens when students from well-off community meet merit-based standards for loans while students from poor communities don't? Banks and universities will be slammed for practicing discrimination. Sort of like how banks were slammed for discrimination when they were lending less to minorities and accused of discrimination based on race, when in reality they were limiting loans only to those who could pay for them, but banks were ultimately forced to give out subprime loans through legislation and we ended up with the housing market collapse.

Common sense solutions are not adopted when you have politicians involved who only appeal to the emotion of voters and seduce voters with promises of cheap housing and education, and slam politicians who are fiscally responsible and want to limit mortgages and student loans to those who have the ability to pay for them.

This is just absurd. Non-accredited, branded schools will provide better education for less money? Really? I assume he's referring to the growing for-profit college industry.

Yet for-profit colleges are actually the biggest culprits driving up the student debt. Students at for-profit colleges run up more debt, are more likely to drop out, and are more likely to end up under-employed than those at traditional universities.

This paragraph also bothers the crap out of me:

> The competition from new forms of education is starting to appear. Particularly in the tech world. Online and physical classrooms are popping up everywhere. They respond to needs in the market. THey work with local businesses to tailor the education to corporate needs. In essence assuring those who excel that they will get a job. All for far far less money than traditional schools.

Yes, students need relevant, modern, education, but education that is "tailored" to corporate needs is a little worrisome. Extremely targeted education might be sweet for the corporations hiring the graduates, but it sucks for the students themselves.

Economists draw a distinction between general human capital and specific human capital. General capital includes things like math and critical thinking, skills that can be applied in a variety of situations. Specific capital includes things like how to use a particular piece of software or knowing which forms need to be filled out for a requisition.

General capital benefits employees because the employee is free to take his capital and go elsewhere; the skills are transferable. This is what we see in silicon valley where companies acquire startups just for their employees.

Specific capital, on the other hand, benefits the employer since the capital is only valuable to a specific industry or company so the employee is limited in where he can take his skills.

Everyone needs a mix of general and specific capital. But the balance has implications for the economy as a whole.

One of the things that traditional universities have been pretty good at is general capital. This provides flexibility and resiliency to the economy. People can move between jobs and even careers, from dying industries to growing ones. They can fill jobs that hadn't even been invented when they were in school. And they can actually acquire specific capital more readily (the "ability" to learn).

Shifting focus to specific capital by allowing companies to control our educational system threatens to turn the entire country into one big company town, and that's a little frightening.

EDIT: Typo

I agree about the non-accredited schools. That statement made me cringe more than a little bit.

I also cringed when tech was pointed to as a model of innovation in education assuming he is referring to codeacademy and the likes. Don't get me wrong I like those services for what they aim at but I absolutely do not think they are a good model for core education - the kind of education that produces general capital as you note. Core education consists of building critical and analytical thinking skills - something that is very difficult to teach effectively through online or automated education.

What I find disturbing here is the complete, total, hegemonic shift to thinking of education as job-training.

Agreed. While job-training is certainly a significant component of the value of education today, it isn't even close to being the most important one.

Most of us live in countries with representative governments (those who don't probably would like to if the movements in Africa and elsewhere are any indication). One of the funny things about this sort of government is that in order for it to function properly, it requires that all participating citizens have a basic understanding of the issues of the day. For better or worse, in the modern world, this requires a fairly extensive, general (liberal, little 'L') education.

For example, there aren't many people who apply the scientific method directly at work (though many jobs benefit from clear, logical thinking). But having an understanding of what "science" entails is critical to a number of public debates.

The same goes for economics, history and even literature and philosophy. These are all subjects that most people don't really need to do their jobs, but that are incredibly important for countless public issues.

For example (and at the risk of starting an unrelated argument, please refrain), Ayn Rand seems to be popular these days. But I wonder how many people out there have actually read "Atlas Shrugged" or "Fountainhead" carefully, or even have the skill necessary to do so.

When education costs so much that one needs to take out a loan that then takes decades to repay, it must necessarily be job-training. It's practically impossible to justify otherwise.

