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Initial post: Oct 21, 2009 2:24:20 PM PDT
Mammal says:
I currently hold a Bachelors degree from a first tier college, and work as a cashier in a retail store (where I have been working with the same title since high school)

There is all this hype about the college degrees, but the fact is that while the college costs rise, its benefits are not that great. Companies seek experience when hiring candidates for the few jobs they've got, and getting a job with merely a degree is almost impossible. Even those with internships often get stuck in them for years with little prospects for a "real job".

I hear all this talk about how we can remain globally competitive by getting more people earn their college degree. But I think that's disingenuous or naive. With all the outsourcing and downsizing that goes on, low service jobs like mine might be soon what is left, even for college educated. (Already at my location nearly half of cashiers have a Bachelors degree or higher)

So I resent hearing from the opponents of minimum wage and labor union, how entry level service jobs are just a stepping stone for people into much higher paid ones. The truth is that for many people, even highly educated ones, that's all there is. And this trend will only worsen.

Unlike in Western Europe where workers feel dignity even in the low-skills service jobs, it's impossible to feel any dignity working for minimum wage with no benefits, at a place where the supervisor can fire you at will and for no reason.

Fortunately I happened to work in an unionized store which provides me with some degree of dignity. But I do resent customers who think there must be something terribly wrong with me for getting stuck at the job for so long. I think it's something terribly wrong with the society who hypes groundlessly on the value of a college degree.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 22, 2009 9:05:49 AM PDT
rick povero says:
** your skills are evident from your writing alone -- now, you've another job to do

That life in general, and today's job market in particular, is painfully unfair you've already experienced. Unfortunately, a college degree is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition, for getting a job that you're obviously suited for. So, the hype was not (and is not) groundless.

Can you get from where you are now to where you want to be? Only you can come to know that because only you know what you want -- at least you are not jobless and have some union protections. Now, you have a big research project to engage in!

The best place I can think of to turn -- since you are a reader -- is to follow the tough but ultimately fruitful process carefully delineated in What Color Is Your Parachute? 2010: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers. It lays out a program to follow -- and it's work to follow it -- and I suspect far more people read the book than ever work through it.

Downsizing and outsourcing have been major features of the US landscape since the '80s. During bad economic times they only get worse.

While I agree with you that workers in the major countries of the EU enjoy greater security -- this is a result of taxpayer supported social services, including universal health care. No civilized nation, except the US, treats its citizens with such disregard for their well-being.

Human dignity in the EU is guaranteed by the state -- whether people are happy in their employment is another issue altogether. Work, in the best of all possible worlds, should allow us to be productive in a complex society. Human dignity must be a birthright, not a job benefit.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2009 9:08:07 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 21, 2009 1:31:00 PM PST
NewsView says:
Internships can lead to a job offer after graduation. So my advice to students is to never enter a program that does not offer internship opportunities and/or job placement services. It's also essential to know if one's field of study is growing, and if necessary interview prior graduates at the school you have in mind to see if they are making it. It's worth noting that just because a school has a fantastic reputation for sports, business and engineering doesn't mean that the humanities/liberal arts majors are making it. Due diligence is especially important for trade schools, which are notorious for cookie cutter career programs that roll out too many graduates into a local market saturated by prior graduates. Sometimes it also helps to take the skills you acquire in one part of the country to a lesser served market. Not everyone can make it in the Big City where competition for jobs is at its most fierce.

It is also my observation that there is a "golden window" during which time you are considered for an entry-level professional job based on that fresh new college degree. Wait too long, however, and most hiring decisions are increasingly based on prior experience -- and favorable hiring decisions, in turn, may be limited by a perceived failure to make inroads on one's résumé in a reasonable amount of time (quick enough to prove that you are driven to succeed, that is).

It is true that college degrees are a dime a dozen these days. A master's degree is the new BA, and a BA is the new AA. On the other hand, the more trained a graduate is the more likely he/she is to have a lot of student loan debt, the greater the starting salary requirements are and that, too, causes people to complain on career sites and job boards that they aren't getting any nibbles because they are "over qualified". Unless a particular career objective requires a higher level of education, it's not always an automatic asset. Employers want experienced workers but they also want them to come inexpensively.

