Friday, May 14, 2010

Don't Go to College, Experts Say

This will be the BIDER quote of the day:
"A four-year degree in business – what's that get you?" asked Karl Christopher, a placement counselor at the Columbia Area Career Center vocational program. "A shift supervisor position at a store in the mall."
I know someone with a college degree who now works as a manager at a mall store. She spent years looking for a "respectable" white-collar job, but gave up after a long line of low wage internships that went nowhere and didn't end up in a full-time job offer (sound familiar?). She's actually quite happy at her job which gives her a stable 40 hours each week, benefits, and enough money to support her young daughter. No, being a store manager doesn't sound as fancy as a job working for a non-profit, advertising company, university, shitlaw firm, or newspaper. But being a store manager probably pays as much or even more than these so-called white-collar jobs. At least it beats doc review for the JD crowd, right?

Which is why this young woman's decision to go to welding school over college might be a good idea:
In a town dominated by the University of Missouri's flagship campus and two smaller colleges, higher education is practically a birthright for high school seniors like Kate Hodges.

She has a 3.5 grade-point-average, a college savings account and a family tree teeming with advanced degrees. But in June, Hodges is headed to the Tulsa Welding School in Oklahoma, where she hopes to earn an associate's degree in welding technology in seven months.

"They fought me so hard," she said, referring to disappointed family members. "They still think I'm going to college."

Hodges should send her parents over to BIDER. Many of our readers have expressed the desire to work as welders, plumbers, and electricians. Why? Because it sure as hell beats being unemployed or working in doc review. Attending college and graduate school no longer guarantees anyone a decent paying, 40-hour/week job.

The notion that a four-year degree is essential for real success is being challenged by a growing number of economists, policy analysts and academics. They say more Americans should consider other options such as technical training or two-year schools, which have been embraced in Europe for decades.

...Spending more time in school also means greater overall student debt. The average student debt load in 2008 was $23,200 – a nearly $5,000 increase over five years. Two-thirds of students graduating from four-year schools owe money on student loans.

Angel and I have always said that college is not for everyone. I lean more towards college for good students who can get scholarships and vocational school for the rest who couldn't even get a 3.0 in high school. Really, what is the point of spending money to continue something one doesn't excel in when they can make money doing something else like being a store manager or welder which pays as much as what most college and graduate students end up making these days in an entry level job (if they can find one). Ninety-nine percent of college graduates shouldn't even bother with graduate school unless you get a full scholarship to a top 10 school or your parents are rich enough to support your "funemployment" trip around the world when you graduate. In this new economy, work experience gets you the job before someone with an advanced degree:

"College is what every parent wants for their child," said Martin Scaglione, president and chief operating officer of work force development for ACT, the Iowa-based not-for-profit best known for its college entrance exam. "The reality is, they may not be ready for college."

...Scaglione suggested that nothing short of a new definition for educational success is needed to diminish the public bias toward four-year degrees. He advocates "certification as the new education currency – documentation of skills as opposed to mastering curriculum."

"Our national system is, 'Do you have a degree or not?'" he said. "That doesn't really measure if you have skills."


  1. Ha. Did you ever read about the Welder that I met? This chick probably already reads BIDER.

  2. A bachelors degree today is nothing more than an expensive license to hunt for a middle class job. It's no longer a guarantor of at least middle class success; it's like a high school diploma used to be decades ago.

    In reality, perhaps 15% of all jobs actually require and make direct use of a college education. Decades ago, many of the jobs that require a college education today were successfully filled by people with high school diplomas who learned on the job, especially management positions where people worked their way up. Today, because so many people have college degrees, businesses can easily make having a college degree a prerequisite, using it as a proxy measure for IQ, maturity, and responsibility.

    Over the past several decades our nation has sent millions of solid middle class manufacturing jobs overseas and mass immigration has depressed wages in many other jobs (such as construction) which has driven millions of people into the colleges. Now foreigners on H-1B and L-1 visas are being imported to displace Americans from many jobs that require college education, sending people back to school for second bachelors degrees and graduate and professional degrees.

