NPR logo

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Don't Go to College

Don't Go to College

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Here's a new one for you — conventional wisdom insists that college is the place to pull yourself upwards and onwards. Better jobs — and more mobility — are the dividends. But career coach Marty Nemko disagrees. In his op-ed he writes:

Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: "I wasn't a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I'd be the first one in my family to do it. But it's been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go."... Most college dropouts leave campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So when you hop in a cab or walk into a restaurant, you're likely to meet workers who spent years and their family's life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high school dropout.

It's not your run-of-the-mill advice, and plenty of people would disagree with him. Which makes him good, provocative fodder for our Opinion Page... Let the debate begin!



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I wish the US promoted students a GAP year alternative, such as common in Europe. My step-daughter is partially interested, but due to peer pressure, decided that it was in her best interest to directly into college. She has a high GPA, but does not know what she wants to major in. A GAP year project would go a long way to helping her clarify her goals and develop her maturity.

Sent by Elaine Maylen | 2:48 PM | 5-12-2008

As the parent of a High school Junior, who has no idea what he wants to do at college, my wife and I have decided to buy him a 1 year , round the world ticket, and send him out for a year before he goes to college.

Sent by Samuel Birkan | 2:48 PM | 5-12-2008

we need more mechanics,plumbers,computer programmers. Why do high schools assume every kid should go to college. Many trade people make much more money and have rewarding careers. This elitist bull has ruined many lives.

Sent by jonathan lazorko | 2:48 PM | 5-12-2008

Both my children graduated from college, one just graduated on Thursday. I also went back to college myself. I completely agree that college is not for everyone. It was never intended for everyone and kids should think isn't all fun, it should be difficult and the purpose is to achieve at the highest level and learn how to think. There are more and more jobs that have on-the-job training and in fact, require technical IT skills that kids can learn outside of college. I think that a mandatory waiting period-- for all students-- will help sort the kids into groups that really want more education versus kids that like working up the ladder, in a career or trying on several different trades-- Also, kids not wanting to be in college are a huge drain on the already stressed professors, instructors, and student services...not too mention the money the student has to spend.

Sent by amy | 2:48 PM | 5-12-2008

I can say from experience that most 18-year-olds in college are far from prepared and I sit on more than enough credits to cover 3 bachelor's degrees and a master's, but I can't get a commensurate job because I am rooted by circumstances beyond my control in a small economic pool and essentially caged in by an income I wish I could laugh at.

Sent by Christine Patterson | 2:48 PM | 5-12-2008

I think many people are just imprecise when they speak on this matter. When they emphasize the need to go to college, they really mean to be pushing doing SOMETHING -- getting some sort of post-secondary education.

Sent by Diane | 2:49 PM | 5-12-2008

I am a 2007 University Graduate, and I am in agreement with Mr. Nemco. So many college freshmen are completely unprepared for the social experience, having lived with their parents for the past 18 years. They often delve into partying and alcohol, have no idea what they want to study or what career they want to pursue, and have no idea about the real world. They end up messing around for the first couple years, switching majors and failing classes, and basically wasting the money they have invested. I would suggest that high school graduates should be encouraged to take a year off and learn about the real world; get involved in community services or serve their county through Americorps. Young people need to learn about themselves and their connection to the world, so they have a more fomulated idea about what they want to get out of college. Perhaps they will discover that college is not even for them.

Sent by Virginia | 2:52 PM | 5-12-2008

What about employers who look for a Diploma on a resume?

It seems we need to train recruiters to look beyond just the diploma.

Sent by Dan | 2:53 PM | 5-12-2008

I am a 47 women with 2 masters degrees and have been a stay at home mom for the past 5 years. I was the first in my very large family to do so. I've tried to find full or part time employment in my fields over the past 4 years, being as flexible as possible and even asking for little above minimum wage to no avail. I worked in professional positions for more than 20 years, with an excellent employment history and references. Do I think all my education as waste of time? I sure do NOW! I've been told by peers to "dumb down" my resume. I think this is ridiculous. From my experience, once one leaves the workforce and is over 40, it doesn't matter how extensive your education or how good your references - what a waste...

Sent by Linda Rock | 2:53 PM | 5-12-2008

I am the only college graduate in my family. I am not one of the 'difficult students' and found college, in fact, very easy. However, I make less than half of the next closest paid relative. College is not the only way to 'make it'.

Sent by Keisha Patterson | 2:54 PM | 5-12-2008

I agree with Marty Nemko. If everyone were college material, why do we have so many college students taking remedial math and English? Those trade jobs that do not require a college degree are becoming higher paying because we have so few skilled people in them now. Most want ads I see in the local and regional papers are for these careers, not degree requiring positions.

Sent by Jean from Kenosha, WI | 2:54 PM | 5-12-2008

try looking for a job without a degree. how many advertisements now making even submitting a resume, contingent on having a 4 year degree.

Sent by j. clark | 2:55 PM | 5-12-2008

Students are not the only ones getting a raw deal from the university. Professors are having to teach students who would rather be anywhere else than their classroom. So much energy and focus is directed "bad" student behavior (lateness, absences, disruptive participation, etc.) Also, the overpopulation of college classroom leads to watering down the material and those students who really wish to be there (and should be there) suffer as a result

Sent by Mike | 2:55 PM | 5-12-2008

I went to the University of Minnesota and the first thing I was told during orientation was "Your here to learn. If your here for a career there's a tech school down the street"

Sent by Dave | 2:55 PM | 5-12-2008

I am an executive recruiter for one of the top national financial institutions in the US. The highest paid positions within my organization are sales professionals that do not need to have a college degree. The best path to being a good sales person is to work as an apprentice with another top producing sales professional. Great Topic.

Sent by Ryan Kersten | 2:56 PM | 5-12-2008

College was the biggest waste of 6 years of my life. I currently earn in the six figures and my job is *totally unrelated* to my music degree. I could have spent those six years reading books and traveling would have been a good deal smarter. HOWEVER... employers *do* want degreed employees... that is a fact.

Sent by steve | 2:56 PM | 5-12-2008

The numbers would belie the guest's advice that a college education is not financially necessary or useful. According to the 2001 US Census bureau, college educated men make an average of 53,108 while high school grads make 33,037. Of course, the numbers are lower for women, but that's another story!

Sent by Barbara | 2:57 PM | 5-12-2008

Colleges are institutions for higher learning, nothing more, nothing less. Don't go to college if you're expecting career training, or a guaranteed job.

Sent by Patti | 2:57 PM | 5-12-2008

We found out that after my son had enrolled in a program where 1000 were accepted every year, only 200 were graduating. I asked what happened to all of those students they accepted and who were qualified, they didn't have an answer.

Sent by Jan Kvach | 2:57 PM | 5-12-2008

Does he have a college degree? I bet he does!

Sent by tonita | 3:00 PM | 5-12-2008

I have two post graduate degrees - one in counseling. I often counsel high school kids to learn a trade, rather than go to a university. We'll always need good plumbers, electricians, and auto mechanics. And those of us who don't have those skills - will often pay a lot to those that do!

Sent by Randi | 3:00 PM | 5-12-2008

When I was an exchange student in France, I was surprised to learn that students there have much less choice about their college path. They take a test called the "bac" (short for Baccalaureat) while in high school and become slotted there after for free higher education in the area of their qualifications. And available slots for lawyers and doctors are regulated by the needs on the other end---the employment market. Lesser talented students are pointed towards technical schools in hair dressing or health aides etc... Seemed like a violation of their rights as young adults to me then, but now I see the wisdom of their total state responsibility view of education and employment.

Sent by Polly Ross | 3:00 PM | 5-12-2008

I agree with everything your guest is saying, but my only question is what happens to the jobs that will be lost as a result of the guest's proposition to provide potential students with these statistics and rationale in the higher education world?

Sent by Tyler Suter | 3:00 PM | 5-12-2008

I am a college freshman and think that this discussion is very interesting. I have battled with this question throughout my first year of college. I think that in order to discover our potential we need to be challenged academically. I think that the best way for us to give ourselves options we need to challenge ourselves academically.

Personally, I think that a college education is to find ourselves and have a career that one enjoys. Many people who I know are in college because they want a job with good pay but personally I am in college because I want a career I enjoy.

Sent by Tyler | 3:00 PM | 5-12-2008

I am a student at the University of Michigan completing my college education after working in the apartment industry for several years. At 26, I am the oldest student in my department and I am often troubled by the lack of options available to be through my degree. I had worked my way up the corporate ladder in the apartment industry and prior to returning to school last August, I had received an offer to be a property manager at $45,000 per year. I gave this up to pursue my dream and I have found my degree pursuit to be practically worthless. The University has taught me very little and my job market is much smaller than I was lead to believe. I feel as if I should return to my previous life. I had a more likely chance to succeed without my degree program.

Sent by Katy | 3:00 PM | 5-12-2008

I am a Lutheran pastor serving a congregation near a land grant university. I hear all kinds of stories about the weakness and strengths of going to university.

The problem as I see it, and Marty Nemko makes the same assumption, is that most americans see university as a place to learn a vocation. Are our universities places of higher learning, places to discover the universe? Or are they vocation institutions as most students and administrators treat them (as well as our legislators)?

I personally did not go to university to learn a vocation, I went to learn more about the world, to learn at the feat of people far smarter than I.

If we are going to turn our universities into vocation institutions then lets quit calling them universities and begin calling them union halls to whatever trade they want to support.

Sent by Tor Berg | 3:02 PM | 5-12-2008

At 40 years old I went back to college. I became tired of watching other people become promoted based on nothing more than a piece of paper. I was told over and over again that I was being held back due to my lack of degree. I am in my junior year at a university, and already I am making more money and holding a higher position at work. A huge door was open to me. I am now working on the next step, a masters in humanities. I hope to teach at the college level by the time I am 47 years old! My life has changed for the better thanks to my decision to go back to college.

Sent by sari nichols | 3:03 PM | 5-12-2008

The problem isn't with college, it is with the expectations of today's new students and their parents. College has never been a guarantee of career success, and a BA has never ever been the same thing as certification in a particular trade or branch of knowledge. The issue is that today's students and parents are carrying their consumerist savvy and attitudes into education, and many colleges are pandering to these consumerist impulses. 10 years ago, when I taught at a business college, I listened to the President of that business college talk more like a CEO when he was invited to faculty meetings, referring to students as "customers". Students have been encouraged to feel as if they are entitled to the degree that they pay for, regardless of the effort they exert in class.