You do have a point about service jobs, however. Service jobs make up the vast majority of job growth projections. According to a recent Middle-Skill Jobs report, positions requiring more than a high school education but less than a four-year degree are the fastest growing kind -- and the most likely to be under-served by Americans who have been sold on the four-year degree "hype" you mention. I imagine that the growth is partially attributable to the reality that it is far more difficult to outsource a hairdresser or an electrician than it is to offshore or insource other positions using controversial guest worker visas (H-1Bs).

My concern is that this Great Recession has inspired a glut of return-to-school adults, who may be out of work or underemployed despite the decision to retrain. Taking out loans to fund retraining is a risk since those loans cannot be forgiven in the event that effort fails to yield employment gains. It may well be that the "student lending bubble" is the next to burst. There are some indications that the number of college educated grads who are walking away from their loan obligations is on the rise. The last thing we need is a so-called double-dip recession!

There is also some truth to the prior post: The globalized competition we face has been gaining momentum since the 1980s. Reaching trade and economic equilibrium with the developing world seems likely to give impoverished Third World laborers a leg up, while knocking the American standard of living down a notch or two. Brace for the slippery slope!

For what it's worth, we're all in this together. If we don't like these trends we are free to vote lawmakers out of office who seem to undermine our economic health. By the same token, this isn't a partisan phenomena, either. Globalization is the "new religion" shared by left- and right-leaning politicians alike. It begs the question as to whether the history books in the late part of the 21st Century will be just as critical of the all-eggs-in-one-basket globalized ideology as we today generally are toward the protectionist policies of the past. There ought to be a happy medium that falls somewhere between inviting nearly 7 billion people to the free trade party and crashing the whole event for lack of a realistic ability -- and the requisite natural resources -- to serve up a consumption-oriented Western lifestyle to all who expect to gain from it. Perhaps one day there will be a more pragmatic approach to international trade but for now it's a bumpy ride, to say the least.

Posted on Nov 20, 2009 11:57:29 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 21, 2009 12:04:20 AM PST
Mammal says:
I think a college degree is one of the most overrated and overpriced product, especially at the university level. 1/2 of all graduates and 2/3 of liberal arts graduates end up working in high-school diploma level jobs !

I for one thing enjoy learning, and intellectually , if not professionally, benefited from many of my classes, albeit at a steep price. But, now 70% of high-school graduates go to college, and many of them don't have a modicum of the intellectual curiosity. Those who even bother to show to lectures, rarely will care to think. It's just the rote memorization and going through the motion. And, since due to grade inflation, especially in liberal arts classes, any warm body will earn at very least a "C" , it's no wonder that many college graduates could've got more education on a pig farm, for a whole lot cheaper !

Posted on Dec 27, 2009 12:06:28 PM PST
C. Carlson says:
I grew up on a pig farm, so I can certainly attest to the fact that I did get quite an interesting education. LOL. Anyway, I started from a place that was not disadvantaged, but more blue collar than many. Fortunately, that farm taught me how to work like hell. I felt after graduation that my college degree did me little to no good in getting a job. I was very aggressive and had to support myself without help. This left me no choice but to survive so I clawed my way there. Good thing I learned those critical thinking skills on the farm. I broke into a difficult business and had a long career before owning a business. I graduated college in the middle of a recession, like you. Dig in, find what you want to do and keep going back at it until you get there. It was a lot of work, sometimes frustrating and tedious. College degrees are overrated and seem to be looked at like a high school diploma. I think it did broaden my mind, though.

Posted on Dec 27, 2009 2:49:05 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 27, 2009 2:55:05 PM PST
Leah says:
I have college credit hours, but no finished degree, and I was able (through self-education) to work my way up from freelancing for a pretty penny, to landing a salaried job in a highly-skilled field, earning an entry salary higher than that of most graduates with a four-year degree. After just one year in the field, I am negotiating the particulars of a new job which would pull in 180% of the salary I was making at my first job, as well as offer many other benefits (shorter commute, better working conditions, more leadership opportunities, etc.).