IMO it's impossible to expect the education system to be more holistic and less training-oriented unless the costs drop to the point where it's realistic to pursue it knowing there is not necessarily a monetary reward at the end.

I see your point, but I think you've made a couple assumptions that aren't necessarily accurate.

First, higher education needn't be solely one or the other. There have also been some important points brought up elsewhere in the comments about the "sticker price" versus what students actually pay.

Additionally, this is a complex issue, especially in the US where the perception of the value of a degree can vary wildly depending on the institution in question. One part of the original article that struck me as true is that high school students should be better coached during the process of choosing a college or university and then choosing a major or concentration.

The idea behind general human capital, though, is that it actually increases the ability of the student to thrive in a dynamic economy. The returns on an education with a significant "holistic" component are, at least in theory, higher than those on an education that is weighted toward job training.

For example, while it is certainly true that borrowing $100,000 to study pottery at a large university is probably not a good idea, there are enough colleges and universities in the US that if a student really wants to study pottery, he can do so for much less (for example, at a community college, where tuition costs are still quite reasonable).

But really, pottery (to continue the example, though this is applicable to many fields frequently cited as "useless") is closer to specific human capital. This actually helps explain why the students commonly featured in articles about these issues can't get jobs. They have been given "job training" for jobs that don't pay well or hardly even exist.

If their programs of study had been more "holistic" then perhaps they would be in better shape today (of course it should go without saying that there are counter-examples out there, I'm just talking about trends and averages here).

So in some sense, it seems that part of the problem is that we already focus too much on "job training", especially for low-return jobs. Of course a degree in finance (business schools do a great deal of job training) is far more lucrative, but the principle is the same.

Actually, the largest single undergraduate major is "BA in Business". This signifies the problem: the plurality of undergraduates are not majoring in a Liberal Art or Science (those arts and sciences worthy of a Free Man and forming the basis of his intellectual life, hence "liberal") but in General Hope-I-Get-a-Job Studies.

I think the problem is that people do not understand that better education raises the ceiling in almost any job.

For example, a web developer might think that studying English or history would not help them do their job at all, but business is filled with contracts, memos, emails, and other writing that carries all kinds of subtext. The abilities to critically analyze and construct written arguments are invaluable in the business world. English or history educations teach these abilities.

It's like a mental martial art...you might not need it much, but if you don't know it, you're easier to beat up.

I do agree with you, but the job-training thinking has reinforced the core, historic problem of seeing education (from K-12 into higher ed) as a private investment made with private money for private returns. We invested plenty of state funds in keeping education cheap back when we treated it as a public good.

We must differentiate between 'Education' in the ideal sense, and 'technical education' or 'training'. People don't go to technical colleges for 'Education', but for competency in a knowledge domain, and in applying it.

> Yet for-profit colleges are actually the biggest culprits driving up the student debt. Students at for-profit colleges run up more debt, are more likely to drop out, and are more likely to end up under-employed than those at traditional universities.

They're also the people that traditional universities don't admit for the most part.

We can find a subset of students at traditional universities who are like the students at for-profit schools. Are you certain about the results of comparing apples to apples?

I think that's an excellent and important point. Certainly there is some sample bias going on: if you're qualified for college in the first place you are probably at a traditional college.

However, I think my original point remains relevant for two reasons:

First, the author of the article used rising aggregate debt as evidence that the traditional college system is broken beyond repair. But if a significant portion of that debt is being taken on by unqualified students attending for-profit colleges, then the growing debt could have absolutely nothing to do with traditional colleges (likely the reality is somewhere in the middle, but the author's "doom and gloom" outlook on traditional colleges seems a bit extreme to me).

Second, the author presented for-profit higher education as a replacement for traditional higher education. But the incentives faced by for-profit colleges seem every bit as broken as those he claimed are faced by traditional colleges.

If traditional college presidents have an incentive to grow their endowments and build grand edifices on the backs of their students, then for-profit college CEOs have an incentive to cut large dividend and bonus checks on the backs of their students. This just doesn't seem like an improvement to me.

> Second, the author presented for-profit higher education as a replacement for traditional higher education.

