altivo: From a con badge (studious)
[personal profile] altivo
I keep seeing complaints from people who claim to have been "lied to" about the need for or value of higher education. They feel they've been "cheated" because they sank money and time into a degree that has "done nothing for them."

I've kept quiet about this for a long time, but I think it's time for me to set the record straight.

Yes, you can get a job without a college degree. Yes, you can get a college degree and still not find the job you want. Neither of these situations proves anything about the value of education. They depend instead on the state of the economy, trends in the career fields that can change so rapidly that skills and knowledge that were in demand two or three years earlier are no longer wanted. Betting your money on a gamble like that is risky, and the decision is yours alone.

I've said this before, and more than once: Education and Training are not the same thing.

"Training" is what we do with horses, dolphins, and dogs. They learn to perform the desired actions by rote, at a given signal or command. They may not understand the whole process, or where their part fits in, but they happily jump through a hoop or press a lever at the appropriate time, for an expected reward.

"Education" is broader, more complex, and involves among other things learning to learn. The ability to adapt to change, see the broader picture, find where the block in your hand fits into the puzzle, solve problems, and fix complicated messes. It takes longer to acquire, and you can't get it merely by sitting through some specified number of classes and passing some multiple choice examinations. Having a piece of paper that says you did that doesn't prove that you are educated, qualified, or competent at anything.

Let's consider a specific occupation, one that still seems to be pretty popular here in the US: automobile mechanic. This can be a career, and it can be well-paid. Or it can really just mean that you end up working for hourly wages changing tires and fixing flats all day. Neither of those really requires a college degree, but the difference between being the shop manager or supervisor, or the guy who troubleshoots the really difficult stuff, and the one who just keeps loosening and tightening lug bolts all day depends on personal initiative and outlook. The active interest in what you are doing, a willingness to learn new things, and an ability to make practical decisions will help you advance here. The more experience you acquire, the more you can advance. A technical or trade school can help ground you in the details, but those details change pretty quickly so what you get in school isn't going to see you through to retirement, nor will it get you promoted to general manager (let alone customer relations or some other wider responsibility.) You can't blame the school for that. The trade school can only offer you a stepping stone. It's still up to you to find somewhere to step up with it, and to keep moving.

Furthermore, if there are too many people looking for jobs as mechanics in your area, the competition for the available jobs can be rough. This is where a broader education, such as some business and marketing classes or accounting from a two year community college, can give you a way into the automobile business through a different door, such as sales, advertising, etc.

For long term flexibility and hiring appeal, though, you really need a broader picture and less tight focus. That's where the full college degree applies. No, it's not a magic pass to riches, as so many seem to expect. It's really preparation to adapt yourself to a changing world and variable job market. and once you have a position the ability to see farther ahead and behind and know what is coming next and what your options are.

The decision you make is whether you want to be a trained seal who is suddenly out of a job when the circus shuts down, or the general business manager who can move from the circus to the opera house or the movie theatre using pretty much the same set of skills and experience. An education in which you actively participate, with interest and curiosity, will prepare you to be the business manager. If you expect merely to absorb training passively, you will end up as the trained seal. The responsibility is your own.

There's an old saying: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." The same is true of any kind of education. The teachers and the institution can only do so much. The rest is up to you. And to keep going in any career field, you must take an active part in what you do, and look for opportunities to expand your knowledge and awareness. Only you can do that.

Date: 2013-03-15 06:13 pm (UTC)
avon_deer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] avon_deer
Partly agree; partly don't.

It is true that the value in education goes a lot further than the outcome of getting the bit paper at the end of it. But the brutal truth of the situation that young people are in today is that it matters not one jot what causes you to lose. Losing is losing. The crap situation we are in is indeed the fault of the economy, and the thieves (I will NOT apologise for using that word) up top that run things; and not the educational institution. Indeed it IS incorrect to blame education for this failing. But the outcome for the poor sod with the shitty end of the stick is the same. A perception of no hope for the future.

Maybe I am the wrong person to debate with about this, as my personal experience post-graduation is similar to a lot of young people today, and it is a bitterness that I carry with me 12 years AFTER said graduation. Despite the fact it all worked out in the end for me. The bitterness is still there. And it stoked within me a burning detestation of "market forces" that is also still with me today.

People who have graduated now (and indeed people who might have lost a job that they have had for some time, college degree or no college degree) have been thrown into a shit situation which is entirely beyond their control. I think that this is the real source of the anger. That feeling of helplessness. that feeling that you have done "everything right" and yet after years of work you have basically stood still, and worse, are actually poorer. I suspect this is doubly infuriating in a culture like the US (and to a large extent the UK since the 80s as well) which hammers into people from an early age the falsehood that their destiny is entirely in their own hands. And if it has not worked it, it MUST be some sort of personal failing on their part. And it can NEVER be a flaw inherent to the way things, or bad luck that is totally beyond their control.

