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US college enrollments are falling, except for graduate degrees (qz.com)
213 points by prostoalex 26 days ago | hide | past | web | 430 comments | favorite





I can't help but wonder if the pandemic will serve as a irreversible shock to a status quo that can't have been sustainable. As much as college was a life-redefining experience for me, I also think it's incredibly wasteful and indulgent to send most 18 year olds to college. I had no idea what I wanted out of the experience, other than the experience itself.

I think a better future would be focused, shorter-term educational programs, taken flexibly through one's early career years. There simply have to be better ways to unbundle the positive aspects of the college experience to make them more responsive to people's individual journeys to their serious careers.


Maybe going off on a tangent but as a German I never understood why in the US people have to study for some very basic jobs. Jobs like nurse, pharmacist, physical therapist, etc. are 3 year apprenticeships in Germany. You apply directly at a company that is educating you on the job and you go to “work school” in alternating fashion.

On the other side you need some kind of education for almost any job here. Car mechanic, etc. So it is not as flexible.

I just always cringe when I hear someone is going to university to study for a job. Many jobs just require more practical experience than knowledge. In the US the choices are extrem: either go to some university or do nothing at all and try your luck.


The percentages of university graduates for an age cohort are growing yearly in Germany as well. 25.5% in 2008, 31.5 in 2018. The US is just further ahead in this trend. It has similar effects in Germany. Brace yourself, Akademikerproletariat is coming :).

https://www.datenportal.bmbf.de/portal/de/Tabelle-1.9.5.html


Tricky question - because the entire discussion about social “fairness” and “stepping up in social ladder” in Germany happens around “likelihood to have a university degree”. Now, pragmatically speaking: the apprenticeship and university system in Germany allows people to flexibly qualify themselves for (well) paying jobs at minimal cost. There is another truth to that people rather want “not to be spoke out”: not everybody has the “right” qualifications for completing an apprenticeship or university degree. Having taught at an applied science university it sometimes was beyond my comprehension how Germany tries to “bump up university graduates at all costs”. But to be fair: I don’t think many of those people would have succeeded at an apprenticeship either...

I personally know several(!) instances where “the smart and brilliant sibling” went for university, the “quiet one went for an apprenticeship” - and the pay off has been substantially more beneficial for the people taking the apprenticeship road even though the “college siblings” didn’t exactly fail or end up unemployed... I know it’s anecdotical.

But in Germany, they seem to push a rather weird political agenda in this direction which doesn’t help anybody.


Similar story here in Canada - all my high school friends who went into blue-collar careers are doing all right.

I wonder whether it's self-correcting in some way - management-class hopefuls end up poorer than their hands-on counterparts, and these wealthier families end up having more political clout over time which balances the snobbery that got everyone to push their children into management streams in the first place...


The general expectation is that blue collar jobs pay more at the beginning, and white collar jobs pay more at the end. So at 20, the white-collar college student is eating ramen and wearing thrift store clothes and the blue collar worker is already making a decent salary, driving a new car, thinking about buying a home. At 40, the white collar worker is doing well, has a house and a car and a family, and the blue collar worker is about the same. At 55, the white collar worker is in the prime of their career living comfortably, making very good money, and achieving a level of prestige while the blue collar worker is living about the same life they had at 40, but with more physical ailments slowing their working ability.

This is what has traditionally been believed and does not necessarily represent reality, but it explains the tradeoffs each route offers.


My personal observation is rather: blue collar jobs (including office) are protected by unions and the company “then takes it out on university graduates that are not covered”. I am mainly talking “larger industrial companies” - that is where I grew up.

It is just so freakin easy to get an apprenticeship in comparison to getting a job with a university degree. And I am talking business/IT apprenticeship versus university counterparts. It’s not as much “those business hobos will all get unemployed and they deserve it” - it’s rather: “if you just sign up early and promise not to strive for ambition you are better off financially in a lot of cases”.


This should be tempered by the fact that a lot of hands-on worker have to do a lot of physical work. They also have a higher risk of disability and injuries.

> the “college siblings” didn’t exactly fail or end up unemployed... I know it’s anecdotical.

Since there are financially unwise college degrees (social work) and on the other end those with a mostly guaranteed, very decent minimal guaranteed income and incredible potential (medicine), this is an unfair comparison.


Sure. But one studied business (and got a decent paying job) and the other one went for a PhD in chemistry. Now: two siblings were female and the one going for “becoming a secretary at a large automotive company” like literally did not know what to spend all the bonuses and salary on - she was living at home until getting married and saved rent as well. She can always work part-time in her job, probably has a “large house-down-payment” on her bank account and is in a really relaxed situation. Studying 5 years (paying rent, not having income,...) and the fact that university graduates “have a harder time getting into that large company and even get less paid than factory workers” was not exactly obvious at the beginning. Due to the workplace protection in place and pretty strong union representation in “blue collar jobs” it often doesn’t make much sense for women to pursue a university degree from a financial perspective. I am very frustrated about that.