So the question is "what would for-profit schools do with university-qualified students?"

> But the incentives faced by for-profit colleges seem every bit as broken as those he claimed are faced by traditional colleges.

Your description of the incentives and behavior seems very facile.

For one, the cost of traditional colleges is not driven by "grow endowments" and "build grand edifices".

They also operate in very different environments. Traditional universities have significant govt support and enjoy a great deal of deference.

Meanwhile, when GM produces crappy cars, folks jump to Toyota. (Yes, as with GM, we're going to end up bailing out the employees at traditional universities.)

Not trying to complain since it looks like a good program, but why does Dev Bootcamp lump Jquery, Coffeescript, SASS, HAML, AJAX, and others under Advanced Rails Technologies? Shouldn't that be Advanced Web Technologies or are they just simplifying things for their Rails program?

I appreciate the question. I like your naming better. Will change it.

They have a course in Advanced Rails Technologies? What kind of damned idiot takes "Advanced Rails Technologies"?

"Adv. Rails tech" is just one part of the single course which aims to get someone a job in 10 weeks as a web developer ... from the looks of this they have been fairly successful ...


but its actually hard to get into the course - they take only those who they think will pass and who are motivated enough.

Did you take a course called Advanced Rails Techologies? Did you take the course in question and find it lacking? If not, you shouldn't insult people you don't know who might be interested in such a program.

How about you explain, nicely please, why taking something called Advanced Rails Technologies is a bad thing?

How about you explain, nicely please, why taking something called Advanced Rails Technologies is a bad thing?

Because "Rails Technologies" have changed drastically in the past 5 years and do so again in the next 5 years. "Modern Web Programming" would have been a good course. "Advanced Rails Technologies" is so ridiculously over-specific and over-current that I simply can't see how it has any value for the future.

So you do not see the benefit in learning what is considered advanced technologies today because it'll change in the future? Why bother learning anything in this field at all?

Or is it just the name they chose? Because it seems really rude of you to insult an entire group of people simply because they wish to take a course of which you do not like the name.

I'm totally lost on your attitude about this.

So you do not see the benefit in learning what is considered advanced technologies today because it'll change in the future? Why bother learning anything in this field at all?

The core of any field should be eternal. For example, `while` loops and `lambda` expressions are simply not going to change that much in the next 5 years. Neither is the Model-View-Controller architecture, say.

Portable, core skills are valuable. Particular syntaxes, you can just learn in your first couple weeks on a job.

See comments above about general vs specific human capital.

I think he is referring to startups like codeacademy, not for profit schools. He's saying and betting that people like kahn will start more kahnacademy online schools and education. People who aren't driven by greed will cause the for profit schools, rising tuitions, and maximum student loan amounts to be unneccesary.

Yeah, I thought about that, and that could be the case (in which case I would have different, but less serious, concerns).

Isn't it a tad ridiculous to compare something like codeacademy to a college degree? Less than a semester's worth of time spent learning programming is not at all the same as a computer science degree, and I doubt employer's think they are comparable.

Yes. Training (skills) is not the same as fundamental [low level] understanding of the "Science" of computers and computing. Let's be honest though, most of the programmer openings don't require a Computer Science[ist] education. The programmers may need a Lead Developer with such knowledge and understanding who is capable of mentoring and transferring that knowledge of low level details when necessary to explain why we do something a particular way. Many employer's are requiring a degree that really truly is unnecessary and resulting in paying higher salaries. There are many many high school grads who didn't go on to college that could be taught programming, they may just need a little oversight and mentor in the real [business] world.

The other end of the problem is that kid's aren't even trying to flip their degree. Most kids consider college and experience not an investment.

You're kid is the worst investor on the planet. Because instead of majoring in Bioengineering they are majoring in psychology. And If they are majoring in psychology they aren't out to get the best damn research positions over the summer and publish papers, they are out working for the local supermarket.

I don't think most students have been asked "What return do you expect on the $100,000 you are going to spend on this degree".

Most kids consider college and experience not an investment.