I think you are essentially correct in your analysis that university institutions are now seen as the place to go to get "training" rather than an education. This is a result of business "externalising costs" by seeing university institutions as a place to hive off the very training that they themselves should be providing to their potential workforce. What should have been apprenticeships have now become degrees or HNDs purely to spread the burden of funding the training from the corporation's own balance sheet to the state. The madness in the UK that the last government spouted about "50% of all young adults achieving a university degree" is a testament to this. There has been a mad scramble for university places purely because it was seen as the only way to get a foot in the door. Universities cannot cope with this kind of thing, and should never have been expected to. 15% MAXIMUM of the population is genuinely "good enough" to warrant educating to degree level. The rest I think WOULD be content with apprenticeships or on the job training IF such a thing still existed, beyond the token gesture here and there.

So in short I agree that the problem is economic more than than educational. But at the same time, having shared the plight of "unemployable" graduate (albeit only for a year...a very long and painful year) that seems to be the norm these days, I am also able to sympathise with the angry graduate.

The only REAL short term solution of course is for Gen Y to stay angry, and indeed get angrier. Until the elite start fearing for their very lives (as sad as this is) I doubt much is going to improve the majority of people on this planet, whether they have a college education or not. Violence is abhorrent, but it does seem to be the only language they understand.

The longer term solution? As far as education goes, we need to build a culture that values education for it's own merits; not just as a fast ticket to untold riches, which (like any pyramid scheme) can never support the weight of demand put on it. I think this will be easier to achieve if people become more content with jobs that might not be as highly skilled. At the end of the day, SOMEONE has to do them. We can't ALL be "captains of industry." The only way to do this is to offer those who take that work a better quality of life. Not a lifetime spent living hand to mouth and worrying about the what will happen when the next bill lands on the doormat. In our economic system as it works now, that means higher wages for unskilled and semi skilled labour. There is simply no getting away from this simple fact. Until this happens people will continue fighting over the crumbs that international capital throws us every so often purely because the law says they are not allowed to use REAL slave labour. Something which I am sure they find very inconvenient indeed. Until that happens, for better or for worse people are going to keep demanding they get value for money when it comes to the degree that they have indeed paid for.

Date: 2013-03-15 11:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Mostly, I think the problem is this:
Humans are inventive and imaginative enough to come up with computers, robots, and other machines that can allow our civilization to be more productive with fewer workers.
However, humans are not sufficiently inventive or imaginative enough to come up with enough things that need doing so that every adult can be gainfully employed 8 hours a day 5 days a week, given that most jobs that existed just a few decades ago have been eliminated or drastically reduced by machines of all sorts.

Consequently, labour participation rates can only decline, and the fraction of people that will never have jobs in their life will increase.

Date: 2013-03-22 03:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes and no? Yes, that's actually where things are going, but no we don't want that to happen. Ethics won't win out, because this is a change on the level of the entire civilization that is not happening because of anyone's overall plan. It's just happening as a natural and inevitable result of worker productivity increasing on a planet with finite resources - it keeps increasing exponentially until you eventually get to the point where most people on Earth are superfluous to all the work on Earth getting done.

Date: 2013-03-22 04:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Our dystopian future? :-)
The thing is, shorter work weeks, better education, and early retirement were envisioned long ago as the eventual outcome of increasingly efficient labour-saving devices. It was supposed to be an equalizer, and we were all supposed to have more free time, and we were supposed to spend more of that free time to further educate ourselves - all that, and more profit too. But instead of that more utopian future, we've chosen to make it a hell instead with increasing numbers of people unable to support themselves at all, and the rest having to work even longer, and few being able to afford even what education that we need to have even a chance at one of those jobs. And that points back to my original point of us being insufficiently clever to devise a good way for people to live with the material consequences of our cleverness to devise machines.

Date: 2013-03-16 07:24 pm (UTC)
typographer: Me on a car in the middle of nowhere, eastern Colorado, age four (Default)
From: [personal profile] typographer

The two best sales & marketing people I ever worked with (I'm not in marketing, but in my industry marketing determines which products we pursue) had degrees in Electrical Engineering and Anthropology, respectively. The absolute worst I ever worked with had studying marketing.

Now, one of the most brilliant software architects I've ever worked with did actually have a degree in Artificial Intelligence from M.I.T., so I'm not meaning to imply that you have to go outside you education to get anywhere. It's just that the first two people studied what they were interested in when they were 19 years old, and over time working after graduation, discovered their aptitude for something else, and then taught themselves how to do it better than anyone else.

Date: 2013-03-19 02:22 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] bottlecap
I told my kids this.

"If you want to read philosophy and party with your friends,
why go to school? You can do that on your own, and make
money with a job while your doing it. However, if you
have a goal, a thing you want to /do/ you can then find
a way to get there through a school, be it (as you said)
car mechanic or astronomer."

I think the problem is we have a culture that says you
MUST go to a university after high school to be a succes,
and thats just not true.

Everyone has to make money (unless your in that rare world
of say the Romeney's) so school usually means training
for work, but /education/ isn't about school, its about
an attitude and an outlook.

Date: 2013-03-22 02:26 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] bottlecap
I agree with this. However I don't believe you need
to go to school to get it.

All you need is...and you'll love this, is...

A library card.

Yes you also need either a family or a culture that highly
values curiosity and can guide you to understand history,
language and political science (at least) but for my money
I'd rather do that then pay for classes.


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