Sent by KK | 3:05 PM | 5-12-2008

While I agree with much of what your guest states about college, I might suggest that the information that he believes should be available can already be accessed by a bit of research through such web sites as the Bureau of labor statistics and individual college annual reports. Those institutions with programs requiring outside credentialing such as professional programs will make this available to the public. One point that I strongly agree with is that students come to college unprepared for the rigor of the content..they frankly have little interest in developing those critical thinking skills valued by your guest. Additionally, there may be a connection between satisfaction with course instruction (as reported from a survey)to the amount of effort that is invested in the course.

Sent by T.L. | 3:05 PM | 5-12-2008

Marty Nemko comments on the damage to self-esteem experienced by students who fail to earn a college degree. I would argue that just as much self-esteem is lost when students who earn a degree suddenly realize that the degree is a mere substitute for tangible skills. College degrees don't guarantee the ability to actually DO anything, and it is capability that bolsters self-esteem.

Sent by Elizabeth Boisvert | 3:05 PM | 5-12-2008

As a College Admissions Counselor who volunteers with first generation and school based programs, I am often approached by kids who are struggling in high school and have parents with unrealistic expectations. However, too many times I have seen these kids placed at the right college only to thrive. My bigger concern are students who take on loans over $25,000 over their entire education with the idea that they will be able to pay them off. I consistently oppose taking on so much debt and still hear horror stories. I disagree with your guest when he paints all colleges as the same. However I do agree that students have a responsibility to avoid debt, explore grant aid, note the graduation rate and TIME/years of a college. These facts are readily available in most libraries (Fiske, etc.) and reported to USNews & world report. % of students that return after their freshman year, % that graduate in 4 years, % that graduate in 6 years and average debt that students aquire. BEWARE of those schools that don't report or those with long graduation rates and poor return rates.

Sent by Sharon Schladow | 3:06 PM | 5-12-2008

As a retired university instructor who taught mainly freshmen, I found many students didn't have realistic expectations about the workload and study habits required of them to learn and to succeed in college. Many believed that simply getting accepted into college guaranteed a degree and weren't able or willing to concentrate and study hard enough to truly learn.

Sent by Anne MacKenzie | 3:08 PM | 5-12-2008

While I agree that not everyone succeeds in college, I think this advice is a dangerous encouragement to peg certain students as unlikely to succeed and therefore to drastically limit their options. It is reminiscent of the antiquated system of educational tracking in which students who are less successful early on in school are put into categories of those who will go to college and those who won't. This completely ignores the fact that all students grow and change, and given enough encouragement and motivation, can completely alter their approach to learning.
While it is important to let prospective college students know that a bachelor's degree is more a stepping stone than a direct path to a successful career, it still remains a prerequisite for many positions. Not everyone needs to go to college, but certainly we should not be discouraging those who are interested, but rather supporting them to improve their abilities in order to best succeed.

Sent by Sara Sullivan | 3:10 PM | 5-12-2008

As a Ph.D. candidate, I'm not included in this group of students. But I have to say, in my teaching experience with college students, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Nemko. It is extremely disappointing to teach a class of 50 students and have only 5 interested in learning the material (if that many). I have received papers from juniors and seniors in college who can't even put a sentence together, never mind a coherent argument for a conclusion; and many don't seem to care about learning how to do so. I'm left with the option of teaching to the bottom half of my class and participating in rampant grade inflation where everyone deserves a 'B', or failing half the class (which is not an option at my university). I feel this is not only a waste of money and time for the unmotivated students, but impinges on the right to a proper education for the students who are more suited to college.

Sent by Kristen Boyle | 3:11 PM | 5-12-2008

After high school, I worked for 4 years at minimum wage jobs, saving to go to the local community college. I got accepted into the dental hygienist program that would give me an A.S. degree, and a career that I could start within 2 years. I got an excellent education, the community college shared instructors from both Penn and Temple. However, it only cost me $16.00 per credit hour. Years later, I decided to change careers, and spent 8 months attending a computer learning center. This was also very affordable. I worked as an entry level programmer in a hospital, and later was hired by a large hospital information technology firm. I was able to bring my education background in the phyical sciences into play. Here I have worked for 20 years. Technically this company required a 4 year degree, but they waived this for me. I work along side of people, and make a comparable salary with people with 4 years and more of educations from some of the finest universities in the country. It would have been fun to have the university experience, I am sure, but I have never regretted not having it. When I see what some of my peers paid for their education; and what they are now paying for their childrens' college; I feel like a pretty smart cookie. And I see many of those children wasting their time and money.

Sent by Lisa J. Knuth | 3:14 PM | 5-12-2008

Of course not everyone should attend college. Some can't handle the academic study, some can't discipline themselves enough, and many choose career paths that don't require college. So, naturally many students drop out or fail. Of course this looks bad, but his idea that colleges should use statistics to assign a "value" for college is misplaced for one reason: the value is relative for each student. Whether or not one graduates depends on individual performance. What one "gets out" of the experience depends on how much one puts in to the effort.
So much of it depends on individual intellectual interests, how much you party, and what you expect out of your four years. Moreover, some students enter college for intellectual purposes while others simply want to be trained for a career. Individual interests, talents, and motivations vary too much on the college level for any statistics to effectively assign quantative values to the college experience.
In essence, I agree with counselling some to avoid college, but don't water down the college selection process for others by giving meaningless numbers that quite likely will not reflect that individual's college experience.
I also disagree with the author's assertion that colleges should move away from research. It is this very reserach which attracts and retains top quality professors (at public universities especially).

Sent by Kevin | 3:17 PM | 5-12-2008

My younger brother was a very poor high school student who had a D- average upon graduation. He bounced around for years after high school doing odd jobs. Much to our amazement, he decided on his own to attend college. After great struggle, he graduated with a masters degree in Mechanical Engineering (with honors) and currently works for a great company making over $125,000 per year! I believe a lot of what Nemko is saying but I also believe its a lot more about the individual than it is the system.

Sent by Steve Holder | 3:28 PM | 5-12-2008

I have to agree. Follow the money. College is BIG business. From being bumped out of required classes (usually requiring additional quarters), to being taught by foreign TA's with poor English skills, to instructors requiring the use of the latest edition of textbooks each quarter (no used books) has become a sad joke. Make your kids prove themselves at a community college first, the first 2 years at a 4 yr school are pathetic...unless of course you like to party. whooo hooo

Sent by Steve | 3:29 PM | 5-12-2008

I don't have a college degree, though I did graduate from high school, but I am a highly skilled craftsman. My skills and knowledge have allowed me to travel all around the US and Europe, where I lived for 5 years, while making a comfortable living. I've also worked as a technical instructor.
My elder brother on the other hand has a doctorate degree and is a professor at the University of Tokyo.
My younger brother has neither a college degree nor a high school diploma but is the most successful of us in that he has maintained a happy marriage and raise three intelligent and well mannered children.
Knowledge and education are important but they must be paired with a skill of some sort to gain anything in life.

Sent by James Carpenter | 3:32 PM | 5-12-2008

Dave wrote that the first thing he heard at college was: "Your here to learn. If your here for a career there's a tech school down the street"

I hope he learned at some point during college that it's "You're here to learn..."

Sent by MK | 3:34 PM | 5-12-2008

I am so relieved to hear this discussion ! As a community college degree holder as well as a university BS degree holder, my training at the community college has been what I've had to rely on for income. It even paid entirely my university training so I could "pay as you go." The irony here is that I'm still doing the work the community college prepared me for. I couldn't agree more with all the points made by Mr Nemko. Why can't high schools and community colleges both teach kids "to think" as well as a trade. I've been outraged for years about this situation that so disadvantages low and middle income kids.

Sent by Jeanne Thompson | 3:38 PM | 5-12-2008

I am a college graduate with an advanced degree, who has worked in the field of architecture, construction, sales, and design. I have been married to a successful banker for the past 32 years. My husband has an MBA that he earned at night school while working, and we have both worked our butts off since college! We are also the parents of a 19 year old son who graduated in 2006 from a so-called, elite Catholic Prep High School in suburban Chicago.

Our son's high school experience, in terms of preparing students for thinking, realistically, for themselves and addressing the real circumstances of the world they have inherited, was not comparable to the college-prep education we experienced when we were in high school (public high school in the late 1960's). His high school was not really about helping students find themselves, or preparing them for their futures, as much as it was ALL ABOUT THE PARENTS!! It was a front for what status-conscious and greedy parents THINK they want for their children, whom they treat as extensions of their own status-seeking and self-definition! Furthermore, standards of excellence have slipped; and the schools and colleges of today do not deliver the same caliber, or approach to, higher education they formerly did.

The focus of the whole system has changed; indeed, the whole world scene and world orientation has changed, too. It's not about what IS anymore; it's about what it LOOKS LIKE. We have all been sold a bill of goods! The kids of today are mired in this phenomenon and trying to navigate their way out of it--without much useful guidance from the adults around them, who are also mired in fear and insecurity! The students of today are, in some ways, a lost generation looking for a leader and a new WAY!

So what kind of education would really prepare our young adults for what is facing them these days; especially, considering that all bets are off, (so to speak) about so many things in our world's direction today?

I do think that a more creative, hands-on experiential approach; perhaps, even a 'trades' or 'arts' based education, might teach students of today more useful things that would help them learn to "think". Something that they then could truly use to seek and create new solutions for this world; something we desperately need. Creating things with one's own hands, or through one's own real-life exoerience, is VERY important to young people trying to learn and undertand things about how the world really 'works'. They are very removed from this approach and encouraged to sit in front of the computer screen and rely on more and more vicarious experiences and once-removed information from dubious sources as the authorities and guides to the universe! And..the computer has NOT proven to be the 'answer' to education or access to educaton. In fact, in K-12 settings, it has distracted many schools from educating students effectively and has even created an additional obstacle for students and schools to surmount and try to dig out from under!! IT'S ALL BEEN ABOUT THE MONEY, PEOPLE! WAKE-UP!!

Things are TOO bogged down in process, and very little 'educating' is taking place in our k-12 schools in America, let alone our undergrad programs in colleges and universities! It is a crisis, and people had better wake up about it, because it is not over yet, and it is costing us, BIGTIME!!

Sent by Robbyn Kilbane-McFadden | 3:41 PM | 5-12-2008

To those who would like to get that gap year, but worry about applying a year late: Apply, get admitted, and then defer the admission. This means you have all your recommendations and the other work of applying done, and can then take the year to do something else. (Some colleges/universities have rules about what you do that year, so it can not be a lazy year, and usually you cannot enter a different degree-granting program.) Travel, (if the deferment request is written properly) or, as in my child's case, a year in a religious school in Israel, is normally quite acceptable as a reason for deferring.