Second example - well, the PhD postdoc survives 2-year contract over 2-year contract while his younger brother just loads just more cash than he can carry.

This does not hold everywhere - both “younger siblings” work at a large industrial company that pays well. It’s just 100x easier to get a job that is paying well with mediocre grades and an uncle than with an engineering, business or science “summa cum laude” university degree.

Really crazy how that turned out. Many more similar stories from my siblings and their class-mates.


Your not going to get a job in social work without a degree

I personally know several(!) instances where “the smart and brilliant sibling” went for university, the “quiet one went for an apprenticeship” - and the pay off has been substantially more beneficial for the people taking the apprenticeship road even though the “college siblings” didn’t exactly fail or end up unemployed

I think it's fairly easy to see this type of outcome if the major was a humanity and the trade was something like plumber, electrician, or climate control, even in the US.

The problem is, no family ever considers both to be valid options.

There are families where it's just assumed you'll go to college and no one even questions it. (They don't even stop think, wait, this gal would be a great plumber and easily make six figures as her own boss!)

There are families where college is something "extra" that's not required.

I know of no families (though I'm sure they exist) where plumber is considered an equally honorable profession as accountant or teacher.

There's a kind of social stigma attached to the trades, for want of a better word.


There are different levels of nursing in the United States. Not all of them require uni education, but they also do tasks most people would not want to do

There's actually a fundamental difference between the anglosaxon system, US/UK(Canada?) and basically all the others though which I kind of like.

In the US and UK you're considered educated once you go through school. So you can go another two years to University and become a lawyer(same with medicine, provided you can afford it). In Germany you're kind of set for life.

Engineers are not considered business people, business people can't be considered engineers. But one of my favorite startups back in the days(Basho the makers of Riak) two absolutely fantastic engineering managers I met were an english literature grad and an business school grad. Both just had a lot of interest in Computer Science.

Of course the other extreme of the equation is people that found the Fyre Festival or Theranos.


That is true, but you cannot say that this will lead to the same situation as in the US. The apprenticeship system is well established and it it just not feasible for everyone to take the time and money to study. Apprenticeships are payed. I just cannot see a baker with a M.Sc. :)

To add to that: This trend only shows that people do not want to do low-pay hands-on jobs anymore. It does not mean that universities compete with apprenticeships. Although this certainly causes the rise of bullshit study programs.


It is happening the same in germany too, you have many in germany now too which had been an Ausbildung before: Touristik, Agrarwirtschaft, Osteopathie ...

College in Germany is significantly cheaper.

though, with a suitable focus on the applied science universities (where you have to work at least 1/7 of your education in a suitable position) and dual study programs, I think, we could avoid the worst (and are I actually think).

I think some of the commerce chambers/etc. have brought this onto themselves by pushing the advantage of their paying members who have effectively turned most trades and crafts into guilds, where your only chance at getting a good job (aka being self employed) is inheriting machines and the company rolodex. [And no, you generally can't pull it off on your own, because you have to actually pay for studying to be allowed to open a business, so you are 30 years old, have no money and have to get a 200k loan for your non-hyperscaling business, while you have to pay rent or want to buy a house]

Capitalism solves the resulting supply shortage of "qualified" plumbers, carpenters et. al. by providing cheap, eastern european, DIY-style "I can do everything"-craftsmen (actually, my grandfathers both had similar sidegigs (ok, one built his and his friend's homes with them) during the "Wirtschaftswunder" and retired).

Nearly everyone who is sufficiently intelligent to pass the necessary exams then moves to university to study in the hope to get a "nice, comfortable" job. Even if they really liked their vocation. But working your ass off in the lower 10%-income bracket, while your boss buys a Porsche a year from profits you earned in a 5-person company he inherited from his father kind of sucks.


>Capitalism solves the resulting supply shortage of "qualified" plumbers, carpenters et. al. by providing cheap, eastern european, DIY-style "I can do everything"-craftsmen

You can say the same thing about software engineering. The push for easy immigration has solved the fake shortage in Germany and kept the salaries low enough to keep companies very profitable.


Given the typical scope (e.g. burning VC money) of the companies going through the effort to hire/immigrate people, there is definitely no real supply shortage for software engineers. While for plumbers, there is, even with the influx of the aforementioned service people.