How many are there due to pressure? At the end of my high school career, I was ready to enter the workforce. I was already working in the industry I wanted to be in; there was little value to going from that perspective. Yet, the pressure from teachers and peers persisted. I was going to fail in life if I didn't go to school. You know the meme, I'm sure. I eventually succumbed and enrolled. Thankfully, I realized in my first year that I was wasting my time.

I picked up another job, used it to hone my experience in the industry, and by the time my friends were graduating, I was able to move myself into my dream job. I really don't see how a post-secondary education could have improved anything. It would have only been a hobby, which too is respectable, but not the right fit for me at that point in my life.

There's so much malarkey that goes around about education, it leads young people, without a clear view of how the world really works, to make hasty decisions that often ends with a massive amount of debt. I admire those who are in school for the right reasons, I just question how many really are there for the right reasons. I know I wasn't. I'm just glad I realized sooner than later.

I think this is the relevant point that most people are missing by looking at the trees instead of the forest.

It's patently absurd to think that every single person should go to college and receive a 3 or 4 year degree. For a start, some people will not be suited to study, and for a second, increased numbers of higher education qualifications simply reduce the value of said qualification.

More people would be better served by direct time in the workforce and specific vocational training.

But the meme of 'go to college or miss out' is pervasive, and continues to cause massive amounts of people to put major time and money into their qualifications. Education has become a sacred cow that nobody is allowed to criticise, yet objectively there is no evidence that increased amounts of college graduates are making a positive difference.

I'm all for continuing education - education should be a lifetime pursuit for everyone - but the current model of growing universities and growing student debt is clearly unsustainable. The growth has to at least stop at some point, and probably reverse.

Until people start looking at the cost/benefit ratio objectively instead of emotionally, nothing is going to change.

This is completely what's wrong with the system. Eventually everybody needs to work for money. That's not to say you can't go to University to better yourself and learn something that inspires you. Eventually, though, you have to eat and pay for creature comforts. If college has a huge sticker price, what's paying the bill? If not college, something else has to. Everybody who goes to school needs to make sure that they can cover the costs, either through the skills they learn in college or via some other means.

Going to college to study liberal arts is still a very respectful thing to do, if that's what you actually intend to do...as opposed to going to college, cutting classes, getting wasted 5 days a week and graduating with a C average in psychology.

Going to college to study liberal arts is a respectful thing to do if you either pay for it up front without loans or have a reasonable path planned out after college that should pay the loans back.

Studying something in college that will not lead to a future career is a hobby, not an investment. Spending large amounts of loan money on a hobby that cannot pay the loans back is a very silly thing to do.

Liberal arts degrees are great, and a good learning experience for students. But they aren't worth taking out loans for if there are not jobs to pay those loans back.

> Most kids consider college and experience not an investment

Fantastic point.

Not only should the students/parents be asking themselves about what return they expect on $100k, the people loaning the money should be too. And because the feds are the ones guaranteeing the money, they don't care about the return, they just care about politicizing it to their advantage.

Most students do not spend 100k on a degree. While some are under massive amounts of debt, most have a much more manageable level of debt, but still can't pay without a job.

Many people, me included, frequently complain about all of the politics required to get the least bit of funding for anything from my university. Then I read something like this and that kind of trouble suddenly seems much better than the alternative.

According to NCES[1], the average total cost per year of attendance at a 4-year private institution in 2009-2010 was $32,475. The cost for BYU was $4,290[2]. There's tons of construction going on all the time, but BYU doesn't add floor space without a donor who can guarantee long-term financial support for the facility. And we still manage to have nationally and internationally recognized programs in among other things, computer animation and ancient languages, so clearly you don't need a whole lot more money to do good instruction and good research.

It makes me wonder what exactly there is to cut that manages to use up all of the 9-times higher costs of other institutions.



This disclaimer was on the BYU website. Do you know how much that is?

"* A significant portion of the cost of operating the university is paid from the tithes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Therefore, students and families of students who are tithe-paying members of the Church have already made a contribution to the operation of the university. Because others will not have made this contribution, they are charged a higher tuition, a practice similar in principle to that of state universities charging higher tuition to nonresidents."

