Thursday, November 10, 2011

In Re Silverfiddle: The Worth of a College Degree

Dan Rather is NOT pleased.
Silverfiddle over at Western Hero wrote an article today about "worthless" college degrees to follow up on a previous blog post he wrote about "worthless" college degrees.  I've got a lot to say about this in retort, so rather than take up space in his comment section I figured this could be the topic of my post today.  I think I've written about this subject before, but I'm way too lazy to go back and look. 

Anyway, let's get this out in the open: a college degree is only worth as much as the person who has it.  There's a lot of layers to that statement, and I think it covers just about any base you can imagine to argue against me.

First, a college degree's worth is not determined by how much money it's going to make you in the long run.  Some people might use that as a criteria for saying whether or not a degree is worthless, but if you are incapable of looking past that then you clearly have no idea what the purpose of education is.  It's possible that you do know what the purpose of education is, but if you still look at a degree in terms of its salary power, then you've allowed yourself to be snowed by an ignorant society in intellectual decline.

The worth of a degree doesn't even have anything to do with the area of study.  You could get a degree in women's studies or philosophy (commonly viewed as "worthless," not necessarily a value judgment on my part) and you still can't claim the degree is worthless.  By doing so, you're saying that the knowledge within that field of study is worthless.  Anyone who claims or implies that any knowledge is worthless is clearly someone who has been snowed by an ignorant society in intellectual decline.

The worth of a college degree is determined by one thing: the person who has it.  The point of a bachelors degree is not to make you certified to say whatever you want about a particular subject.  The whole point is to give you a base of knowledge to work from so that you can embark on an informed journey into discovering truth.  It doesn't matter if that truth has to do with history, political science, philosophy, chemistry, bioengineering.

The point of the bachelors degree is to show you that you know exactly jack shit.  But people don't get that anymore, because they've been made to believe that college degrees are little more than certifications.  They've been told that it's pointless to have a degree in history, political science, and philosophy because it's not math or science.  What you're not being told is that your own intellectual journey is determined by you. 

If you buy into a professor's indoctrination crap (not all professors are like that, contrary to what people who've never been to college may believe) then that's your fault.  That means that the worth of a degree has nothing to do with the professors you had or the insitution from which you obtained it.  It doesn't matter if you get it from super-prestigious Harvard or from some small college in the middle of nowhere that no one has heard of. 

If you stop learning when you've completed your bachelors because you think you know it all, then that's your fault.  The bachelors degree is supposed to open your mind to the fact that there's thousands of years of accumulated knowledge, and that you've not even begun to scratch the surface of it.  Silver is right to say that there are a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals out there, as there are few people who are willing to admit that they don't know shit.

The most important thing I learned after four years of college was that if I ever want to seriously understand the world and the shit head people that live in it, I have to look at reality from a different perspective.  That's not to say that my professors were telling me that my perspective was wrong, but simply that if I'm only looking at the world through my eyes, then I'm definitely missing something.  That's why my degree in American history and political science is worth something: because I understand that the world is a lot bigger than my own mind.

It's better to be educated than not educated.  How do I know this?  Well, I see a lot of non-educated people speak out about important shit all the time, and it's painfully obvious how oblivious they are to anything outside their own perceptions of reality. 

That's not to say that a person without a college degree is stupid or never right about anything, but consider this:

There are people who sit back in their chairs and say "those pseudo-intellectuals are full of shit.  They're stupid, and they don't know what they're talking about.  Their world-views are so warped and out of tune with reality, and they can't see it because Marxist college professors blinded them to the real world."

Then there are people who sit back in their chairs and say "those uneducated Phillestine swine are full of shit.  They're stupid and they don't know what they're talking about.  Their world-vies are so warped and out of tune with reality, and they can't see it because they're uneducated and think that a college education is bunk."

Who is right?  (Hint: That's a trick question)


Silverfiddle said...

A degree's value is in the eye of the beholder. If it make you happy, go for it!

As long as I'm not paying for it, I don't care what you major in.

Pushing things like college funding into the public commons, collectivizing it, leads to opinion-driven discussions, because all taxpayers have a stake and are therefore entitled to chime in on the subject.

Taking government out of it invalidates the arguments from crabs like me who don't want to pay for someone to get a "worthless" degree. If I'm not paying for it, it's none of my business.

Jersey McJones said...

I think there are some serious institutional problems - corruption really - in the our higher education system.

For instance, is it really necessary for everyone to know everything? For everyone to have so much liberal arts education?

I was a history major, so of course I wanted a panoply of various courses, but what if I had been a chemistry major? Would I then need sociology, or French lit, or comparative religion?


But the system is set up to profiteer from students and their families. And those standards are set by each other, in a medieval peer accreditation system. It similar to the way corporations over-compensate corporate officers by conflicted boards.

If you ask me, that's the biggest problem.

We need an Occupy Universities movement.


Jack Camwell said...

I wholly disagree with you on that Jersey.

A liberal arts education is extremely valuable. YES, a history person should study a little chemistry. YES, a biology perosn should study a little psychology.

It's not about everyone knowing everything, it's about getting you to realize that you DON'T know everything.

Your line of thinking has seeped into a lot of Universities that are starting to move away from liberal arts and letting students only take classes within their majors.

What's the point of that? You have your entire life to research whatever you want, so why let students limit themselves?

Liberal arts forces you to look at truth from different perspectives. A chemist views the world differently than a historian. A psychologist looks at humans differently than a biologist. Each discipline has a different mode of thinking, and a good education is one that opens you up to that idea.

