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I recommend all of the above, but please remember the purpose of a liberal arts education; it's more about the soul and the mind and less about the skills and wage. Why some people pay $80k for it is beyond me. Don't just read the books, spend as much time as you can with smart people who have read those same books.

You have absolutely no idea what you will be doing in ten years. Be prepared.

I just read your speech to my high school kids. I could do this because we are sitting around the kitchen table with a mound of books.

We homeschool. One of the reasons there are so few unemployed homeschoolers is many of them do all the things that you suggested above.

The academic world is often not reflective of the real world. That is one of the reasons I am always puzzled by the notion that homeschool kids are "unsocialized". Our kids are out in the real world more than the artificial world of a school campus. Where in the "real world" are we segregated by age and grades?

I think the World of Academia would like these young people to believe school is the Means and the End. I think you made the case that this isn't true.

And I know you're right.

Loved it. My son just started college. He's taking Accounting, Statistics, etc. to gain the marketable skills needed to GET A JOB! He chose to go to a community college instead of a university to get his AA first, then decide what he wants to do. Smart kid. I wish I had been that smart.

They could always take that fancy degree and head down to their local Armed Forces Recruiter. If their timing is right and they've done their research they might get to be an officer. If there timing is off and they lack negotiating skills, lower enlisted is a fine way to serve and get your student loans payed off. You'll still be able to get Starbucks in the local war zone and thank your stars you didn't have to do that for a living.

Great speech. But seriously do any poly sci, English or sociology majors really think they are going to land great jobs with those degrees? I think they know what they are getting into (and if they don't then is there really any help for them?)

Also, where can I play $5 a hand blackjack? I haven't seen a limit that low in a long time.

Greg,
Maybe because my wife didn't complete her degree, we see things from the other side: there's a lot of jobs out there that require a degree, not because it's really helpful, but, as someone (Derbyshire?) has said, because employers--and especially governments--can't administer IQ tests, it's become a reasonable substitute requirement that operates as a relatively neutral way of weeding out undesirables.
Take a look at the job postings that require degrees but which have absolutely no correlation to anything learned from the degree: probation officers (got to write those pre-sentence reports!), ass't city clerks, even some police officer postings.
All these and more shall be opened to them with a degree.

Oh, and one more thing, with an MPA and real-life experience as a former mayor, you can get hired as city clerk/administrator that was posted as paying $15/hr (but subject to negotiations--so, 17.50?)

For once I agree with nearly everything Greg wrote here. Except that crap at the end about Schweikert. America's leader. Ha!

I agree with just about everything as well. Great post!

You should have gone with:

"More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

I speak, by the way, not with any sense of futility, but with a panicky conviction of the absolute meaninglessness of existence which could easily be misinterpreted as pessimism.


It is not. It is merely a healthy concern for the predicament of modern man. (Modern man is here defined as any person born after Nietzsche's edict that "God is dead," but before the hit recording "I Wanna Hold Your Hand.") This "predicament" can be stated one of two ways, though certain linguistic philosophers prefer to reduce it to a mathematical equation where it can be easily solved and even carried around in the wallet.

Put in its simplest form, the problem is: How is it possible to find meaning in a finite world given my waist and shirt size?"

- Woody Allen, 1979

Greg,

As entertaining as your post was, I don't want people to take it too seriously in underscoring the values and the merits of higher education. While your speech might have more value to the general ASU population, it doesn't hold its weight in water at Barrett Honors college. Why? Many students there are really the best of the best and if they study hard- they will get into top tier law schools.

First, in Arizona- if you only get your undergraduate at in state tuition, you will never leave with $80k in debt. Just not possible.

Second, I agree completely that students need to focus on marketable skills: finance, business, engineering. Many students hold duel degrees in business and sociology- totally accepted; as long as they have a "real degree".

Third, many companies will not hire someone without a degree. It doesn't matter what the degree is in, but in today's day and age, its considered socially unacceptable to not have your degree.

Which brings me to Four: It is of note, that there is a certain social stigma against those without a college degree. Even for women, who plan on starting a young family, having a degree is considered respectable. Don't let your children become rejects of society because you don't value the degree. If it sounds tough- sorry, but its true.

Five: encourage a university experience. Get the kids out of the nest, and enjoy their college years. They will be the best years of their life, and those memories should be valued and cherished.

One more point to add: If you can't get into a Top tier law school or MBA program, your continuing education might not be worth it (unless its 100% paid for). You see, there are certain networks that come along with high rankings, and that adds alot of value to a degree. Ive seen many friends go to lower ranked law schools, and be unemployed in the legal profession. It makes no sense to pay for the same degree as that of an IVY school if you don't cut it. Again- Harsh, but true.

Jennifer - "Which brings me to Four: It is of note, that there is a certain social stigma against those without a college degree."

You need some new friends.

Greg,

Loved the post and forwarded it on to my high school-age sons. It will be a good topic for future discussion.

I would add that the Asian students flooding our universities are not here to major in gender studies, sociology, or political science.

I went to law school and am graduating this year with no job prospects. I have two kids and am genuinely afraid for my families future. I came from extreme poverty and I fought tooth and nail to get a college degree and then go onto law school. It is shattering to realize it is worth almost nothing.