I'm extremely impressed that the non-tithing rate is $4,710 and the tithing rate is $2,355 [1]. By comparison UCLA is $12,686 in-state tuition and $35,564 out of state [2].

[1] http://yfacts.byu.edu/viewarticle.aspx?id=85 [2] http://www.admissions.ucla.edu/prospect/budget.htm

Yes, I do. That's why I quoted the price for non-LDS students. The price for tuition for LDS students, as listed on the same page, is about half of that; but, as the disclaimer says, you also have to take into account that they're paying an additional 10% of their total income.

Thanks! I am not really familiar with tithing, and when I first looked at the chart I didn't understand that LDS meant you payed a tithe.

Tithing is required for LDS who want a "Temple recommend" [0] (which itself is a prerequisite for temple marriage, exaltation, and so on.)

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_%28LDS_Church%29#Entranc...

When I was attending BYU back in the mid 90's, my tuition bill was about $1200 a year (I'm LDS & it could have been per semester - I can't recall). Regardless of whether I paid per semester or year, that's an incredible lack of inflation 20 years later!

The author is right about some things, wrong about others. He's right that student debt is a timebomb. Anyone who knows a student struggling with it realizes this. The amount of debt students are saddled with is astronomical, and has turned this generation into a one of indentured servitude to their financiers. Something is going to have to give.

He's wrong, at least somewhat, on what the future holds. There are multiple roles to a university, and multiple motives to developing a higher education. I think some of these roles are ripe for disruption, others not so much.

It's hard to imagine graduate-level research happening in any other environment than an academic university. It's easy to imagine an undergraduate education in engineering or mathematics being delivered and certified completely through the internet.

Harder to imagine, but possible, are "micro-universities" which pop up organically that criss-cross with meatspace, which re-use existing course materials for information transfer but also incorporate the less tangible things such as "learning to learn" and in-person collaboration. I can imagine seeing job candidates walk in the door that have a completely custom education, self-driven by their own particular desires and nurtured and accredited as focused, disciplined study by these micro-universities.

It's truly an exciting time in education. I imagine the initiatives we're seeing now from Khan Academy, Coursera, and Udacity will be looked back upon as groundbreaking but charmingly rudimentary 10 years from now. I expect big things as more and more smart people begin to tip-toe away from traditional educational models and take bigger risks, both as students and as teachers, by inventing new models for education.

>It's easy to imagine an undergraduate education in engineering or mathematics being delivered and certified completely through the internet.

Mathematics, yes. Engineering, no. Am I one of the outliers that feels labs are essential to solidify what you've learned that week in class? Sure you can learn EE basics such as mesh analysis, but when you start to venture into logic design courses where software alone won't cut it things get tricky. For the majority of people, debugging a robot in even the most introductory courses would be a nightmare without an experienced person or even someone to look over it with.. How about chemistry students. Good luck setting up a lab at home. How ME classes dealing with material properties and testing?

There are plenty of courses that do work out well online, but some cannot simply stand alone.

Can someone please explain to me how what is happening in higher education is any different ?

Sure. The big difference (enormous, really) is that unlike homes, there is no secondary market for diplomas. We talk about an education as an investment, but in truth the 'asset' is us. One reason the housing bubble was so devastating was that if one person defaulted, it marginally depressed the value of everyone else's home. If someone defaults on their student loan, it doesn't make everyone else's education less valuable. The student loan debt problem is much more like the credit card debt problem, which exacerbated the housing bubble but on its own had nowhere near the cascading impact. Student loans are a problem, but they are not a crisis. We should be much more concerned that there has been no meaningful banking reform since the 2008 crisis, and that banks are still gambling on dangerous derivatives whose real risks are unknown and quite possibly incomputable.

You borrow as much money as you can for the best school you can get into and afford and then you “flip” that education for the great job you are going to get when you graduate.

Maybe there is a bubble in higher ed but this analogy is pretty shaky. The most obvious difference between a house and a degree is that you can't "flip" a degree.