    Americans have also been mislead by a stale study which claims that college graduates earn more money over a lifetime than high school graduates. The media and our politicians take the study at face value and then draw the fallacious conclusion that if everyone obtained a college education, the education would cause solid middle class jobs to magically materialize into existence.

  3. Here's a profound quote from the article you linked to:

    "Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder blames the cultural notion of "credential inflation" for the stream of unqualified students into four-year colleges. His research has found that the number of new jobs requiring college degrees is less than number of college graduates.

    Vedder's work also yielded something surprising: The more money states spend on higher education, the less the economy grows – the reverse of long-held assumptions."

    I've heard Vedder on NPR before. It's good to see that two academics are on our side--Vedder and Herwig Schlunk (prof at Vanderbilt School of Law).

  4. But what is a parent to do? Isn't it all a crap shoot? Who knows if trade school will get one a job? Lots of scams out there.

    HS counselors know even less.

  5. Here's a link to an NPR story you can listen to where Richard Vedder is interviewed:

    Here's a quote from the audio clip: "There's one thing that's clear about this recession: College education does not guarantee a high paying job."

    This 11 minute NPR report is right on point and one of the few reports on this subject ever aired on the radio.

  6. the major institutions of society all tout college. Why? In part because there is something else about college education that helps promote the interests of the rich and powerful: the fact that college is chock full of ideological propaganda, propaganda that helps the rich and powerful, propaganda that furthers their interests. This is not a conspiracy theory, but just placing the homo sapiens americanus species rightly within its own ecosystem. Look at the trees that grow near the hurricane infested shores of the gulf of mexico: the closer the tree is to the shoreline, the more it is shaped by the winds of the gulf, leaning away from the sea. So too is american society shaped by the forces of the powerful interests at the top. And the indoctrination of college and the way that college debt forces young people to work harder are things that favor rich investors, and rich investors are the powerful winds that shape our society...

  7. Law has been commoditized, pretty much like anything else out there. I only recommend college for the bottom 95% in the following circumstances: (a) you get a full-tuition scholarship to attend; (b) you get into an affordable state school, i.e. circa $5,000-$10,000 in tuition and fees; (c) you attend a local community college for two years, and then transfer to a school - under situations (a) and (b); (d) you attend a trade school that gets results, in terms of preparation, training, AND placement; or (e) your parents are willing to pay for your education - although this will surely come with a price tag.

    All of these scenarios operate under the assumption that you live at home for the duration of your college/trade school education. Don't like your parents? Tough.

    If you truly seek long-term financial independence, you can suffer living at home for a few more years. AT LEAST, YOU WILL NOT BE MOVING BACK IN WITH YOUR PARENTS AT AGE 30. Or worrying about going upstairs for some orange juice, and wondering if your sister-in-law (who allows you to move in with her, after graduate school) will see you topless (or in a bra, if you are a woman), and get embarrassed or say something to you.

    People in this country need to understand that it is okay to work as a department store manager. It is okay to be a foreman in a warehouse. It is fine for one to be a plumber, or a technician. It is fine to lay pipe, or build bridges. It is great to run your own little construction firm, or landscaping business. These people pay their taxes, can afford to buy houses, and have children at an age where they can still play basketball with them when they get older. They avoid the monstrous non-dischargeable sebt. They also happen to have ACTUAL skills.

  8. Problem is, America isn't building any bridges and very few homes or anything else. The rich and powerful already have what they need, and everything 'they' need in this country they borrow from the neighbors - China, Japan, Saudi & the Emirates. Department stores are closing and are virtually empty. (I have a friend that works at Bergdorf Goodman who used to make $100K a year. No more.) Marx described our present condition of 'monopoly capitalism' long before it existed. And, combine that with 'corporate fascism' and you have an economy that has little use for little people or their little jobs. Republicans even think we should have a little government - so it doesn't actually DO anything - for 350 million people, so there are even fewer and fewer government jobs and fewer still as computer applications do more and more. Corporations don't pay taxes only 'little people do' to quote Leona Helmsley.
    The American worker is screwed and no sign of getting the screws taken out! REVOLUTION NOW!