The education bubble has to stop and hopefully Arizona conservatives can help it along.

I have job prospects and I know eventually I will crawl myself out of my law school 150k hole. But we owe it to people to expose the graduate school diploma mills and I am not just talking about ITT tech.

I love this post, I have felt this way since a few years after graduating ASU.
I found there is such a disconnect between recent college graduates and the real world. New graduates think their degree entitles them to a job making six figures right after school.
I thought after I get my degree, I'll be rich until I saw all the job offers for $26,000 per year that had hundreds of applications for them.

Why is that?- because the colleges tell you how much money you are going to make after you get your degree from their schools.

IMHO, Michael Crow with he and his wife's cool million salary from ASU, has RUINED it.
Tuition has doubled since 07 and gone up 2000% since 1980. Hardly what the Arizona State Constitution envisions as 'nearly free' as possible. All this started when the Govt. started the "student loans". Don't forget the ticky tacky fees ASU charges now IN ADDITION to the 4500 bucks a semester, exorbitant parking fees, the Downtown debacle.....

The two things many students fail to learn in college is humility and gratitude. If they learn the skills of history and social science, and learn some "harder" skills of technology, finance and statistics, then approach the job market with humility and gratitude, they will succeed. There are too many students who graduate from these colleges, and because they (or their parents) spent that $80,000, they think they are owed something. They are owed nothing. How they can possibly miss that lesson after reading Nietszche and Kant I do not know.

I loved this post. It makes a lot of sense. However, statistically, skipping a college degree is risky. The earnings difference between someone who doesn't get a degree and someone who gets one is pretty high. This recession affected those without a degree much more severely than one with one.

This could be that those driven and motivated enough to get a degree are just more motivated and driven in other ways as well.

If more of those people opted out of college altogether, the above statistics would change.

I'm not sure. Having said that, there's a lot to like about this post.

Very interesting post and comments, thanks for sharing.

One additional factor to consider: Is the purpose of higher education to learn a specific craft? Or is it to learn how to learn?

These are not opposing considerations, though they may point to somewhat different approaches. So many of the "facts" and notions that are taught today will be superseded rapidly, in any field. And some work that is computational, for example, will move to software applications.

Given this, it's arguable that a rigorous liberal arts education is more valuable than ever.

Note the word "rigorous"--that would not include skating through with the kinds of courses young people can cherry pick to avoid being challenged. A true liberal arts education ensures that the mathematically-inclined are exposed to the rigors of literary analysis; the literary-minded face spread sheets, and so on.

The key, reflecting on my experiences as a student, teacher, staffer, supervisor/executive, and entrepreneur, is to develop analytic capabilities. An accounting major or an English major can achieve analytic strength, depending on the rigor of the programs and their dedication as a student.

It is also important to recognize that, in the larger sense, being a learner can never stop. Throughout one's career one must develop disciplines of ongoing learning and improvement. Too many people regard a piece of parchment as a certification that their learning has been achieved. They forget that a graduation is a "commencement," a beginning. It is more apt to view a degree as a license to learn that never expires, a milestone on a lifelong course of study and growth that is never complete....

I just finished a book I think a lot of people who commented on this might find interesting.

A Whole New Mind - Daniel H. Pink.

It talks about what kind of skills are needed to succeed in the future and why a lot of the jobs that require analytic/logical skills will be replaced by software and outsourcing. I didn't swallow it hook line and sinker but it was definitely interesting and worth reading.

Dave,

I said it was harsh, but true. Sorry if you fall into that catagory. I have seen friends that were very qualified fail to get jobs because they lacked their degree. Its a risk that shouldn't be taken.

Greg,

This is one of your better posts this year. While I agree with you on every one of your options there is yet another one to consider. Become a page in the Senate or House of Representatives. You will not get rich doing it but it is a good $9.00 an hour job that can open several door for you. First you get a ring side seat to State government. You can see bills go from committee to the floor and the opposite chamber and back. If you pay attention and do some homework you will have a skill that is not taught at any university – The complete understanding of the Legislative Process. It might not be sexy but few understand it and if you grasp it you can become invaluable. The contacts you can develop will be amazing and could benefit you down the road. While working as a page take you online basics from a school in the Maricopa County Community College District. Once you are done you can either transfer to a 4 year school or finish out with CC. This is where it gets good. You can apply for an internship at the House or Senate. You would move from watching committee and floor action to being part of it. By having 2 or 3 years on other interns you should excel. After graduation you can look to work for a public affairs firm, city, or county group. There is even the chance to be hired by the House or Senate as staff because of the experience you already have. Then there is the final step. If you feel guilty about making a real nice living as staff you can resign and run for office yourself with the 24K a year paycheck that comes with it. This is not a stretch I know of several individuals that have followed this path or one quite similar.

Why didn't you post this fifteen years ago when I was one of those eager and bright but naive students? Never mind, I wouldn't have listened to it.

I'd add this: it's light years more difficult to go back to school and get that engineering degree at thirty when you have to support a family rather than at eighteen when your parents are much more likely to support you. I know accounting and finance degrees have more options for working professionals, but it's still a lot more expensive and difficult ten years later.