Good Luck All

Sent by Sarah M | 3:48 PM | 5-12-2008

Marty Nemko's op-ed is a very interesting issue that should be debated heavily. I'm a 28-year-old, third generation journalist working in Colorado. I have a AAS degree in journalism and was told that I could not work for a big paper or news organization without a four-year degree. And that was the standard for a long time. Now on such sites as , that is no longer the case, it's about knowledge and experience that can propel yourself into the best jobs. I tried a four year program from a highly accredited university and found myself wasting money on professors that could not be bothered by students nor did they even show up for classes on time. It was a terrible experience. And students coming out of four-year programs are often stupid to what journalism is supposed to stand for. My father is a newspaper publisher and editorial writer, and he complains that students today like the idea of being a journalist, but lack the critical thinking needed to ask the right questions, and, question the issues that make up good stories. In a sense, not allowing outside influences to sway opinions and influence the journalistic integrity. And that comes from bad training for these so-called "best' journalism schools in the nation. Young adults wishing to take the first amendment into the future, especially in a time where checks and balances are needed, have to learn the critical thinking needed to do so. It is imperative that journalism schools teach traditional journalistic integrity and critical thinking on issues facing this country/world. On another thought, since journalists get paid so badly and the internet is taking subscribers away from newspapers, I would have no problem training to become a truck driver to provide for my family. We all have dreams of being great journalist, but sometimes a blue-colar means is all we have.

Sent by William Woody | 3:48 PM | 5-12-2008

In the free country like US, any person with or without degree can be successful. Everybody knows BIll Gates is a drop out of Harvard and makes the most of the money. But I think for most of people, if there is not immediate and attractive careet alternative, college is the way to go.

Sent by Norman | 3:49 PM | 5-12-2008

One caller compared the US to India. I think one point is missed is that in the US college is much more widely attended, whereas in India it is still for the very elite. You only have to ask how many each student beats out. Secondly we need to keep our innovation. I still find when working with esteemed colleagues from India and abroad, that innovation is still much more a part of our culture and our advantage. We need to press that advantage.

Sent by Ray Hooker | 3:56 PM | 5-12-2008

Though I agree with what Mr. Nemko has said, I would also like to add that the "manipulation" is not solely by the University system and is not always intentional. Our public education is moving towards a college preparation mainstream. I am finishing my MS in Hydrology, and I love science. But I disagree that every high school student should have 3 years of it in high school. We should encourage students to excel in things that are interesting to them. Encourage them to take wood shop, metal shop, auto shop, etc instead of pushing them into a chemistry class that they have no interest in. If what they want to do is become a carpenter or an electrician then encourage them to take coursework and get jobs that will enhance their abilities and eventually their career. It is not a question whether education is over-rated, but what type of education is appropriate. Academia is not for everyone and without personal interest most people will find themselves unwilling to make sacrifices necessary to succeed. But where they ARE interested, they WILL succeed. For some that may mean trade schools. They are designed to turn out experts in a particular field, not provide a well-rounded knowledge of things many may not care about. So if pottery 101 and beginning astronomy would get in your way, why not cut to the chase. Getting alternative education is not a question of ability or intelligence. It is a question of interest and personality. I loved college, and I loved learning about everything under the sun while I was there. I took horsemanship, art, scuba, and history. But for many this would be a waste of time and money. College is only one of many possible steps after high school. But for many, it is the only one presented to them and the only one our education system is ready to prepare them for.

Sent by Kelsha Anderson | 3:57 PM | 5-12-2008

Re: students being bored in class...maybe it's not all the teacher's fault. We accept more and more students because we are competing for tuition dollars (even state-funded schools have their eyes on the bottom line and count every tuition dollar as budgets are cut, and I won't get into grant $ here). Higher education is becoming centered on attracting and pleasing students... not educating them. I have been teaching for 10 years. And even in that time I have seen us cater more and more to student interests. We keep saying teachers should make learning "fun." Learning new concepts and ways of thinking sometimes isn't "fun." Maybe parents and counselors ought to help students understand that just attending college will not assure a good job, but if students are inclined to work on learning (and take on that responsibility), it can be a valuable and enriching endeavor. And colleges and universities should stop the dumbing down of education. By the way, I agree not everyone should go to college -- lots of very bright and successful people don't. Let's put college into perspective -- and encourage only those who want to do the intellectual work to attend.

Sent by Bojinka | 3:58 PM | 5-12-2008

I say do the Shorter College thing-you earn a degree in half the time and its way more economical-then you can work on putting some exp in your resume-as a recruiter I look at both.

Sent by JMoran | 4:17 PM | 5-12-2008

As someone with a lower class background who attended an elite liberal arts school, I truly believed that my BA was at the very least a ticket to attaining a white collar job. Now five years out of college, I have had very few employers even find my education relevant. Perhaps my major was too interdisciplinary, but had there been more emphasis on finding a career as opposed to becoming well-rounded, I might have been better equipped to pay back loans and eventually live a middle class lifestyle.

Sent by Joanna | 4:20 PM | 5-12-2008

The problem people have in accepting his position is that it requires one think about class and the nature of the economy that makes many uncomfortable. I have taught at every level from 4 year research university, small university, crappy for profit community colleges down to middle school.

Education is not the cause of the problems with the state of the economy or the cure for social/economic is a bogus ideological trick used to short circuit any meaningful discussion of poverty and race.

Yes, some kids in college do learn to think. In an ideal world or in my dream classroom all students would be there to learn to think. But if you get 5-10% of students who are interested in thinking you have an exceptional class. It can be frustrating, but a social fact.

Sent by kent strock | 4:26 PM | 5-12-2008

One comment I haven't seen, but I feel is a very important result of this phenomenon is the devaluation of a Bachelor's Degree. If nearly everyone is expected to go a four year college and a large percent receive degrees, what value does that degree represent beyond a high school diploma?

If, as Mr. Nemko discussed on air, 20% of college seniors do not have basic math skills, the additional value of a degree over a diploma would not appear to be much.
Having recently graduated (Spring 2006) from the University of Wisconsin, a school with a fairly high national standing, it is disheartening to think that the time and money I spent there does not so much reflect my knowledge or mastery of a field as it does my ability to learn or be trained.

I wonder if enrollment in Graduate programs is increasing...

Sent by Adam | 4:34 PM | 5-12-2008

How can personal growth, in maturity, wisdom -- so many branches of intelligence that we so often do not consider -- be a waste of time or money? Experiences of all kinds, all kinds, when dissected with an open and creative mind, become an invaluable asset to personal evolution. You are paying for much more than a secondary education.

Sent by Cicelia | 4:44 PM | 5-12-2008

College is often little more than a scam by poor scholars with little to teach and little skill who get their living by gathering willing students like lambs to the slaughter. My graduate education at Florida State University was almost entirely a total waste of my time and the state's money---I had scholarships. It's largely a fraud.

Sent by James Stewart | 4:45 PM | 5-12-2008

I think the biggest question that needs to be discussed is, "What really is the purpose of college?" many people have already eluded to the fact that college, ideally, is meant to be a place where you learn about knowledge rather than specific career training. Unfortunately because of our market driven culture, the focus on learning for learning's sake is no longer deemed as relevant or valuable. Businesses want to know what specifically you have to offer them. The standardizing we have seen in K-12 is starting to permeate into higher education and causing this push and over emphasis of a degree vs. actual, useful experience.

I have taught at both the college and high school level, and it is sad that sometimes there is little difference between the students. With all the requirements that colleges are creating to just to clear out of general education courses, by the end of your four years you have taken only 1 ?? to maybe 2 years of actual major courses. So, is a degree even teaching what it is supposed to? The other down side of the college experience, is that too many colleges are trying to be businesses. They do not seem to care any more about the students as individuals, but rather they just want your money. Never mind if you really belong there, they will take your money for as long as you will give it. This is true no matter the size. I attended a small Midwest university and still felt that there was no one there who really cared. The professors showed some interest, but any time I had to deal with administration I was given a complete run around and made to feel that I was an inconvenience.

Sent by Tony | 4:46 PM | 5-12-2008

Mr. Nemko makes a seductive and compelling argument that there is a way to shortcut success...or at least career success. This is possible, but knowing what one wants and who one is, is more important that knowing that you just want to get a good job and make lots of money!

The sad thing about the college argument is: that there are kernels of truth interspersed within it. If you do not know yourself enough to understand what you can deal with--or prepared to deal with--then the college experience will only be heartbreak. But if you have a mind--and will, to dedicate your path to this accomplishment, it can be very personally fulfilling.

Now, on to the issue of the real world; yes, many employers these days are requiring 4 year degrees for even entry level jobs; however, many of the hires don't know the first thing about the real world...not to mention possess the skill sets to perform even the simplest of duties. I have worked side by side with many four-year grads that don't know how to write a simple paper; or speak to an audience; or even prepare a proper presentation. These are a basic necessities to survive today in any business.

I myself have been on both sides of this issue as a technically trained vocational person, and now as an adult working my way through college, completing a degree. I have seen vocational people who are smarter and more talented that a hundred BS or BA grads, and I have seen brilliant Associates degree--Community College educated engineers-- outperform the 4 year BS people.

The bottom line for this, is not the overvaluation of the Bachelors degree, we know colleges are businesses, let us not kid ourselves; but what are we as a society doing to demystify or promulgate this overvaluation? This stems from values placed and instilled to the youth, who don't know any better, based on what they see from when they grow up. Let's be clear to students and give them the facility to make the right choices in the first place.

Yes College is not for everyone! Genius! But please, I am sick to death of hearing all the exceptions to the rules of who didn't go to college, and who went on to be a significant person in history or made a billion dollars. This just makes people think that education is completely unnecessary--far from it! Your guest said it himself, "Class [status] is the enemy of contentment."

I wish there was some more astute effort on the High School level to clarify what it means to attend college. Not some 45 minute assembly on how this is important for your future...but continuing reinforcement of learning oneself in a way that leads to personal discovery; this would naturally lead the college candidates to a better understanding of what their realties are, and how they differ from their perceptions...before they make a huge mistake! Often times with not just money, but wasted time that they'll never get back!