Agreed. There are similarities between the higher ed and housing bubble:

* Lots of quick money available

* Government loans and programs,

* Speculation about the relative return on investment that does not match the observed reality

But a house is an asset with a specific tangible transferable value. A college degree is a certification and not transferable in any specific way. It muddies the waters to see the bubbles as identical, and it suggests that they will resolve themselves in exactly the same way (which is at least questionable).

An analogy isn't supposed to be a 1:1 comparison of two things. I read Cuban here using "flip" not as selling your degree, but exchanging your degree for a job. You could call it a conversion or something else. I don't consider it shaky at all.

Having taught at a university for many years, I came to realise that I can predict students' final results really well just by setting them a simple exercise in the very first lecture, before they learned anything. In other words, the results are dependent entirely on their ability. The employers should be able to set similar tests themselves.

Furthermore, it might make more sense to both employers and employees to hire bright 16-18 year olds and give them an in-house apprenticeship. Even if they are paid initially less than graduates (do the accounting on that, versus servicing huge loans after four years of no earnings).

What I am trying to say is that a typical recruitment target, a bright graduate, was just as smart at 18 and you could have got him first, cheaper and happier, then. After those four years with you, if you are any good at inspiring and advising, he should also be a lot more use to you than straight out of college.

I agree that the price of a college education is too high. I don't see how this justifies the conclusion that "therefore, people should stop going to college and take online courses."

Most medical care is overpriced, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't get a heart transplant.

I am deeply skeptical that online courses or for-profit education will result in anything but a horrible mess.

(this is not to say that it's impossible to succeed and do quite well without a college degree, but it's much harder - it's harder to get hired and it's harder to acquire the knowledge and experience necessary to be qualified for a position)

but it's much harder - it's harder to get hired and it's harder to acquire the knowledge and experience necessary to be qualified for a position

Is there any data to back this up? If we assume college is a four year undertaking, even if it takes you three years of work to find the job you are looking for without a degree, you're still expending less effort.

My anecdotal experience says it's not even difficult at all. I was able to land my first job in the industry I still work today on my first attempt in high school. Though I recognize that not everyone is so lucky.

Try getting a job in any non-software engineering field without a college degree.

For those who are interested in student debt, there is a really good website called Project on student debt:


The problem really lies in the fact that the US cannot find the right answer for the basic question: Is Higher Education a public or private good? There is no wrong answer, just that answer is really required to form good student expectations regarding the economic system, and what they should invest in a degree. Right now the US government subsidizes higher ed in various forms and manners, in order to bring the cost burden down. Pre-2008 crisis, the US govt used to mostly guarantee debt taken out by college students in order to bring down the rates. Banks would then securitize these loans, cut them up in tranches and sell them on to investors, pretty much like MBS's (mortgage backed securities). However, in the financial fallout a lot of students could not get loans so the US government decided to give out more grants etc.

However, the example of UK is quite interesting as well. The average student debt in the UK is lower due to a large part of costs being carried by the govt. Though, this does not effectually increase unemployment rate either. Lower debt != great unemployment and greater happiness. Also, historically civilizations with higher quantity of credit flowing around in the economy seem to do better as well.

Mark Cuban should be able to afford to hire some unemployed English major to proofread his blog posts.

Yes, or use a browser or blog client with basic spell check / grammar check. That was painful to read.

Yet thousands of people still read his blog, probably something to think about.

During the early part of my working life I had the experience of not getting a job due to the fact that I did not have a degree. It was a junior embedded programming job.

I was 19 and just getting going with the college thing. The guy that got the job had a degree in landscaping and had taught himself some programming with an 8085 board that was popular at the time. I know because the owner of the joint was kind enough to tell me.

I was probably too young to put-up a fight and state my case with authority. By the time this interview came about I had probably built and programmed no less than eight computers of my own design. I had programmed in assembler and written my own Forth compiler. I probably knew the architectures of nearly every popular microprocessor available at the time (80xx, 65xx, 68xxx). I had been an electronics hobbyist since probably the age of 13. I knew more and had certainly done more than the aforementioned job-robbing landscaper.

