Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be college grads

I graduated with a bachelor's in Computer Science on May 2004. I also got two minors, one in Mathematics and one in English Literature. But besides the degree, there isn't much I can say about college education that made it worthwhile. Sure the degree gave me an opening into the career I am in now, but that is about it. My next job will have been gained because of the experience I've obtained here at my current job (which is substantial).

I've been reading up on recent reports about how most college students take longer than four years to get a degree. Most of the time, on average, students who are in the bottom 40% of high school and get into college take about 8.5 years to graduate with a 4 year degree. Talk about stupid. But I guess that's what happens when your IQ is lower than 110.

I can say from personal experience that many of the classes I had to take to get a college degree were not needed. I took a lot of mathematics courses. Calculus, combinatorics, and discrete mathematics took up much of my coursework. And yet, I haven't used much of any of the knowledge gained in my current job. Likewise, a lot of the basic courses in computer science were probably better spent just reading up on and taking the more advanced courses.

As for the other courses I took that were required for me to graduate but had nothing to do with my major, most of them were not challenging at all. My English course was tough, thanks to Professor Donald Hall, who was probably one of the most dedicated professors I've met. At times I wondered if I was taking a psychology course instead of an English literature course with him. But it was a great course and I still have many of the essays I wrote along with his comments. Let me tell you, I really learned how to truly analyze fiction under his tutelage. His coursework also helped me to hone in my writing skills. I took other English courses to fill in my minor, which I decided to take during my Junior year since it looked like I wasn't going to need much to fulfill my major's requirements. I took a course on Greek mythology, English renaissance, and creative writing. By far, I feel like my time wasn't wasted there, even though my ultimate objective wasn't being met.

To be honest, though, I think I could have taken half the courses and still achieved the same with less time. I would still have a decent job, but more money as I would have had two more years to build up equity and probably two more years worth of knowledge in my vocation. I didn't make any friends there who I've kept, as friends tend to come and go anyway, so it would have not been a huge loss on my social life either. I've never been a party-goer anyway, seeing as how I'm naturally introverted and won't trust you all that much until I know you well enough.

In any case, I've always believed that a huge chunk of the students who were attending college probably shouldn't have bothered. They were just not intelligent enough to need to be there. You need to go to college when you have a clear career goal in mind in a field of interest. Not only that, but the field of interest won't let you get a job without the degree. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs you can get where you don't need higher education or a two year degree.

A lot of people believe that you must go to college to be successful in life. I highly doubt that entirely. Although I've gone to college and gotten a degree that was useful in finding a job that I love doing, I'm probably a small percentage in the college graduate arena. And besides, how are we defining success in this case. If you want to define success as financial success, then I can tell you that this is a stupid notion. Sure, college graduates who use their degrees in their career fields make more money, but income does not equate to wealth. I know that right now there are men who make no more than 40K a year and have only a home mortgage in debt and enough savings to take care of any income shortfalls. They are also saving up for retirement as well as their own child's potential college education. And then there are men who make six figures and are being hounded by collections agencies over bad debt.

The truth is, it's about how you live, not how much you make. If you make 40K a year for your entire life from age 25 to 65, you will have made 1.6 million gross pay. If you've been saving that money and spending wisely, you'll be all set by the time you retire as your nest egg only needs to be 500K. And, when you make compound interest work for you, this is not a hard feat to manage.

If you define success as any other way, then I doubt that you are looking at a college degree for that. Having one hardly means that you'll be a corporate CEO someday or own and operate your own small business. In fact, you can start your own small business without a college degree.

So while I am not against kids going to college, I am against dumb kids going to college thinking they can do any better than their peers who were in the top of the class, while they were not. Our intelligence is limited. You cannot assume that your IQ will increase if you go to college. Your IQ is a constant that you will carry until your death.

If you have interests in economics, politics, art, or any other subject that won't get you a job, then don't bother going to college and majoring it that subject. You can easily go to a public library and check out books of interest in these particular subjects. In fact, if I ran a university, I would keep the majors limited to those which the job market demands and offer the other stuff as optional courses of interest.

My brother is currently interested in becoming an auto mechanic. And really, he doesn't need to go to college for that and I'm sure he'll learn his trade well and have a very good and steady flow of income as a result. I wouldn't encourage him to go to college because there would be nothing there for him. He wouldn't miss much either.

The American Dream is achieved by people of all forms of intelligence and college is never a factor in this case. But the American Dream can be put on hold for a long time if you go into debt while trying to earn a degree you're not intelligent enough to get. So please, if you know what you want to do, figure out how to go about accomplishing it. You'd be surprise how much time it really takes to learn a trade and get a job. In some cases, you may be able to start working right out of high school and do a good job on your own terms.