I purposely postponed finishing my degree so that I could focus on self-education in my field (highly technical design work which is taught at few schools, and those at outrageous tuitions). It paid off a hundredfold: I have no student loans from an overpriced, behind-the-times institution, and my real working experience in the field is far more valuable to employers and clients than a piece of paper which only proves that I planted my ass in a chair in some lecture hall for a few years.

Granted, this strategy doesn't work for every field, particularly those where self-education and freelancing are impractical or impossible. But look at the examples below, and tell me any of these people are profiting from their college degrees.

A sampling of some friends and acquaintances:

- One finished her MFA in creative writing earlier this year, and is still working at the same clerical job she took when beginning college, which was a temp-to-perm position and required only a high school diploma. She has pretty much given up looking for a better job, and is instead hoping that her books will free her from cubicle imprisonment.

- One earned his BS in geology, and became a warehouse worker at a retail store. He grew bored and restless of this (I think he labored under the delusion that a geology degree would somehow translate to working in the outdoors), and went into insurance sales, where at least he can earn a little more money. The last time I spoke to him, he was trying to sell me a policy. As an experienced freelancer, I know you start building your network from people you already know, but come on!

- One earned a BA in sociology, and is a salaried administrative assistant who works 40 hours a week, has a 2-hour commute each way, and earns a salary just above the poverty line, with no bonuses for overtime (but, hey, paid sick days!).

- One is a former colleague. He's a semi-skilled designer whose expensive art school education is trapping him in his current job for fear of not being able to pay off his student loans. To be honest, he doesn't have enough innate skill and passion for the field, and probably shouldn't have gone into this industry in the first place, but now he has to stay to pay his debts.

- One is my boyfriend, who made it halfway through an expensive, four-year compsci program full of dated material at a prestigious university before realizing he could get into the field faster and cheaper by earning tech certificates (A+, MSCE, etc.) through self-study. Now he's torn between finishing the degree for the sake of completion (and to theoretically recoup some of the investment cost through better opportunities for advancement in the future), or just abandoning it, and paying off his student loans with money from his certificate-earned jobs.

Again, I stress that this isn't ALWAYS the case, but it's becoming much more common. It's a bone of contention between my father and I: he was a first-generation immigrant who wholly buys into the value of a college education (which, for him, certainly was the golden ticket to success). While I don't disagree that a degree confers myriad benefits, I am growing more confident that my decision to stop pursuing one was the right decision for me. My dad cautions me about hitting an invisible wall further along my career path, where only the degreed will be able to advance--but in my highly technical and creative industry, it is your body of work and experience that matter, and a degree is no guarantee of either.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 8, 2010 11:45:46 AM PST
I fully agree. College degrees are sold as though they were "licenses to be successful," and given the machinations of the job market, they are hardly that. When the day comes that the job market is described and discussed with young people accurately and comprehensively (that mean including all the warts and ugliness that makes up the job market), a college degree will only mean you have college loans to add to your monthly woes.

I am nearing 50 years of age and would ascribe to the job market only two words: Machiavellian and vicious.

Posted on May 27, 2010 4:35:08 PM PDT
andy says:
I'm almost 51 and went to college back in the early 80s. Degrees were useless then and they are useless now...unless you study science, engineering, want to go into medicine, the computer field...and all obvious needed professions. I'm glad I don't have kids because I would not be able (nor willing) to go through the burden of financing college or loans UNLESS they wanted a PRACTICAL career! Otherwise trade schools and various certificates as aforementioned, tech schools etc..are the answer. My sister is a hair-dresser, never set foot ONE day and college and made beaucoup bucks! Most of the time I've made s****y salaries. I've now gone into the tax field and glad I did, because it will always be needed and the HOURLY rate is much better...and NO I did NOT got back to college to study finance or accounting! As that previous poster said, all this crap about BAs being the new AA, and Masters being the new BA....yeah....that's just so people can pony up the dough and put their kids through school...only to go into hock until said kiddie is 45 years old! NOT WORTH IT. This economy is only breeding overeducated and under-experienced fools who will be living at home until they're 30 because NO ONE will want to hire them.