Again, I'll mark that off to, at 19, not having the chops to state my case and fight to demonstrate that I was the better candidate. As it turns out a few months later, as luck would have it, I would land an entry level engineering job where skills and work ethic were valued far more than anything else. I rose to a level of being solely responsible for multi-million dollar engineering projects while still attending school.

In my case it turned out OK in the end. The issue is that a degree is a check-mark item that a lot of companies use for filtering. Just one look through job on Monster and you can see that lots of them have degrees as minimum requirements. If you are dealing through an agency you might not get past the first filter, no matter what you know and what you've done.

In the case of Mr. Cuban, it'd be interesting to hear about examples where his organization has hired people in spite of not having a degree from a traditional institution.

Sadly, it's never too late for it to backfire onm you. Although it has 'worked out ok' up to this point, I had a neighbor who was 58, and in 2008 when the company did a round of layouts, they fired him because he was the only guy in the department without a degree. They had to pick someone 'objectively', and that was their criteria.

This is a fantastic article but I really wish people would stop saying "I could care less"

It's "I couldn't care less", as in, it wouldn't be possible for me to care any less if I tried, because I care so little.

If you say "I could care less" you're logically implying that you do care

While this article talks about how bad things are I think an interesting solution was written up here [pdf] http://www.fixuc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/FixUC-Propos...

The idea being you go to school for free and the University only makes money from a percentage of your future pay, thereby ensuring that it's students are actually prepared for the work force.

More here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesmarshallcrotty/2012/04/23/f...

The problem I have with this is that university should NOT prepare you for the work force.

Universities are awesome! We ruined them when we started thinking of higher education as preparation (or even requirement) for the workforce.

University should prepare you to be a thinker, a scientist and just generally an educated person. As soon as it becomes vocational the whole point is lost.

We don't need to "fix higher ed", we need to remember why we created it in the first place - to teach a small percentage of the population how to use critical thinking.

I see that as an argument that we do need to fix higher ed. We need to do some refactoring for good separation of concerns, and clearly delineate that these over here are special institutions for research and critical thinking and most people don't have any reason to go to them, and those over there are the institutions that will specifically teach you employable skills.

It's essentially impossible to ensure that you never improve your employment opportunities while engaging in Pure Education or to ensure that you never develop critical thinking skills while in a vocational program (and it would not be desirable to do so anyway), but we could certainly more clearly delineate the intent of different programs and institutions. And then people could just pay for the experience that they actually want, rather than bundling them together.

Great. They fail at that too. There have been a few studies that show that after 2 years of college, the difference in reading, writing, math, and critical thinking are negligible.

So if you're not good for the industry, you're terrible at what you're made for, what good are you?

So if you're not good for the industry, you're terrible at what you're made for, what good are you?

Excuse me? Industries were made for people, not the other way around.

This probably depends a lot on the course one is taking. I have a feeling (from observing the people around me) engineers are a lot better at critical thinking and logical reasoning after a couple years of college than they were coming out of high school.

From my observation it takes about ~4 years for the really observable differences to settle in ... it might also just be maturity. Difficult to say :)

It's definitely my experience that it's hard to find people with high levels of mathematical knowledge who don't have a 4-year, technical-field bachelor's degree. It's of course possible this is merely a correlation, but I would at least hypothetize that the students who've finished a four-year degree in an area like mathematics, computer science, electrical engineering, or physics, have more mathematical sophistication than they would have had if they had not finished that degree and taken/passed the mathematics classes it required.

It's not impossible to self-teach, but as far as I can tell, self-taught people usually don't self-teach mathematics, at least not successfully. Among self-taught programmers without CS degrees, for example, it's quite common to find people who are skilled coders, but much less common to find people who have a strong mathematical grounding.

Heck, if you want someone who really knows statistics and data mining, to take one example, I haven't met many people without grad-school experience who fit the bill. Masters degree is good, some PhD experience is better (finishing a PhD doesn't matter as much; ABD is fine).

So far for me 100% of candidates claiming self taught can barely code a for loop, much less explain at a high level how a compiler works or the difference between a heap and the heap. In most cases they don't even know the foundations of the language in which they are most efficient.