Sent by Matt | 4:51 PM | 5-12-2008

As a once highly successful college career services administrator who left the field five years ago in frustration, I could have jumped for joy at hearing today's discussion about colleges on my car radio earlier today. While I was able to build up my university's program for a time (we served 8,900 students a year and operated one of the country's largest internship programs), strong forces within my university consistently opposed our efforts, believing that the presence of a strong career services program actually undermined the image of academic excellence they were trying to project. Being located in the northeast, they argued that since we were as good as Harvard and MIT, we didn't need career services and would somehow look "less than" if we did. Students, they argued, could succeed magically on their own by virtue of holding one of our degrees. These voices eventually prevailed--my staff was decimated and the position which I subsequently left remains vacant today. As your guest pointed out, college advertising campaigns pander to students' recreational interests by highlighting health clubs, sports and related facilities. I believed then and now that the not-to-subtle message is "College isn't that hard. C'mon in, the water's fine! This approach makes colleges seem more like country clubs than schools where actual work is required by the participant. Parents buy the rap because many suffer from "college sticker syndrome," a craving for the prestige they receive from their peers from the number of big ticket college logos they have plastered on the rear windows of their cars. Parents may accept the "learning to think rather than do" arguement, but in fact, college outcomes are very easy to assess. When we examined the occupational and salary outcomes of our graduates we found some startling results: three years out, for example, graduates from one of our social science departments were more likely to be working at low wage jobs health clubs and pet stores than they were to be doing anything remotely connected to law or social policy. One suspects from the ferocity of the arguement that the best defense is a good offense where outcomes measurement is concerned. Viewing non-academic professionals as a drain on the bottom line, many professors refuse to accept that 18 year olds fresh from home need the structured, developmentally-based assistance and careful monitoring of the job market that good career services can provide. My own final blow up came when university gave the equestrian team top billing at a major admissions event while career services was relegated to the very bottom of the list. At the time, I argued that this was deceptive because only 12 students a year could be accepted into the equestrian program, while thousands of kids were being served and getting truly great jobs and internships at our department. What the general public does not understand is that higher education is a highly subsidized industry. Where lots of money comes in with great regularity, spending will eventually become profligate, prices out of control and oversight virtually non-existent. Colleges are run by academics who are often ill-suited to manage these complex environments. We still cling to the myth that negotiating a college campus without guidance, sowing your wild oats and hopefully learning a few things promotes maturity and character development and is worth the price of admission. If things don't work out,you can always go to graduate school. Given the growing competition from countries that are busy building their own higher ed infrastructures, admissions and other types of fraud are likely to increase as domestic college campuses start feeling the pinch. Like the old dairy industry, American higher education is a 'sacred cow'(no pun intended) that Congress shows very little interest in regulating. Meanwhile, with so many of the professional college labor market job classifications that fueled the high end service economy outsourced or automated away, we may soon see a return of books such as "The Over-Educated American," from the mid-1970's which questioned the value of a college degree. College graduates deserve tangible returns on their investment, and more than ever, America needs a well-educated, prepared workforce. It's time we did away with the smoke and mirrors deflections of the past and faced up to the challenges ahead.

Sent by Joan M. Stoia | 4:58 PM | 5-12-2008

I chose to earn my degree and work at the same time by attending the University of Phoenix, attending online. I learned at my own time and everything I learned applied to my everyday life. The cost was a fraction of what I would spend going to my local University. I thought the content was excellent as so was the staff. Being able to collaborate with students around the states was awesome. I definitely suggest such. The University of Phoenix rocks!

Sent by Richard | 4:59 PM | 5-12-2008

As a graduate of a vocational/technical school, (then) a "college drop-out" and father of a child going into High School, I have experienced most of the above viewpoints. (at least once)

First, as stated above, "College IS NOT for everyone! And it certainly IS expensive! Therefore, (parents AND students) MUST make some early decisions. Do you (student) have a SPECIFIC (long-term) career in mind?
(Doctor, Nurse, Teacher, Counseler, Lawyer?) If you don't, that (by itself) is a strong clue that college COULD be a waste of time/money. Go work in the office (of the above, as a file clerk or aide) for the summer. You may HATE the job after 3 months.

Stay single until you graduate!
College IS a place to meet smarter, (and someday wealthier) people, but have a child 2 years into your 4 year degreee WILL wreck your life!

College Costs:
Make sure your getting your money's worth! Can you leap-frog your way thru?
Work some, take classes, work some more. (I did, it kept me out of debt the entire time!)

Also, Junior/Community college credits are less expensive than 4 year schools (but, make sure they tranfer 100%).
Plus (City U.) is also smaller, closer,
and less intimidating in general.

If you (your student) likes to work with their hands, enjoys building/repairing things send them to Trade school! There IS NO GLUT of electricans, plumbers, auto mechanics, dental techs, nurses aides ...etc. and these people make GOOD money!

Don't spend more on college than you can pay-off in 2 years. Debt is nothing but "a hole you have to crawl out of" before you can afford "a life".

College IS NOT a "place to find yourself". You should have done THAT before you left home.
College IS a place that will make (or break) the rest of your life.

Sent by Harold | 5:06 PM | 5-12-2008

The world needs ditch diggers.

My father was a farmer and worked in a TV factory for 20 years. He worked hard for very little. This was the image I had in mind when I was in pharmacy school. In the end, He died very poor. His blue collar job gave him not hope, no satisfaction, and no reward.

One must see their college degree in relation with their professional life. I have a degree in philosophy and PharmD. Philosophy gave me an intellectual perspective and pharmacy put money in my pocket.

Sent by Lee | 5:09 PM | 5-12-2008

I am a college dean in a professional school at a state university. None of our graduate students could become the professionals they desire without a college degree. As others have said, college is not for everyone and it is not a trade school. College should not be viewed as a coupon to be traded in for xxx (spouse, house, job, money). But the next time you go to the dentist, physician, child's teacher, etc. I am guessing you will assume they went to college? More importantly, college can be a door to another way of life, another way of thinking, but it is not the only door. But don't rule it out if you want to study and learn with other people!

Sent by CH | 5:11 PM | 5-12-2008

Many high school students should go to college but not directly after high school. And I am not talking about doing a year wandering around the world or doing volunteer work although they may be great experiences. The right time is when the individual is going to college because they simply want to broaden their horizons and do not care about monetary rewards from the degree or because they cannot get the job they want without the degree. They need to be self-motivate to put in the time and effort to gain value from their classes and their experience.

For some individuals, like my brother and sister, this is directly out of high school. For others it may be after a year of volunteer work or wandering. For others it may be when they are in their 30's, 40's, 50's or even 60's. For others it may be never.

Sent by Joyce | 5:21 PM | 5-12-2008

I'm a college professor, and agree partly with the guest. A college education can be overrated if a student goes in without adequate preparation and with the wrong motivation.

But, can anyone tell me why public tax dollars are used to fund high-schools when a significant portion of the graduates (sadly, some are my students) cannot do elementary reading comprehension exercises, cannot do problems on percentages and fractions, cannot understand the difference between what is illegal and unethical? And these are students with stellar GPA's from high school. It seems to me that it is an American high-school education that is overrated. Only, an individual doesn't pay the tuition, but all of us do.

One of the callers mentioned that India and China were increasing numbers of college graduates. I don't think we should do this. The "mass" marketing of college education I think only devalues it. Also, the students we get from India and China straight out of high school write better than our students, they can do calculus, and they can program computers. They have a great head start over the products of our high-schools.

Let us fix our high-schools rather than treating colleges as providers for "consumers" of higher education.

Sent by Art Sleeper | 5:36 PM | 5-12-2008

It started at least 40 years ago: those 'brains' in HR decided that, in order to work 'here', you needed a college degree in some area that was related at least vaguely to the job. Then, it went to a required college degree in a certain field. In many positions, it's helpful to have that degree because the assumption is that you've been trained in that discipline. Engineering and accounting come to mind rapidly. However, the HR functions today use a college degree as a pass/fail criteria for almost any white collar office job, even when it's not germane. Advertising comes to mind quickly, but staff or junior positions in most companies are treated the same way. Your guest dwelt on the reasoning for and difficulty getting the degree, but seems to have ignored the pressure to have one's ticket punched with that degree in order to get in the door of most occupations.

Trade schools offer another approach, focusing their attention on the skills needed for specific trades, such as welding, heavy equipment operation or auto mechanics. Their certifications are MUCH more germane to those fields than a degree from XYZ university is to an advertising job or one administrating a project for a construction company.

Finally, the HR function discriminates against people who have changed their occupations during their careers. Those people might have all the experience necessary for a position, but are turned down - because they don't have the "right" college degree.

Reform is necessary, but don't limit it to the colleges and universities themselves. We need to change the way we recognize that degree and how we value it in subsequent career moves.

Sent by Thomas Bell | 5:37 PM | 5-12-2008

I attended college in 1994. I found out that the college I attended can not keep track of all the people who attend. They do not have a computer system that knows who is about to graduate and if anyone is about to graduate. My couslor told me.
They also cancelled many classes and teachers went on stike.
Students had to find classes that will allow them to graduate. Wasting my time and theirs all the time.

Sent by Former student | 5:43 PM | 5-12-2008

A great way to get a degree is going online. I am currently attending University of Phoenix which enables me to do multiple tasks. I work full time, have a family, and go to school. With aid and loans, my bills are not high. People seriously need to consider taking classes online and especially at the University of Phoenix because they teach you skills for the real world. Everything I learn in my business class, I apply while at work. This is terrific. Cheers

Sent by Tommie Wats | 5:56 PM | 5-12-2008

The commentator should have gone one step further. I have often wondered why business pushes college education for the entire work force but hire mostly for minimum wage jobs that don't require it. I think I've figured it out. They want to be able to blame the worker for the fact that the wage is non-living. If we educated the entire work force, does that mean we won't need convenience store clerks, janitors, and medical techs and aids? Obviously not, but if they feel it's their fault they won't push for a living wage.

Sent by Bridget Reidy | 6:45 PM | 5-12-2008

This guy Namko hates Black progress. He basically says that a college degree in the hands of a Black person is useless. This is the same logic that the slave masters used in not letting Blacks read. He also ignores the truth about how the trades have historically kept Blacks out. In NY State, carpentry, electrician, construction and fire dept unions have been notoriously racist and exclusive for GENERATIONS. As a Black person, I'd rather bank on my college degree that swim with the sharks int he trades.

Sent by Candace Ruggleby | 7:28 PM | 5-12-2008

My family values education and has for three generations. Honestly, if people want to stop going to college and learn a "trade" or some other career that doesn't require as much education . . . let them. The market is over saturated with people who have achieved a Bachelor's degree, regardless of how much they actually learned, which has made the degree almost as worthless as a HS Diploma. I have heard time and time again from employers that they don't care what your degree is in (for non-degree specific careers, that is), they just want to see that you have a degree, and that you were responsible enough to complete it. I would support less people going to college, simply because that would mean that all the degrees we worked so hard for will be worth that much more, making a college education valuable again.

Sent by Ryan | 7:35 PM | 5-12-2008

I just heard your program on education and over-rating the college degree. I do agree with the speaker that you had as a guest. Although I tuned in late in the program, I hope this note will serve as a stimuli to refocus the social stigma towards vocational careers. I graduated from high school in 1971. This should serve as a reference point of the time and era. In that period we had parallel programs: college prep and vocational. Those that were going to college were tested tp verify if they were college material. If you these students were maintained in college track all others were encouraged to learn a vocational career. After that focus was set aside many vocational persons disappeared and now we outsource because we do not have tool and die persons. And, college graduates are working as admin assistants. Has the educational system and baby-boom philosophy taken a wrong turn?