Posted on Jun 10, 2010 5:06:32 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 10, 2010 6:04:56 PM PDT
Lost Gecko says:
I think this is a topic that deserves more widespread attention. The previous posts should be read by anyone considering college, and should be read by people who participate in the college hype (e.g. high school teachers).

I'm glad I got a bachelor's degree from a well-regarded university; it worked out well for me. However, I know so many others who got burned, despite their excellent grades, work ethic, nice personalities, and good manners. None of them are lazy or obnoxious.

High schools seem to be pushing all students to go to college, regardless of their abilities, interests, and finances. They say "college graduate earn more money" which is only a partial truth, a partial myth. I would have more respect for educators if they said "Historically, the AVERAGE college graduate earned more money".

Politicians tell us that education is the answer to America's problems of unemployment and imbalances in international trade. They talk as if it would be a complete cure if we all simply got a college degree. If everyone gets a degree, will it provide any competitive advantage in the job market? And who will pay for all that expensive education?

My university neglected dozens of skills and knowledge areas that everyone needs in order to succeed in today's business world. I had many close calls -- near disasters -- in my career, as I learned crucial things the hard way, almost too late. Some people are lucky enough to learn some of it from family. The university professors only cared about what skills were useful in becoming another professor.

I think the important questions are:

Is college a good choice for absolutely everyone? Answer: No.
Should everyone avoid college? Answer: No.

Does college alone prepare people for a good career? Answer: No.

Could colleges improve in order to better prepare students for the real world?

Does the education establishment overstate its value, and mislead or gloss over the limitations? Answer: Yes.
I assume that most educators mean well, but are out of touch with the business world; and like all humans, they have their own blinders that filter their perspective.

High school teachers and college professors seem completely *unaware* of the vast number of college graduates who have spent years (years before this recession) working in the type of low-paying jobs that don't require college. My teacher friends don't believe me, and there seems to be a lack of in-depth statistics to point to.

Besides a typical college education, what else does a person need to be a reasonable success? As a definition of success, let's say middle class, doing work that you like on most days.

How do you know whether college is a good choice for you?
Where can you get reliable data on the value of a specific college and specific major?
Where can we get complete statistics?

How will you know what skills and knowledge areas are needed, but not included in your education?

Posted on Jun 10, 2010 6:01:20 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 10, 2010 6:05:35 PM PDT
Lost Gecko says:
Unfortunately, this interesting discussion is happening in a place where most Amazon customers won't notice it. It seems to be in the discussion area for one specific book, which is not a book about college or jobs. Is there a way to move or copy this discussion to another area within Amazon?

Posted on Jan 8, 2011 12:37:39 PM PST
Longbright says:
When universities opened their doors to average students exhibiting little or no intellectual curiosity or professional ambition, they became diploma mills for the mediocre-minded. Unfortunately, America's top performing students can't compete with their foreign counterparts in grad school. For the average joe, courses in tech skills and social skills would be most valuable.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 15, 2013 10:54:58 PM PST
Who are you to judge anyone? Low-life POSs like you are why society is the way it is. Hopefully you're in the area when another "average joe" decides he's had enough of people, and cleanses the land via mass shooting. Get a life

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 16, 2013 8:27:17 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 16, 2013 10:30:13 PM PST
FreeThinker, your own post refutes your argument.

Please don't tell me you would have been just as cogent in your thinking and your writing had you stopped at high school.

The problem with college is that it is underrated -- and vastly overpriced.

In Europe (on the continent, at least), university is free for all who qualify. In many countries, that means anyone who chooses an academic program and studies hard. In many countries, aptitude tests such as the SAT cannot be used for college admission; only achievement tests can be used to admit and promote students from one grade or degree program to the next.

I just noticed that a lot of people here are making the very same points.

I wanted to add one thing -- read Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb. Oh, there's lots I disagree with here (LOTS), but there is one nugget that can be life-changing. Taleb explains how it is sometimes very rational to take a risk with very low likelihood of success if it carries a huge payoff. Figure out what you LOVE love to do, and then try something that will bring you closer to that, no matter how unlikely your ideal career may seem. (And I will readily agree -- it is probably a long-shot.) The reason you should do it, though, is that if it does work, the payoff is great. Also, because in the meantime you will be meeting some of the best people you should know -- best for you. And third, you have nothing to lose. That, alone, is liberating.