Two factors:

1 - a high school education in the US no longer results in someone functionally prepared for citizenship (manage a budget, understand how to vote, keep themselves fed and clothed, understand a newspaper etc). It’s also only 12 years. The first year of the 4-year undergrad program at most schools is leveling all the kids to the same base.

2 - despite my criticism above, the US undergraduate design is, by and large, intended to be broad rather than deep; while in most countries you can get an undergrad law or medicine degree and then be a lawyer or physician, in the US undergrads are expected not only to study their subject (“major”) but also some literature, maths, perhaps a foreign language etc. Actual profession comes in many cases from an advanced degree. I think this is a better system though not always well implemented.

There is also a Berufsschule- like system called an associates degree for basic accounting, dental assistant, etc.

My son attended German Grundschule and Gymnasium track, but did some US high school and US undergrad. I did US high school and US undergrad, but my exposure is to a different system. So while I think the us educational system is in a parlous state, it has some strengths as well.


> manage a budget, understand how to vote, keep themselves fed and clothed

You'll be shocked to find that there are people all over the world and throughout most of history who learned how to do all of these things without any school at all!

I intentionally kept reading the newspaper off that list, because that typically does require some formal education process.

I'm not a radically anti-state person, but its strange and concerning to me that there has been this increasing trend of critique public school for not teaching you basic life skills.

Maybe we need less school and not more. Extending the definition of "child" to be 18+ and keeping students so busy with homework that they don't even learn how the world works through their family and peers seems like a problem that more school won't fix.


I think you ou’d be surprised how many people can’t balance a checkbook. And how many people are taken in by straightforwardly bad decisions (excessive use of credit etc).

Do people need to know how to balance a checkbook anymore?

> 1 - a high school education in the US no longer results in someone functionally prepared for citizenship (manage a budget, understand how to vote, keep themselves fed and clothed, understand a newspaper etc).

Besides understanding a newspaper, which arguably schools do teach since they teach you to read and do analysis on text in English classes, did high school education ever cover the rest of this?


Yes, they were called “home economics classes” (or “home ec” for short). They were snobbishly looked down upon by anyone college bound when I went to high school, which is unfortunate.

They literally taught sewing, cooking, balancing a checkbook and budgeting, child care, basic auto mechanics, and some welding iirc. These are all super useful life skills and the sad part is that all of us brilliant geniuses that went on to college never got the equivalent covered.


Auto mechanics and welding you got in shop classes, not home ec. I was likewise tracked away from both, on the idea that I was too smart to need to know such things, and I haven't yet stopped resenting it.

The only knowledge I distinctly remember gaining in high school was from a class called "consumer auto". I learned to change my oil, replace the brakes and flush the lines, check the fluids, etc.

As a broke college student DIY auto repair was a great way to save money. As someone with a job, it's more of a hobby.

But learning how to fix a basic machine is an amazing lesson in design: you see how mature technology is made to be maintainable, which isn't something you get from a lot of modern electronics.


Where I went to school everything you just said was a mandatory class from middle school on. They taught you how to make snacks on your own and do the basics of cooking, sewing, and cleaning for a middle school age kid. They also had budgeting classes or a portion of a class, can’t remember. Home EC and typing was 100% mandatory in middle school.

Shop and welding was long gone by the early 2000s but my school had a big greenhouse so I took Horticulture.


Aka the "be a good wife" classes for girls.

>did high school education ever cover the rest of this?

No. But the upper middle class from which most of HN's inhabitants come could more easily be ignorant of it back then.

You had the token home ec and wood shop classes but eeryone who wasn't super interested did whatever and got a B and didn't really pick up any lasting knowledge in the process (art and music have similar probably the best point of comparison today).


That class was called Home Economics.

Here in Canada mine did. They were optional courses inside of requisite streams, however.

[In the Ontario public school system, specifically] we were required a Civics-classified course in our upper years which resulted in me taking Canadian History rather than general civics—but understanding how to vote has never been a burden here.

Budgets, etc, were covered by a maths course called "Math for Everyday Life" which was, unfortunately, in the "enter the workforce" rather than the College or University stream so most avoided it because it appeared as if it was next to remedial. I took it. It was alright. I don't remember specifics, but it's likely responsible for a lot of my intuitive understanding of things like budgets, credit systems, mortgages, etc. While it wasn't in the higher streams, it did fulfill the requisite for math in order to graduate.

As far as English courses, we were required to take one of College or University streams throughout high school for reading a mix of literature critically, dramatically, and to engage in debate. You could also optionally take a Creative Writing course beside that which had more reading, more debate, more in-depth grammar and creative exercises (which if you ask me only improves reading comprehension) as well as a final project of developing a small body of related work, presenting it and defending it in a proposal.