Sent by Vicente Vazquez | 7:46 PM | 5-12-2008

Nemko's argument is problematic because he misidentifies the benefits of college as solely "you go to learn." The great thing about life is you can learn anywhere. The great thing about college is you learn the power of networking.

Top tier colleges expose its students to a vast number of successful professionals as alumni and top experts in particular fields of study. Also, if one goes to a reputable top tier school, a graduate gains the immediate respect of recruiters, employers and co workers and can demand high salaries.

Nemko could strengthen his argument by noting the hierarchy in baccalaureate education. All colleges and universities are not created equal and do not give equitable experiences, networks or job opportunities at the end of four, five or six years. I agree that students better suited for trades are wasting their time and money in a lecture hall, but I disagree that bright students should forgo a college education. I advocate that students should strive to get into the best colleges the world has to offer rather than mediocre ones that sell knock off diplomas at designer prices.

Sent by gburks | 7:51 PM | 5-12-2008

I think a lot of people, in typical American fashion, are looking at this question in terms of tangible outcomes.

College--especially a program in liberal arts/humanities--offers immeasurable returns for a serious student. Even if graduates don't make $100k a year (and even if they end up working in a factory), they will have learned a valuable tool for living in our media-driven society: critical thinking and analysis. If everyone went to college and learned our world's history, learned about other cultures and religions, and learned how to separate truth from propaganda and think as an individual, our country would be in much better shape than it is now.

Sent by Elaine | 8:50 PM | 5-12-2008

I agree that college is not for everyone. However, I grew up in a low-income household in a neighborhood where most people assumed that I would not graduate from high school let alone attend college. I put myself through University and am now a business owner. I believe that often people are stopped by people telling them things aren't worthwhile. I believe that encouraging college is worthwhile and for my friends who did not finish, they are now happy in the jobs they would have had anyway and have no regrets.

Sent by K.E.N. | 9:03 PM | 5-12-2008

I have a degree in Religious and Environmental Studies from Iowa State was an enlightening experience and I don't regret going. How many people do you know with a degree such as that? Everyone told me that it did not matter what I got my degree in but now that I have some experience in the white collar world, I know otherwise. I wish that i had gained a useful degree like being a teacher or a nurse but at that time, I couldn't see myself as such. If I had been more prepared for college in terms of knowing what I wanted to do with my life and knowing how it was really going to be, college would have been more useful and much more worthy of my parents hard earned money and out of state tuition. So, yes college can be a huge waste of time. I found it best to go to a university first and skip the junior college. I wouldn't have had the same enlightening and empowering experiences from a junior college. A liberal arts degree can expand your horizons and make you more knowledgeable in many subjects, but it is not always very practical in the working world.

Sent by Megan | 9:39 PM | 5-12-2008

Sam Birken may be the smartest parent in the world.

Good for you but mostly good for your son!

Sent by Ned Parks, Akron, Ohio | 10:00 PM | 5-12-2008

As someone who feels she wasted a great deal of money on a college degree, it was a great relief to hear Nemko's opinion on higher education. At 29, I am living with my mother struggling to pay off college debt with an entry-level job at a big insurance company. Most of my superiors do not have college degrees and have gotten into their positions through their seniority status within the company. Though college may have taught me how to think, I suspect it does me more harm than good. The company I work for, which I'm sure is like countless other companies, wants its employees to think how the company wants them to think. For those of us on the lower-end of the socio-economic ladder, without connections and without a free education, a 4-year college may not be the best option. And without significant resources, the idea of a gap year is laughable. High school students should be made fully aware that there are other roads out there. Whether it's learning how to cook in a high-end restaurant, sew and design clothing, or fix cars, I envy those whom I know who did not fall into the 4-year degree trap. They are happier, more successful, and more financially secure than I am as a college graduate.

Sent by Nicole | 10:33 PM | 5-12-2008

While I'm concerned about abysmal graduation rates and our public universities, I'm perhaps more concerned with the dumbing down of our college courses to accommodate those who are not prepared. Many WILL get degrees, but don't deserve them, and that severely waters down the value of a college degree. I agree with the author ... colleges can make any claim they please, and there's no way to prove the veracity. Public colleges of 40,000 say things like, "we're personal and we care" and people buy it. Shameful.

Sent by John Carroll | 10:40 PM | 5-12-2008

I think the results can vary. For me, I attended college for 2 years at a prestigious university under a scholarship. My major was psychology. I went to college mainly because my mother told me that if I waited too long I may not want to go later on. At the same time, she told me to learn a trade in order to have something to fall back on. I eventually dropped out of college to work-full time. I don't regret the decision. I've done pretty well as a legal secretary. I'm still interested in psychology and I still read about it so who knows. But I also have other interests I'm exploring. I have two nieces who graduated from college about 2 years ago. Right now they both are kind of in a limbo about what they want to do. One of my nieces went to school and got a degree in forensic medicine. About a year or so ago she did a 180 and now wants to be a police officer. Their mother emphasized education and I think educating yourself is a good thing. What I also know is you don't have to be in a classroom in order to read a book.

Sent by Shelley | 11:15 PM | 5-12-2008

Rather than just tell people they may not be college caliber, maybe try something like "now is not the right time. Wait a few years and see what you want to do." I wound up leading to that advice myself, because I had a counselor that didn't have good advice, too.

Fire counselors. They aren't worth the $$ or the advice.

Advocate public higher ed, 2-yr colleges, or tech schools, but don't advocate nothing at all.

I couldn't get OUT of certain jobs until I got an associates degree - it took me three years and lots of juggling work and school, but I did it. Now at I'm out of factory work, not delivering pizza, not a secretary (all of which I've done).

Before I went to college, I had to learn a little more responsibility. Taking time to learn a little from experience was helpful. It's all learning.

Now, I'm an instructor.

Sent by Jen Boileau | 11:43 PM | 5-12-2008

i went to a state school for 3 years. the burden of cost was too great to finish. The politics and cost of going to college today is much greater for our youth then the benefits that should be coming from the college experience. which in my life was not worth it.

Sent by Molly | 11:57 PM | 5-12-2008

I lived in DC for 5 months, and I met a guy there named Gerrard who has a PHD in education, and was living in a shelter because he was not able to find a job paying a livable income.

Sent by Sean Hardin | 12:32 AM | 5-13-2008

Aside from how much money you want to make and class snobbery, I think one problem is, we Americans focus so much on the bottom line that it's become OK to forget everything we learn each year so long as we get A's. I.e., we should be telling kids "no, you may not keep video games/TV/computers in your bedroom, because learning to love reading for hours at a time is more important than anything else. Even if you don't plan to go to college."

Example: In a Feb. 2005 TIME cover article, it said:

Kohn knows a college counselor hired by parents to help "package" their child, who had perfect board scores and a wonderful grade-point average. When it was time to work on the college essay, the counselor said, "Let's start with a book you read outside of school that really made a difference in your life." There was a moment of silence. Then the child responded, "Why would I read a book if I didn't have to?"

(Not to mention that zero love of reading often means zero interest in serious news stories - or the general world. That's hardly good for this country's future.)

Sent by Lenona | 1:43 AM | 5-13-2008

The only thing that a college degree will do is open doors...the rest is up to you. Most people that think that college is/was a waste of time ... more than likely majored in Liberal Arts or a very general major such as "management" or "history."

Those are the students that realize that the last few years was nothing but a waste...because they were. A degree guarantees you nothing...and most people realize that after they graduate.

If you look as those w/ Bachelors of Science (Engineering, Science degrees etc.), they will tell you that the degree is a stepping stone to bigger and better things in life (post-grad, research etc.)

We will always need technicians/skilled craftsman...after all...who else am I going to call to fix my toilet? I'd rather pay $200 to get it fixed...than waste my time trying to do it!

I guess theres a reason for less than 10% of "Americans" making over 100K per year...and this message board shows it!

Sent by Sagnik Lahiri | 3:36 AM | 5-13-2008

The problem with universities, as stated by the commentator, is that they are not designed to help students learn. They are organized around faculty needs and prestige. There is little incentive to consider students as customers in the business of higher education. To hear faculty in the staff room, students are barely tolerated and teaching them is a burden and a chore. Professors are hired and promoted for their ability to write research papers for journals that are read by a few people in the world rather than prepare thousands for productive careers. Yet a academics enjoy a great deal of prestige and respect in society and are hired as consultants and experts in areas where they have never actually done any work. So the game continues. I would recommend turning around the whole value added paradigm and hire some people to teach, others to do research, and get rid of the brain death of tenure. Make curricula actually current and relevant to today's problems and issues. Break down the walls of disciplines, as some MBA programs are doing. Keep liberal arts education, which few people can afford but make it more than one from column A, column B- make it a cohesive body of knowledge rather than a cafeteria approach. I have more degrees than you can shake a stick at but it is my real world experience that I value the most.

Sent by MS | 5:34 AM | 5-13-2008

Thank you, Talk of the Nation, for hosting Marty Nemco. It's refreshing to hear the voice of someone who would dare to question the current conventional wisdom and dogma.

My concern is not that students won't make it through college, but rather that our society no longer has enough college-education-requiring jobs for those who do graduate. Right now our politicians and the news media are falling all over themselves to promote college education, selling it to the populace as a veritable opiate of the masses (often bandying about that misleading income statistic), claiming that it will solve the problems of unemployment and underemployment. It's easier to placate the public by telling them that the solution to our nation's economic problems is more college education as opposed to enacting sound economic policies that contradict free market dogma and our desire to import tens of millions of impoverished immigrants.

One of the reasons why college degrees, including advanced and professional degrees, have less value today than they did in years past is because everyone-and-their-brother are going to college. Basic principles of economics tells us that when you increase the supply of college-educated labor higher than any (if any) increase in the demand for college-educated labor that wages must decrease or at least that many of those college graduates will find themselves either unemployed or severely underemployed-and-involuntarily-out-of-field (perhaps having lost the value of their college educations forever as a result of their having been rendered essentially permanently unemployable in their fields.) The proper response to the cry that displaced Americans need to retrain and reeducate should be, "for what?" The jobs that were supposed to replace the ones that were lost to foreign outsourcing, foreign work visas, and mass immigration have yet to materialize.