You're young, you're articulate, you're thoughtful, responsible -- and you do have a job. It's not a great job, but you are not unemployed.

This is the right time for an adventure.

Posted on Nov 16, 2013 8:41:34 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 16, 2013 10:29:33 PM PST
I wonder one thing, however -- and this does relate to the book discussed here.

How are ordinary people supposed to (1) manage their own retirement savings, without a defined benefit pension, and with reduced Social Security; (2) keep abreast of all the technical knowledge you are required to have simply in order to operate the new technology; and (3) see through a charlatan -- all with only a high school diploma?

Most high school graduates have trouble with fractions and percentages. Most "know" more about Kim and Kanye than about where their consumer goods come from.

How do you expect this to work? The people who are talked out of going to college today are going to be jeered at, and blamed for their supposed "stupidity" tomorrow. If a person is in a highly technical field and sees they do not have to finish a degree, that is one thing. If a person is fresh out of high school and unsure of what they want to do, that is quite another. Most people need the discipline and intellectual rigor that college imposes. Most people really don't know what they should be doing when the graduate from high school.

Well, high school really should be better, but that is another story, isn't it?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2013 12:38:07 AM PST
Mammal says:
Well you're right the college is vastly overpriced. And while it gave me some structure, I could have self taught myself, especially now with the Khan Academy and the like.

I don't deny that the college has some value, however the society makes the students bear too much risk by citing misleading statistics.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2013 12:42:32 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 17, 2013 12:45:27 AM PST
Mammal says:
As a reply let me quote an excerpt from Marty Nemko, PhD, one of the experts in higher education

"How much do college students actually learn?

Colleges are quick to argue that a college education is more about enlightenment than employment. That may be the biggest deception of all. Often, there is a Grand Canyon of difference between the reality and what institutions of higher education, especially research-centric ones, tout in their viewbooks and websites. Colleges and universities are businesses, and students are a cost item while research is a profit center. So, many institutions tend to educate students in the cheapest way possible: large lecture classes, with small classes staffed by rock-bottom-cost graduate students and even by undergraduate students. At a typical university, only 30% of the typical student's class hours will have been in a class with fewer than 30 students taught by a professor. That's not to say that professor-taught classes are so worthwhile. The more prestigious the institution, the more likely that faculty is hired and promoted much more on how much research they do than how well they teach. Faculty that bring in big research dollars are almost always rewarded while even a fine teacher who doesn't bring in the research bucks is often fired or relegated to the lowest rung: lecturer. The late Ernest Boyer, vice-president for Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching said, only half-joking, "Winning the campus teaching award is the kiss of death when it comes to tenure."

So, no surprise, in the definitive Your First College Year nationwide survey conducted by UCLA researchers (data collected in 2005, reported in 2007) only 16.4 percent of students were very satisfied with the overall quality of instruction they received and 28.2 percent were neutral, dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied. A follow-up survey of seniors found that 37% percent reported being "frequently bored in class" up from 27.5 percent as freshmen.

College students may be dissatisfied with instruction, but, despite that, do they learn? A 2006 study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50 percent of college seniors failed a test that required them to do such basic tasks as interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, or compare credit card offers. Almost 20 percent of seniors had only basic quantitative skills. For example, the students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station.

Unbelievably, according to the U.S. Department of Education's most recent Higher Education Commission Report (the Spellings Report,) things are getting even worse: "Over the past decade, literacy among college graduates has actually declined.... According to the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, for instance, the percentage of college graduates deemed proficient in prose literacy has actually declined from 40 to 31 percent in the past decade. Employers report repeatedly that many new graduates they hire are not prepared to work, lacking the critical thinking, writing and problem-solving skills needed in today's workplaces."

- See more at: http://www.martynemko.com/articles/americas-most-overrated-product-higher-education_id1539#sthash.0miUxkfs.dpuf
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Participants:  11
Total posts:  16
Initial post:  Oct 21, 2009
Latest post:  Nov 17, 2013

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Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America
Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America by Barbara Ehrenreich (Paperback - August 3, 2010)
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