Interesting post, Greg. On a related note, why do we allow our K-12 system to get away with graduating such a large number of students who are totally unprepared for college? Many of them have respectable GPAs, even "honors," but still can't even take entry-level college courses. Add to that the widespread absence of critical-thinking skills and the ability to communicate effectively and professionally. The lack of rigor in our high schools breeds a large majority of students who are simply not ready to succeed in college or the real world.

We constantly hear excuses about funding, but better results could easily be achieved if the will was there. After all, there are still the same number of instructional days/hours in a school year, regardless of funding. What are they doing with all that time!?

I'm sick of meeting high school juniors, seniors and even graduates who can't articulate a coherent thought, make change or even read an analog clock. A large number of high school students I meet can't write in cursive (and can barely read it) because they weren't taught that "obsolete" skill in elementary school. Now they are getting driver's licenses and bank accounts and can't even sign their own name.

Earlier commenters mentioned that employers often require a degree for the same entry-level positions that didn't require them a generation ago. Could it be that most employers know that students are now graduating from college with skills comparable to what most high school graduates posessed a generation ago? If that's the case, the students and the taxpayers are BOTH getting ripped off!

I truly believe that one of the major problems facing youth of college age actually lies within the high schools. Students constantly hear about how EVERY student needs to attend college. Not every student is college material. I have three teenage sons that I adopted when they were 11, 13, and 14. Two of these boys are currently in the college track, although one may join the military rather than go to college. The other didn't learn to read until he moved in with me when he was 12. He is a wonderful young man, and I have never told him not to go to college, but I have spent a good deal of time discussing career options that do not require a college degree, but are still good, honorable professions. This young man still struggles academically, but he is gifted with his hands. Why push college when it obviously isn't where he excels? I think that if we focused more on sending the youth that will do well to college, and training the other youth in job skills, our nation would be more productive.

@ Sen. Murphy, as an elected official, isn't there something that you can do to change this?

If our schools are letting children move through the system without the skills needed, then at some point we have to step back and figure out why it is happening; what is the root cause.

Is the way schools are allocated funding the problem? Should we promote pay increase to attract the best of the best in teachers? Can we afford to build more schools or reduce class sizes?

If we aren't committed to educating our future work force and making them competitive with other countries, then everything is for not, and we should just continue to outsource our jobs to India and South America.

Jennifer,

I realize that it is harsh but true. It is also harsh but true that there is a social stigma in certain circles for being a minority. The existence of the stigma is irrelevant. My point is that if you belong to circles in which there is a social stigma for not having a college degree you might benefit from making less pretentious friends. Or maybe being a little less pretentious yourself?

I would tell the incoming class of the Barrett Honors College that staying in the honors college is an incredible opportunity to get a real education that is otherwise difficult to find at ASU. I would tell them to try to make friends with their fellow Honors College students and make actual connections to professors. I would tell them they are the academic cream - they should act like it. The Honors College was a lot of extra work, but I've never regretted it.

I would also tell them that college won't necessarily do anything for their employment prospects.

And +10000 to everyone saying that Crow has ruined ASU. Tuition has skyrocketed and the education is worse than ever. But at least Crow has kept the local construction industry in business. Crow and the Board of Regents should be run out of town on a rail.

"If you don't want to major in something that will actually generate a job, then perhaps college isn't for you."

Perhaps things like accounting and business, which are intended to "generate a job" do not really belong in the realm of higher education. Trade school stuff, really, isn't it? On the level with welding and plumbing. Adding up the books is higher education?

I majored in English literature. It did not "generate a job." I never regretted it for one second. Not when I was bartending, not when I was waiting tables, not when I was fighting forest fires in the summer. Not when I went back to school ten years later, became a Registered Nurse, not when I earned my BSN, not when I became a Physician Assistant, not when I earned a truly worthless degree in Biochemistry with a minor in Cellular Microbiology. When people asked me what I studied in school, I still tell them I was an English major.

Philip Levine was named the Poet Laureate of the United States last week. Sitting in room full of MD's and pHD's, I was the only one who knew who he was. I was the only one who could tell you he wrote "They Feed They Lion" and how he wrote it. I was the only one who could tell you he used the same anaphora in that poem as Walt Whitman used in "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." I was the only one who even knew what the word "anaphora" meant.

Higher education is for the purpose of higher education. Whatever skills "generate a job" now may not generate one ten years from now or twenty years from. The attitude copped in this speech about college being only for the purpose of generating employment reeks of a fundamental insecurity, with equal parts arrogance, self-righteousness, and self-pity. You probably weren't smart enough to write a paper and analyze a poem, were you? You were probably scared totally shitless as the thought of even attempting it, weren't you? Admit it. Adding up the books is for the weak of mind and weak of heart. No lion will ever feed there.

Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter,
Out of black bean and wet slate bread,
Out of the acids of rage, the candor of tar,
Out of creosote, gasoline, drive shafts, wooden dollies,
They Lion grow.

Welcome to Starbucks. Can I take your order?

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