What we don't want are narrowminded idiots who are incapable of looking at a situation outside of his or her own comfort zone. There's enough of that to go around already.

KP said...

I'd like to occupy a university again. That was a great time in my life. What a cocoon!

Thank goodness I continued to learn (about everything) after I got my degrees.

Example of how little a college education can be: rioters at Penn State protesting the firing of a coach who helped hide a serial rapist for 15 years. Seriously, those kids have some growing up to do and an education in life.

Jersey McJones said...

Jack, I wanted and got a pretty good liberal arts education. All I was saying is that it's not for everyone.


Anonymous said...


As I have never even attempted to attend college, mark me down as the one of the philistine.

Jack Camwell said...

That's not my view, that was a dig at people who look down upon those who haven't been to college.

The point of that was to show that both groups look upon each other with disdain, and they both think that they're justified in that.

The question is, when two groups think that the other group is lame or whatever, which one is right?

Silverfiddle said...

I disagree with Jersey as well. I did not get a liberal arts degree, but I thoroughly enjoyed my lower lever humanities classes. They opened up a whole new world for me.

I would not want to dictate anything to anyone, but I think everyone should take a few humanities classes.

Jersey McJones said...

The trouble is that today we live in a economy that requires high technical skills. While it is vital to our republic that our people be educated and well-rounded, it is not fair for students who are paying out their noses for a higher education to be forced to learn things they can not afford.

I don't see what there is to disagree with here.

If we want kids to learn humanities and civics and such, then we should be teaching them in the public schools. make the school day longer, hire more teachers, put up or shut up.


Silverfiddle said...

As I said, I wouldn't force it on anyone. And I do put up: I teach humanities myself to my kids.

D Charles QC said...

Does not the subject boil down to responsibilty and who is and to what level?

For example parents are responsible for a child's education, no question there. The State is responsible to the public to provide education, but to what level and to what quality? Since there is a level, who then is responsible for the curriculum and its' quality? Who choses standards so thus, for example, be able to chose or even limit what we can call a degree, a diploma, a certificate etc?

We need standards, I think nobody argues that point, but are we also not raising the bar, the sheer quantity and capacity of what can be studied and therefore specialisation? Does a history-major need biology or chem? The answer is no because they should have learned a base level of everything by end of high school.

I am a stern believer in high quality standards and that educational institutions must have the State reviewing quality - but to get perfecton out of education, particuarly higher-eduction there must be academic-peer scrutiny.

If I complain about anything, it is the lack of classical education that often is a factor in superior philosphical debate, today that is often left out.

Country Thinker said...

I studied history at the University of Toledo. While in college, I worked as an HVAC apprentice, and did most of my classwork at night. I have never come to a firm conclusion as to which was a "better" education.

While I agree that it was beneficial for a history major to take courses in science, I also have to say that it was quite educational for a college student to thread black iron pipe and hanf sheet metal ductwork as part of an all-around curriculum.

William McCullough said...

I worked my way through college using the GI Bill and working in a number of shallow unrewarding part time jobs.

My motivation for obtaining a degree was to increase my knowledge - not necessarily to make money - though if one is true to their passion, money may certainly follow.

I agree with Jacks sixth paragraph in the article:

"The point of the bachelors degree is to show you that you know exactly jack shit. But people don't get that anymore, because they've been made to believe that college degrees are little more than certifications. They've been told that it's pointless to have a degree in history, political science, and philosophy because it's not math or science. What you're not being told is that your own intellectual journey is determined by you."

Very well put....WM

Harrison said...

Trade schools are way under-rated today.

Jersey McJones said...

Harrison, that's because we don't have any trade schools any more!

Back in the mid-twentieth century, we had hundreds of trade schools, sponsored by all sorts of industrial interests, with government support, who recruited talented young, and older, students and trained them in hundreds of fields.

We don't have that today.

The university system is now the higher-ed monopoly, and I can't believe that I as one of the few libs around here am the one saying it, but for Christ's sake - not EVERYONE needs a formal LIBERAL ARTS education in college!

Damn! Is this Bizarro World?


D Charles QC said...

The Spanish and the Dutch (not sure about the rest) have differing high-schools depending on the direction you are taking. If you are thinking of doing a trade and becoming eventually an apprentice/tradesman the senior high-school you go to begins to concentrate on that area but still keeping to a minimum standard of collective data (sime fine arts, liberal studies and sciences). Alternatively if your going to go to University, I suspect the wood-work class (kidding) is not going te be present.

I have no idea if that works, but that is an interesting difference.

For us, though the difference between private and government schools is very different, senior high-school is based on units needed to pass (plus the end of year exams) and you simply begin more and more to specialise in the directions that interest you or you need. We have trade-schools and I am suprised if you do not have an equivilant.

Harrison said...

There's always ITT Technical Institute.

KP said...

I counseled both my girls that they might get farther ahead by in a position they enjoy by going to work for four years over attending university. I did add that they would miss out on some social benefits and a shit load of "fun". But that the social, life may not be worth 25 grand. They went for the social life and will be paying for that in one way or another. Educations are in tact (English and History). I suggested egineering but I think they thought that would have impacted social life :-)

The unemployment data for the young without degrees is skewed as far as I am concerned. The highly motivated, bright people are wanted by employers and they will rise within an organization if they are humble and work their asses off.

"Rich Dad Poor Dad" is the book that moved me to suggest another way to my daughters.

Still, being well read is cool; but anybody can become well read. It's FREE!!