Consequently, our nation now suffers from a tremendous economic inefficiency in the form of people who have wasted time and money on underutilized college educations. As a society, we would be better off cutting the number of colleges in half (along with the number of business schools and law schools), increasing the admissions criteria, and having far fewer resources wasted on underutilized college education. Perhaps then we could focus on other pressing issues, such as our nation's economic problems, and the problems caused by global labor arbitrage (foreign outsourcing, mass immigration, and foreign work visas such as the H-1B and L-1 that displace Americans from good jobs).

College education has little practical value if the jobs that utilize it and compensate appropriately are unavailable, and we need to question the religiously-held dogmatic conventional wisdom that education is the solution to our nation's economic problems as opposed to enacting sound economic policies that promote the rational selfish economic interests of the American people.

Sent by Frank the Underemployed Professional | 6:47 AM | 5-13-2008

I agree college is not for everyone, we have 4 children and only 1 went to college, after getting her degree she took a job out of her field that only required a high school education. She is doing well but her siblings with no degree are doing just as well.

Sent by Sharon Bridges | 7:34 AM | 5-13-2008

Higher education has been terribly oversold. Two years ago, I published a paper saying pretty much the same thing as Marty Nemko said in his Chronicle of Higher Education piece. Among the responses I received was one from a man in the financial services business. He wrote that in his firm, the HR Department had decided that college degrees would be required for all job applicants. He had argued in vain against that on the grounds that the work could be learned by any reasonably literate person and that they'd be ruling out a lot of people -- mostly older -- who would probably make good and reliable employees. On the other hand, many of the young people with college degrees were not particularly good workers. Business is complicit in the overselling of college by treating the BA as a proxy for trainability.

Sent by George Leef | 9:32 AM | 5-13-2008

Marty Nemko's argument makes sense, but I disagree. As an african american woman I was offered an opportunity to attend college through the pre-colligiate program, which targeted african-american and latino students. I am eternally greatful to this program, because through this program I earned two colleges degrees. At least ten of the students who attended that program with me graduated. Many of these students did not have the grades to gain acceptance to college. We are all doing very well, and have jobs that I know we couldn't have attained without the opportunity we received.

Sent by Ebony Russell | 10:46 AM | 5-13-2008

I made straight A's in high school. The counselors told me how important it was to go to college. I did not have money, nor did my parents. I worked until I could get some money to start community college. I then transferred to a university in another state. I moved to a new state, bought a house and when I finally finished my BS it had taken 8 years. I was exhausted, passed up promotions to finish school and 14 years later I still make the same money I did prior to having the BS and I graduated cum laude.

I really wish I had the time and money back and that I had had a few minutes to enjoy my 20's instead of going to bed at 1:00 am and getting up at 4:00 am every day for years to work and study and go to classes.

I completely bought into the idea that if you work hard, you will be successful. I am 42 now and I just have no energy left to care anymore.

Sent by Wanda | 10:51 AM | 5-13-2008

College will give as much as one is willing to invest financially, emotionally, and intellectually. Your guest's criticisms of higher education institutions are unwarranted. Universities provide higher education, and if incoming students are unwilling to put forth the effort to succeed in their education, then blame should not be directed towards these institutions when these students don't succeed professionally. Even though I haven't reach my primary goals, I believe college was a great investment and provided a vast platform for exploration and enlightenment. I see college as boot camp for the mind and as a result, I find myself mentally stronger and willing and able to confront the challenges of life.

Sent by Evan | 10:57 AM | 5-13-2008

Undergraduate college degrees are not the only waste of money; obtaining an advanced degree can become a financial nightmare. In particular, older students are duped because colleges know with absolute certainty that age discrimination is alive and well across virtually all professional jobs across the nation. Do they inform students prior to attending? Not on your life.

Sent by MK | 11:18 AM | 5-13-2008

I feel like crying. As a young and impressionable soul I was seduced by the common myth, "Go to school, get a bachelors degree, get a masters degree, get a doctorate...(I did!) and the world will be your oyster."

I couldn't agree more Dr. Nemko's assessment. It's obvious that higher education, for many people, is a complete waste of time and more Not only would I have never attended a four year school but I would have NEVER, EVER taken out school loans to pay for it.

I'm not alone. Most of my colleagues are in same boat. The boat of being severely overeducated while earning what could have been equally matched by attaining a 2 year vocational certificate from a community college.

The student loans that I chose to take out have become a literal 'ball and chain' around my neck. These feelings will be with me for the next 20 to 30 years. This debt prevents me from doing many things that make life worth living. I basically work to pay back my student loans.

I live a minimalist lifestyle and have three thousand dollars left on a car loan. This is my only other debt. I don't require 'stuff' to be complete.

Mark Cuban, a self-made, from-scratch billionaire and the owner of pro basketball team the Dallas Mavericks said this in his blog:

"The greatest obstacle to destiny is debt, both personal and financial. The more people you are obligated to, the harder it is to focus on yourself and figure things out. I'm also a big believer that financial debt is the ultimate dream killer."

Well said.

It is my hope that insightful pre-college students will find this interview and understand that higher education isn't the answer.

Thank you Dr. Nemko for having the character of a straight-shooter and for living in reality.

To all parents: You and your children have been warned.

Sent by Dr. Fred | 12:01 PM | 5-13-2008

I could not agree more with your guest. Having received my bachelor's degree just one year ago, I am none too far removed from a system which seems aimed only at squeezing as much money from its students as possible, while requiring--and expecting--nothing more than the barest minimum. I cannot count the number of times I was asked why I was taking such "hard" math courses when all that was required was College Algebra. (I never enrolled in the class, but I understand it was somewhere slightly below the level of high school algebra.) Incidentally, I got a minor in math, something my academic advisors apparently could not be paid to remember; they were baffled at every reminder. My peers and I were constantly advised that there might be a less rigorous path toward a degree, and that we might not want to take "so many" credits. Such advisors may be trying to help, but the strategy of continually lowering the bar so everyone can get a degree--whether they need it or not--only serves to cheapen the "accomplishment". As it happens, to perform at my current graphic design job, I am employing exactly none of the skills I learned at my university. Everything I need to know came--quite independent of school--from internship positions held during my summers.

Sent by Stephen Cummings | 12:40 PM | 5-13-2008

I am an economics professor at a private liberal arts college. Small classes, personal attention from the professors. However, I am then personally acquainted with the students that should NOT be in college. I remember one in particular who slept in class. As his advisor, I pulled him into my office to talk. He clearly stated that he didn't want to go to college. He wanted to be a carpenter. His family had insisted on a college degree. I realize this is just an anecdote but believe me, he was not my only advisee who felt this way.
What I am getting at is that I am resentful that colleges are being blamed for the students who go and are not prepared, should be somewhere else or who do not graduate........We are fairly selective where I teach but there are no tools to weed out those who really have no motivation

Sent by Lori Bell | 1:10 PM | 5-13-2008

The reality is that going to college right now can be likened to learning to pilot a ship (say the Titanic) while it is sinking. There are far more important things one can be doing.

Sent by Eric Crews | 1:31 PM | 5-13-2008

I think the article (and responses to it) really bring up a variety of issues in higher education -- 1) there is a WIDE gap in the accessibility and affordability of college, and 2) those privileged enough to attend don't always find the right match, and are not always adequately prepared to get the most (or anything!) out of their investment.
I'm a big advocate for the value of higher education, but definitely agree that there is also great value in taking time to experience more of the world before jumping into college or grad school. I am the Assist. Director of Admissions at a Boston law school, and also the founder of a company called The Experiential Travel Project (, which helps people design their own "gap year" experience abroad during periods of transition. Much like the comments above, I believe taking time to "live different" and step out of your comfort zone in order to experience the world from new perspectives can be a valuable investment in itself.

Sent by Abby | 1:42 PM | 5-13-2008

Mr. Nemko's comment that a Bachelor's degree is only a "hunting license" is right on the mark and I hoped that it might make take the segment into some more controversial territory. I believe that an honest assessment of the tasks that make up most of the substance of everyday living and working would reveal just how little "university level" knowledge is required to get by. Job outsourcing is about one thing: paying workers less so that corporations make money (mostly by making goods inexpensive at home). Most jobs do not require trigonometry, calculus, biology, art history, philosophy, world history or a knowledge of Dante, Shakespeare, Hume, Malthus or Rawls. The "hunting license" of an undrgraduate degree is simply a way of arbitrarily restricting the pool of eligible applicants for an ever-diminishing pool of jobs. High school used be be the ticket for anyone other than academics; now it is a bachelor's degree and the trend is fast moving toward it becoming a master's degree. I am no enemy of the subjects listed above, in fact I am a lover of those disciplines, but is a beautiful, pernicious fantasy to attempt to establish a society that requires knowledge of them. We have overburdened our high-school curricula with courses that do not leave students, teachers or parents with the psychological and financial reserves to focus on foundations of reading, writing, practical mathematics, civics, and basic history. A highly-educated and enlightened society is a wondeful dream, but not a practical one, nor is it one that the current educational structure is realizing. Art, music, literature, and sports are enriching, noble pursuits but they should be made available in extra-educational settings and be made voluntary. Moreover, America as a nation must look its class issue in the face and deal with it honestly before it will be able to solve the host of problems springing from it. J. Elspeth Stuckey poses an interesting question in her book "The Violence of Literacy: why does a plumber garner twice the money and half the prestige of a school teacher? This is a paraphrase, and I bring it up not to denegrate plumbers or elevate teachers; I bring it up to point out (as Stuckey argues) that there is a deep, unrecognized incongruity between our illusion of a classless meritocracy and society as it really exists. The current educational system is a deformed vestige of a society that has been unable or unwilling to undertake an honest self-assessment.
Finally, I reacll the phrase "learning how to think" bandied about rather loosely with regard to the purpose of a university education. I believe tht such an assertion requires clarification and, more importantly, quantification. What "thinking" skills do university students develop? Are these skills inapplicable to high-school students? Have high-school students (not too mention young human beings in general) been living without relying on thinking? I doubt it, but I am willing to entertain an argument if it contains something other than vague assertions.

Sent by Andy | 1:58 PM | 5-13-2008

There are three traditional roles for universities and colleges. The American land grant institution was oriented towards providing people skilled in whatever society needed at the time, the German research university was oriented towards advancing science and technology, and the English University was dedicated to shaping the intellect and values of youth. The goals of these three traditions are not necessarily compatible. The colleges that follow the land grant tradition may feel that they are closest to the vocational orientation of many students today, but these institutions often fail to provide the practical traning that the students want. As Nemko suggests, students who attend a college or university for vocational purposes may wind up disappointed and debt-ridden. In contrast, a young person who desires career in law, medicine, or the sciences has little choice but to go to college. Finally, those who want to broaden their horizons irrespective of future employment may find college in the English humanist tradition. Here they can have a wonderful experience as long as they have no illusion that they'll be walking into a $80,000 job right after graduation.