Most people I know are also self-taught and read a lot of the theory. If they are self-taught, what in God's name are they using to teach themselves?

Those studies treated business students, STEM students, and liberal arts students as one cohort.

STEM and Liberal arts students do make significant gains. Business majors actually show a LOSS.

"Preparing for the Work Force" does not equal to "Vocational". After all, if universities do what you claim they should do, i.e. "prepare you to be a thinker, a scientist and just generally an educated person", you should become a useful member of society in the end and most probably you will be employed by someone who can use your skills.

This being said, I have a problem with the mentioned "solution". Why would you have to repay "based on 5% of their annual income, the University of California for 20 years"? - it seems like a ridiculous huge amount of money. It would make sense if it were a lot more limited, say, for the first 5 years of work, where your educational background still matters - after that threshold, I say your experience is more valuable than your academic background.

I'm with the author of the article. Let the new solutions invade the market to make current colleges rates obsolete. Change will occur by itself.

Here's the Australian Solution. Government Supported Loans/Subsidised places. Indexed to the Inflation rate. Paid back as a % of income (a rising percentage as income rises).

Note: The US Concept of "tuition" covering Board/food/etc is basically un-heard of in any large numbers. (Possibly due to how consolidated into Major Cities we are.)

Yes I agree. There are 2 big problems with education.

1) The society requires you to have a degree. A self taught programmer will likley get paid less than a college educated programmer. Even though the self taught one is more skilled.

2) College students blindly trust that the college education will get them jobs. What many don't know is that the the stuff they are getting taught is obsolete already. Many Occupy Wall Street protestors said that "We went to college, where are our jobs?". Who said going to college will get you a job?

>Who said going to college will get you a job?

Pretty much every teacher they had through k-12. That's who.

And the worst part is that because of the number of applicants you get degree-inflation where you have to spend more and more of your life in school to get a job that pays significantly above minimum wage.

Fuck it, I'll be poor.

Maybe my tune will change when I can afford college.

I'm partial to this argument, but it only works if you allow for technical education that does provide people with the STEM (or other) skills needed for the workforce. I think higher education in the US is actually very broken.

The best example I can think of that embodies that division of purpose is the UK, where you have Oxbridge and other elite institutions which function in the sense you are referring to, but you also have the Polytechnics that train people for practical careers.

In Slovenia we used to "solve" this by having two levels of university education, one was more practical and another was more theoretical.

There were a lot of execution problems with the system, so they went ahead and ruined it further with the bologna reform. Now we still have two types of university educations (on the bachelor's level), except they're both very practical and the only difference there is that the one stemming from the old theoretical tier makes it harder to get into master's programs.

Which then in turn ruins the master's because it needs to be dumbed down to enable people taking the "easier" tier to follow along and graduate.

As a result, even the PhD isn't what it used to be anymore ... at least on my faculty (CS).

U.S has those. They are called Community College.

Yes, but Community Colleges are more generalised than Polytechs, which are purposed to impart specifically technical skills to a future workforce.

Then you would just have universities competing to crank out CEOs/MBAs in the hopes that they 'hit it big' a lot.

Hold that thought: http://www.ycombinator.com/

I'm a traditional university type. If pg can drag the Zuckerberg set out my physics department, that's fine by me.

My point was that the idea of cranking out CEOs/MBAs would replace the idea of doing traditional academics/science/arts.

It also creates a positive feedback loop problem - the ones that get a few hits in turn can get more money to attract the ones with the most potential. It also will get regional problems - those that produce graduates bound mostly for the NYC market will do better than those where the graduates go for Midwestern jobs.

I don't have a problem with rewards going to those who produce the best graduates - clearly this effect is already in play at the big name institutions.

I think that you need a certain amount of 'wildcard' where someone from a lesser known college can go on to be a big thinker or earner. I think otherwise you risk something with a positive feedback loop getting stuck in groupthink or turning itself into a formula which resists change and innovation.

Then we weight their percentage based on the number that they cranked out. That way, the more horses they have in the race, the less the payout is on the winning one.


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