  9. Hell, I worked as a manager at a retail store after graduating from LAW SCHOOL with HONORS and activities of "substantial academic worth"! The job only paid $10.94 an hour, and I had to work with a bunch of little teeny boppers that would never show up to work! But I was desperate! My paychecks only covered my rent, had to dip into savings to pay my student loans and other expenses, including a private health insurance policy because there was no health insurance offered through the retail job. I'd always cringe when people from law school would come into the store because I thought they would laugh at me, but most of them were in the same boat or unemployed.

    LAW SCHOOL RUINED MY LIFE. I just want to pay my loans off and forget it ever happened.

  10. Spengler's Shop RatMay 15, 2010 at 1:34 AM

    I just graduated a few weeks ago from Michigan with a bachelor's in history. You can already see where this is going. I'm well-schooled (although hardly fluent) in two foreign languages, very well-read, and I can hold forth on all sorts of lovely ideas. But I'm barely two weeks out of school, and I can already tell that the white-collar middle-class job that was supposedly waiting at the end of all this is just not there. Fortunately I already have a job: I'm a mechanic's apprentice. I do grunt wrenching on '60s-era muscle cars for forty hours a week, which works out to about $22K annually (assuming this job lasts a year, which may be unlikely). That's not extravagant, but I'm living at home right now, and it's enough to support myself in the deflated Detroit area.

    Much of my work is very repetitive and monotonous: sandblasting, stripping seven door panels in one go for a Chevelle restoration, climbing shelves and hauling heavy shit around. But I'm also learning a lot, and when the work isn't overly repetitive I enjoy it a great deal. (There's really no way to enjoy eight and a half hours of sandblasting.) I have a car and no debt, but I'm also the first person in my extended family to graduate with a degree from a major university. This puts me under a lot pressure from the family to find that 'white-collar' position everyone thinks I should be getting. I'm beginning to think that I might enjoy advancing in my current position far more than life as a desk drone. Time will tell with that, and I'm not even sure if advancement will be possible without additional schooling. I don't want that. I've had my fill of structured education for the time being.


    As far as the viability of blue-collar careers is concerned (electricians, mechanics, truckers and so on) I can tell you that things are not much better for those people than they are for any would-be lawyer or white-collar professional. Businesses that employ such people are engaging in the same sleazeball tactics that are already common everywhere else. They fire ten out of twenty workers and work the remaining ten ninety hours a week, then lay them all off for two weeks because the job is done and nothing else is lined up. They underbid for jobs, then cut corners, and are dishonest in general, but rarely because they wish to be - they're desperate. Safety regs, OSHA, the EPA and all that goes out the window. There are plenty of ads out there for journeyman electricians and skilled machinists quoting $12-$14 an hour. That might sound decent to some, but it's not - these guys usually pay for their own tools and transportation, and you never know where a job might be.

    It's bad everywhere, and getting worse for everyone. If I have to hear another story about our impending economic recovery I'm going to flip my shit.

  11. Why are so many comments getting cut off?

    I like your blog, btw. I never commented before.

  12. #11 Anon: Sorry about that. It's a glich with this particular blogger template. I'm thinking about switching to another template if the problem isn't fixed soon. Thanks for reading our blog and please comment more often!

  13. Worked for 20 years as a Masters level psychologist. I never made a decent salary nor were the benefits worth a damn. Working conditions? How does working in prisons sound? Worked at a mental health center in Florida 1978-80 and made $12,500 a year. Mean while my ex, who never wasted a moment or a dime on education started working at $18,000 a year for a company in 1990 and is now making around $94,000 a year with benefits you wouldn't believe. The years I spent in college was the biggest mistake of my life!

  14. I was looking for Trade School Education and I landed in this post. Had fun reading, I'll be visiting for more for sure

  15. What I think that joining of welding school is really good idea. I have also done 7 months professional welder program. Indeed, it is best experience of my life.

  16. Very Well! I just stared. Congratulations on being awesome. I have come some advice to about welding colleges in texas,welding. Thanks for sharing.....



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