Sent by Michael in Utah | 2:46 PM | 5-13-2008

Perhaps some people shouldn't go to college because they are not ready or focused. However, I went to one of the top schools in the nation and was extremely focused. I graduated in four years and then finished my masters in the next two. And now, here I am, $89,000 in debt. I had planned on $45-50,000 due to the original tuition prices. But I had not planned for tuition increasing by $2-2,500 per year after that plus a computer that I had to buy for classes ($5,000 loan because of the computer programs). I had to pay for the tuition increases by taking out private loans because I had exhausted the federal ones. And then the private loans would not defer for graduate school, so then I had to take out more student loans in order to have student housing. And so here I sit, extremely well educated, smart, hard-working and very much in debt. I have been paying my payments regularly for 3 years as more kick in - to the tune of about $750 per month - and have only paid off $18.00 from my original amount. The rest is interest. And I do work full time.

I should've taken this person's advice and become the manager of a Pizza Hut. At least that way my money would get me a place to stay and maybe my husband and I could have children.

Sent by A | 4:16 PM | 5-13-2008

Mr. Nemko fails to see the fact that college only provides knowledge and skills to students. If students go to college just to hear professors and lecturers blab on, they should leave. The key to coming out of college and being successful does not lie in the degree itself, but ones ability to take that knowledge and apply it in the world. Personally Mr. Nemko should be ashamed of himself as it is now more than ever that Americans need to go to college and cultivate the long lost image of an intellectually capable America,especially in a job market which emphasizes employability, which full knew how to apply the knowledge they attained through our top institutions.

Sent by Paul | 10:04 PM | 5-13-2008

I often think about my mother telling me over and over as a child that I should study what I had a passion for and not anything based on money. I think that the knowledge I attained while at my university and my ability to tie that same knowledge with every day life has helped me grow more with my finances and as a person. I think Mr. Nemko makes good points, but he sounds too pesimistic about a college degree.

Sent by Rhadames | 12:53 AM | 5-14-2008

Go to a 1 or 2 year Tech School! I teach at a Technical Institute and our 1 and 2 year diploma/degree graduates are starting at a pay rate above my own, and it's cheap. I graduated from a 4 year but it looks more and more like I should quit and go to my own school to improve my financial status. Sad but True. P.S. I am still paying off my student loan.

Sent by Mitch Marcotte | 9:53 AM | 5-14-2008

I agree with Dr. Fred (when quoting Mark Cuban), "The greatest obstacle to destiny is debt, both personal and financial."

That is way my earlier post focused on Trade Schools as an alternative to college. Plus the "work some, study some" approach.
Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned here is this:

Don't spend MORE on your education, than you can get from it in 5 years!

If you spend 6 years (and $60,000) getting your degree, how long are you going to be paying for that?
15-20 years? With interest it could cost you more than $150,000!

PLease, do your research up front!
Are there really jobs AVAILABLE that will NEED that degree?
Are there options to having a degree? Are you (as a student) determined to study, compromise, sacrifice your "play time" to get that degree as quickly (cheaply) as possible?

As mentioned before, there are some careers that DO require a degree!
(And should, the skills they got in college are ESSENTIAL to their job.)

But, is your desire to only earn lots of money? There COULD be another approach! FIND IT!
Real Estate, Car Salesperson, Mechanic, Electrican, Plumber, Movie Critic?

Sent by Harold | 10:22 AM | 5-14-2008

I believe that the American mind-set is such that it makes our youth believe (via advertisements, pressures, etc.) that college is the right choice. It is sad that a nation would take an economic advantage of our youth. The nation does not so much care for education (the right education, the right tactical education, rather than the quick-fix education (go to college)) as it cares for money.

Sent by Beret | 11:53 AM | 5-15-2008

I went to a tech school for two years. I am a female and got many scholarships because the male female ratio was about 20:1. I took surveying/forest technology and learned a very good higly needed trade. My tech school had us do real field practices (actual work for the local governments- run a logging camp on local government land, do logging inspections, official surveys, etc.) Then, I got a bachelors in one and a half years at a local State University. I took so many classes because I was used to the high demand of a tech school. I thought the work load for a bachelors was cake compared to tech school (all day class, evening labwork.) Due to my ability to do things on the fly (from hands on tech school)I am much more highly valued then my four year highly selective university peers. I also feel really good about myself because I have abilities from tech school that are priceless.

Sent by Mary McCullough | 3:53 PM | 5-15-2008

If you are one of those people who are an average student and did not make into the top 50 schools, consider yourself a different career. Don't be like me, I graduated from Albright and no one is ever heard of it. After I returned my debt nearly 6 years, I returned to graduate school to rebuild my credential so that I can apply for Pharmacy school. The school admission said I am too old (in another word, I am expired). They wanted students with a 3.7 GPA and above from a top school. My dream of helping others went into smoke. I feel having such a huge debt just to be in an average school is not worth it.

Sent by Carl | 3:55 PM | 5-15-2008

I think this is a really interesting topic and I'm glad that somebody is speaking out about it. Ever since I went to university in 2000, I've wondered why EVERYONE has to go. I graduated in the top 10 of my high school class, but I came from a very poor family that wasn't able to help me pay for any of my tuition. I received some government funding but it wasn't enough to cover all the expenses and now I owe a lot in student loans, which I'm slowly paying off.

College was my life goal and I did very well in school, but one thing I noticed was the majority of students lacked motivation. They rarely came to class and seemed to think getting drunk was more important than writing an essay. College seemed like an extension of high school. After I got to know them and to talk to them I realized that they were also getting funding from the government yet not really putting that money to good use. It really bothered me that those people were taking money away from students who could really use the financial aid.

And now I feel a bit disillusioned about my degree. On the one hand, I'm really proud of myself for being the first in my family to attain one, but on the other hand, I feel my degree doesn't matter much in the American job market because it's over-flooded with 4 year degrees.

I'm not sure why in America we believe everyone has to have a college degree. Some people just aren't book smart and we should acknowledge that and help them succeed in another field where they have the right skills. And then we could also help those who are incredibly skilled for university but lack the financial support.

Sent by Janet Stephens | 10:35 PM | 5-15-2008

I think Nemko neglects to consider our complicated job market and dwindling economy. As more people earn college degrees, it raises the bar for education requirements for jobs. Combined with the southward turn of our economy, this makes finding jobs for recent college graduates challenging.

Additionally, some people find intrinsic rewards in education that go beyond a piece of paper earned after four (or more) years. Maybe Nemko discusses the joy of learning in his book, but I don't think that I'll take the time to find out.

Sent by ondi | 10:59 AM | 5-16-2008

As a teacher in a charter school in the inner city and having previously taught at an elite private school in Chicago, I agree with Mr. Nemko 100%. I have 9th grade students reading at a 3rd and 4th grade level believing that they will go to college. Unfortunately it is not going to happen, but the school I work for wants to make believe that we are a college prep school. We need to be preparing students with life skills in order for them to be able to support themselves. There is nothing wrong with driving a bus, a truck or having a trade. College is not for everyone, especially if the quality is not that good.
As a graduate of the University of Illinois some years ago, I have to say that it was overrated. Sitting in a class with 900 other students was not a great experience. Luckily my parents were able to send to me school and all I had was a $2,000 loan, but I feel sorry for those who have incurred thousands of dollars of debt only to come out and not make enough to cover the monthly bill. Don't get me wrong, I am glad that I went because I could not teach without it. However, the clincher for me was that when I met my partner nine years ago he was making more than I was and he only had a two year degree. I had a masters! College may increase your earning potential, but let's not fool and trick students into believing that that is always the case.

Sent by Chitown teacher | 6:59 PM | 5-16-2008

Couldn't agree more with Jonathan (below); we should show some respect in this country for skilled trades and crafts - not everyone is college material - many colleges are exploiting the politically correct idea that everyone "deserves" the "opportunity", with open enrollments, plenty of predatory lending, coupled with total lack of support services for unprepared enrollees.

Sent by Professor Sadler | 12:41 PM | 5-18-2008

When you consider that people tend to be hired based on likability rather than ability, education, or achievement, I would have to agree that a college degree is overrated. As an African-American male, I'm the first and only college graduate in my family. I have a BA with a double-major, graduated with honors and many academic distinctions, but all I have to show for it is a ton of debt, a minimum wage job, and a ton of resentment at the social lie that an education is the way out of poverty.

Sent by Jeffery | 2:54 PM | 5-18-2008

It's seems that Mr. Nemko wants us to believed that our nation should be filled with high school graduates and college dropouts in order for society to become more simplified and laid back. I, for all personal reasons, took a total offense of his commentary on NPR; I'd nearly didn't want to go back to school after high school because I was too arrogant and depress to think about college. And then, I'd realized that school was more important than living under the care of assistant living social workers. Mainly, I was grateful to get a general Associated Arts degree from a 2 years vocation college, and now, I am working on a BA degree in History at one of the private colleges in Minnesota. Now, is college tough? Of course it is! Higher Academia is not like high school. You are trained to prepare the real world in the job market, including the corporate world where the boss is going to ask you to work full time---just like college research papers.

Mister Nemko should be ashamed to give advice to parents and kids that having a college degree is worthless. A college degree helps to improve your chances in the economics world; in fact, you be better off having a 20,000 dollar income or greater than living on the federal minimum wage. Being poor is not fun, reality.

Sent by BG | 6:30 PM | 5-18-2008

Go to college if you know what you want to do in life, i.e. biologist, engineer, teacher, etc. But please don't waste you or your parents' money if you don't know what you want to be, and plan to go to college "just to get a degree", i.e. Communications, or MBA (Business Major). You will be sorry.

My father was a cook in the Navy, worked for GE then ended up working for SEPTA and worked his way up to president of a local transportation union. My mother never worked, or went to college. They raised me and my 3 siblings just fine. Of course this was back in the day (70's-80's). Today, both parents needs to work.

I never went to college. My oldest brother in his mid-40's is now just finishing law school. My other brother, close to his 40's, is just now going back to college after never getting anywhere in his 20's. My sister never got more than 1 or 2 years in and it was a waste for her. I myself never went to college and am doing very well in banking based on strong work ethic and experience. I make $41,000 a year without a college degree. And I'm very happy. My wife makes $45,000 as a legal coordinator for a Web Hosting company and she went to college at Temple University majoring in Communcations, which got her nowhere. So she ended up getting a temp job a couple years back for a law firm, put $2,000 into paralegal school for a year, and now makes triple what she did 8 years ago when we first met.

But it all depends on what you want out of life. Happiness is not about money or college degrees. It's happiness on the inside that matters.

Besides, it's never too late to go to college (see above).

Sent by Paul M. | 4:11 PM | 5-20-2008

I don't think every high school graduate is immediately ready for a college education. Many times they do not know what they may want to study in college. College is not over-rated. It is essential to those who are ready.

Sent by John-David Lusan | 2:50 PM | 5-22-2008

I enjoyed going to college for more of the experience and exposure to great people and events. I went to go see Henry Rollins speak and that was fabulous. Especially when you are in a studying funk. I also saw The Roots right on campus at the gym for a discounted student rate. I believe people go to college for the experience and exposure rather than for the education, in most cases.

Sent by Joelle Arnold | 11:22 AM | 5-24-2008

Our "MTV" culture conditions most of the population from early life to favor complacency, entertainment and consumption over curiosity, invention and creation. Most students then come to college without vision or goals, motivation or performance. Their college years are thus spent instead of invested.

Nonetheless many colleges, at one of which I have taught for over a decade, seek these warm bodies whose tuition and subsidies keep the institutions open, and faculty are encouraged to keep happy virtually all students who enroll. This is enforced through course student satisfaction surveys that influence tenure, pay and promotion. The many poor and mediocre students in college classes then prevent the better and best students from being presented with much in the way of substantive material, deep thought or high expectation.

So, in all but competitively elite schools and programs, very few of our graduates have truly been given the opportunity to become outstanding, while many of the students who are granted degrees are barely better off than before entering college, especially when carrying a considerable debt burden. It is no wonder to me that our nation's employers are hard pressed to locate enough accomplished graduates domestically. They turn to hire from abroad instead, where students are required to compete fiercely for a college education.

Solutions? They are many and varied, and experimentation would find the best.

But for a start, how about fewer colleges, and tighter accreditation requirements for those that remain? Make students compete for colleges, not colleges for students.

And how about having businesses whose job descriptions require college graduates be "required to contribute" additional funds to domestic student grant programs?

What if, for the five or ten undergraduate and graduate degree fields that industry has identified as hardest to fill, offer several thousand full-ride scholarships to attract and keep top students.

And how about alternate, and maybe shorter, education paths that prepare the majority of students for life, work, trade school, and community college, according to their interests and abilities? How arrogant of us to think that there is only one way.

Sent by Andrew M. | 9:48 PM | 5-25-2008

I graduated as an accountant, but spent a lot of money and 5 years of my life to do so...only to be in a job earning less than some people I know with only high school degrees and 5+ years of experience in their field. Trades and managerial positions working from the bottom up are paying more...without that 4 year debt of 50-100k

Sent by David | 12:51 PM | 6-3-2008

did someone in here say a person goes to college to learn how to think??? hahaha. sorry to break it to you but no, hopefully you did that in grade school. I went to college to learn a profession. Unfortunately, with the way colleges are setup, also a bunch of non-related courses I have learn how to think in grade school, learn what you want to do in high school, and study for a profession in college..thats how it should work. Anyways, taking up a trade now in days is probably the best thing one can do

Sent by David | 12:56 PM | 6-3-2008

College is way overrated. If anything, it has bred more people into becoming arrogant and selfish. I attended 4 years of college to find myself unable to find work and even be beaten for a job by a high school drop out. We must focus more on short term post secondary education like tech schools and 2 to 8 week courses. Mr. Nemko is right on the money.

Sent by John of Western Wisconsin | 12:17 PM | 6-4-2008

Sadly I have to agree that young people need to sit down with their family and look at where a college education is going to get them in the future. When I first started college, at the time the economy wasn't as bad as it is now, gas was still at $2.20/gal. By the time I got out of college armed with two degrees and recommendations, I was shocked to learn that my "in demand" career choice had shut its doors to college graduates. Paid internship opportunities vanished. Full-time "starter" jobs were turned into temp or part-time positions. And the word "entry-level" suddenly became defined as at least 3-5 years related business experience. I was even more surprised that most people in my graduating class were still in their old jobs and in the same boat as me. The financial strain is forcing us to compete for minimum wage work (w/o benefits) while the student loan companies rake up a nice profit from interest (from deferred payments if the person is out of work). I did a little online research and saw that grads in multiple fields of study were also having difficulty. I've read many horror stories about students going for entry level jobs and getting beat by professionals with 20 years of knowledge. Do not listen to commercials and do your own research. While I'm not rejecting the idea of going to college altogether, I've become a believer of "if you can get a good job by taking an 8 week course. Take it" Too many young people are being pressured to going to college without knowledge of what may come afterwards: debt, disappointment, and wasted talent.

Sent by Betty G. of California | 6:07 PM | 6-7-2008

This is a subject near and dear to my heart, as one who excelled in high school, but didn't go to college until age 30, after a depressing "career" in labor-work. What I realized immediately in college, is that a four year degree isn't job-training: that is associate degrees territory. A University degree, no matter what subject, trains you to be successful in whatever field you choose to go into, even if it is full-time, life-long homemaker, whom I also believe should get four year degrees. I do agree that it is very challenging to make it through because of funding, and also feel that other countries have a good thing with the gap year, or national service year, and free tuition at University. I also realized right away in college that because I hadn't had a rigorous academic experience, I had a shallow life as a citizen due to lack of understanding of how our country works, and also in my personal experiences, due to lack of perspective and ability to delve deeply into a subject. I will do everything I can to send my children to college. I think it is of vital importance for a full life.

Sent by Colleen Jenkins | 3:00 PM | 6-10-2008

This issue holds special relevance in regards to my story. I am a reentry family transfer student who graduated from a California Community College with an overall GPA of 3.78 and 5 AA's (chemistry, liberal arts, mathematics, physics, and transfer studies). I have recently completed my junior year at UCSB with an overall GPA of 2.49 and I will be entering my senior year this upcoming fall. While I feel that my community college education was wonderful and there was plenty of external and internal support for success, my experience at the university has been completely opposite. No matter how much I study on my own, in groups, or with on-campus tutors, I still barely manage to earn a C+ average for my major coursework. If I had known a few years ago what I know now about the UC system (and especially the chemical engineering program), I most definitely would have gone on to either SJSU or Cal Poly (both of which I was accepted to and would have received similar benefits but due to family issues did not go) as a regular chemistry major (which I recently have transferred into here at UCSB). Also, the job prospects for myself after graduation look slim to none, since I have no formal internship experience (as of yet), my upper-division GPA is fairly low (about 2.6), and I am most definitely concerned about how I will perform during my upcoming senior year. Even if I somehow pull off an overall undergraduate GPA of 3.3 (or better), most graduate schools, teaching credential programs, and professional programs typically recruit students with UPPER-DIVISION average GPA's of about 3.2. I don't understand why the level is so high for someone such as myself who is so diversified and qualified to do as well (if not better) than some of the younger goofball students who earned 2.0 GPA's their freshman and sophomore years (partying, smoking weed, etc.) who turn around their last two years and through nefarious connections (sororities, fraternites, parents with similar degrees, secret test banks,etc.) manage to pull off a miracle and earn at least 3.5 GPA's for their upper-division work (but don't know diddly!!!) and get the position or job! All that I can say is that the educational system in these United States is most definitely broken and geared toward young, cheating, idiotic students (or bright, autistic, psychologically disturbed individuals) who enter the work force! By the way, once again I most defintely do not recommend graduating from a Calfornia Community College and transferring to a UC UNLESS you are a stellar 4.00 student who is young and single. Peace out.

Sent by Raymond L. Shope | 1:34 AM | 6-22-2008

I think a year in some hands on program like the peace core prior to college is an ideal plan. It is difficult to care about those lower div general ed requiements when you have so little applicable life experiences. You just want to get a passing grade and move on.
I personally found too many of the classes boring, a waste of time and energy, and a drain on efforts and energy that I could have otherwise invested into those subjects for my major.

Additionally, some teachers seem to revel in the failure rates of these lower undergrad first/second year students.

Does a high school freshman english teacher really need to trudge through all those required science and math courses? Will these classes help her teach children to read and write? I don't think so. I think many are lost and unsuccessful because of the force fed general ed requirements...if we could simply study. I never used those stinking formulaes I had to memorize for statistics and in the real world, we have computers and each other to check and recheck our calculations...but in college...a decimal misplaces, an correct answer labeled in some variable symantic form, a computational error in the multi step problem...all brand nothing but failure for the student. In the real world, we can check our answers, look up and confirm the processing steps and formulaes.In the real world, if we don't know the answer, we can ask, we can look we can search until we find it.

Let's create some meaning in our educational system and some purpose.
Service abroad..and not as some bush like dictator's cannon fodder in some military campaign...but actually Giving something...making the world a better place through care..consideration and genuine help..then these courses might mean more. Perhaps the student who sees the water shortages and local food crop challenges in some mid east mission might be compelled to study science and biology and sociology and horticulture because he wants to find a way to cost effectively, safely desalinize (spelling) ocean water.

Necessity is the mother of invention and it seems to me that these college bound teens are way too sheltered from the world and from what's really important. Instead they worry about passing some multiple guess test final so they can prove their worthiness to move on. I meet so many multiple guess test geniuses that have no common sense and offer little if anything to themselves or those around them. Only a, b, c, all of the obove or none of the above...but they graduated this system with honours...

I learned to most about a place, or a people by going there or meeting those persons from this place...not by reading some college textbook or teacher produced handout.

The published papers, books and college ruled study methods can take the life and humanity out of a subject that one's own involvement and hands on experience would otherwise inspire.

There must be a better way.

Sent by msdisenchanted | 7:33 AM | 6-24-2008

I think that it is time for colleges to be held accountable for employing their students. I have reciently been shopping around for grduate degrees and have some horrible experiences of schools letting me in even though I was in no way right for their programs. If a dean tells me that the school should "never had let me in," aren't they accountable for refuning me the money I have given them, thinking that I was the proper candidate for the degree?

Sent by Alison Gilbert | 12:55 AM | 7-20-2008

I think it's the students themselves. If you chose a major that has no future, you're setting yourself up for failure. Also, it's about initiative. If you want that high paying job, you'll pull your assets together and do it. It's just that plain and simple.

Sent by James Francis | 6:08 AM | 8-16-2008

Here is my take on all this. I got my 4 year degree but did not have any skills upon graduation. I really did not know how to do anything other than research papers (not too many companies hiring folks to go back to the library!)

I worked in various office jobs that I hated never making more than $30k per year with nearly $40k in total student loans. It then hit me that I always enjoyed working on my car and also helping friends fix their cars as well.

So I went back to my local community college and ended up getting my ASE certification. Now I am doing something that has doubled my salary and can actually see the results of what I have accomplished. Funny thing my co-worker and now best friend has his MBA, but got sick of being chained to his desk as well!

Sent by John | 4:37 AM | 9-16-2008