And I attended rural schools, one of which was being progressively closed as I attended (thanks Mike Harris), so it wasn't just a matter of being in a city rich with resources, or of a certain class.

That said, it's unfortunate that I hear a lot of people claim those kinds of courses are not offered here (and worse, use that as reason for complete reform or selling our public system to private interests), and many subjects are not covered—but they are, and I've just noticed not many people take them. Canadian History, and our amazingly jaded teacher, covered in detail the dark side of the country's history and some of the complex network of politics of the First Nations, and the Math for Everyday Life course (while I wish I had dug into more complex topics with as much fervour) made the basic stuff a little more natural in my understanding.

Any of the wood shop/home economics (joint course, you had to take both) courses mentioned we had taken in the 7th/8th grade rather than high school. There was an auto shop, but I can't comment because I didn't take it. Car ownership seemed well out of reach so I didn't care as much at the time!


Ontario used to have a fifth year of secondary education (grade 13) which was phased out in 2003[1]. The expectation of secondary school students in Ontario prior to the abolition of the OAC year was that there were additional periods to use for electives.

I look back fondly on those years and absolutely loved free periods, in addition to the many electives I took that were not purely science or math.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontario_Academic_Credit


In the 1970s when my wife and I were in High School there were some gender biases. My wife (from Syracuse NY) had been cooking, cleaning, sewing, etc. because both her parents worked. She wanted to take shop instead because she was studying for the physical sciences and math. The high school administrators refused and forced her to take Home Economics. She was not pleased...

Nothing of what you said helps on the issue of job training. The undergrad program in the US is designed to be broad, because this is what the wealthy classes of the 19th century and early 20th century wanted in order to distinguish themselves from the poor. This is not ideal for people who need the university degree to get into the job market.

I’ve always just seen it as a form of bundling, with the really premium stuff locked behind the postgraduate DLC.

>2 - despite my criticism above, the US undergraduate design is, by and large, intended to be broad rather than deep; while in most countries you can get an undergrad law or medicine degree and then be a lawyer or physician, in the US undergrads are expected not only to study their subject (“major”) but also some literature, maths, perhaps a foreign language etc. Actual profession comes in many cases from an advanced degree. I think this is a better system though not always well implemented.

I'm studying CS and I had physics, electronics, history, intellectual property law, PLC programming, automatics and foreign language and more that I do not remember.

Isn't that broad?


The jargon for this in the US is "general education requirements" or "gen ed"

For example, a CS student at Stanford would meet these requirements [1] by choosing from a wide range of courses such as "Jazz History", "Conservation Photography", "Contemporary Moral Problems" and "To Die For: Antigone and Political Dissent"

People who like this system would say it produces a well-rounded education - surely nobody would want students of politics to be ignorant of statistics, or students of engineering to be ignorant of ethics!

There are a variety of much more cynical interpretations available, of course...

[1] https://undergrad.stanford.edu/academic-planning/degree-requ...


Training employees use to be common in the US. Companies trained their workforce and marketed the quality of their training programs to both customers and potential employees.

US employers didn't do this out of the goodness of their shareholder's hearts or (as in Germany) any regulatory obligation. They did it for competitive advantage; skilled labor was scarce and worth investment.

Those days are long past. Contemporary workers are oblivious to this history as it has been more than two generations since this situation prevailed in the US. The reasons for this change can no longer be discussed in a candid manner without triggering people so I won't attempt it.


It might trigger me but I’m still interested in hearing your perspective on why this went away. My simple take is that the economic pressure to train workforces went away as the supply of labor changed, and there wasn’t a competitive advantage to spending on training. Is it something more than that?

In my view, there's been a strong push towards eliminating skilled labor in a lot of settings such as factories. We'd rather get rid of both apprentice and the master.

At the factory attached to my place of employment, I'm not sure what jobs are actually left that are related to any of the skilled trades. Most of our workers are assemblers. We do hire people with 2 year trade school degrees, or equivalent military service training. When our welder retires, we will probably outsource the welding.

Now we get pieces from shops that have skilled trades such as machinists, but I don't think those shops require a 4 year degree. I don't think carpenters, roofers, or plumbers have bachelors degrees. Many of the businesses that hire those people are family owned, and hard to break into if you're not connected.

As for health care trades, well, employers might be willing to bear the cost of the training, if there was only one employer: The government.


There are new skilled trades coming up now. My friend is a robotics welder. Unlike a traditional welder, he does most of his work from a computer terminal. He programs the robot to weld a specific joint and then the robot repeats that weld for every part that comes through his station on the line.

The old guard of skilled welders who did the welding by hand are being replaced (and not happy about it) by young guys like him. My friend learned his job through a 3-year program at the local community college. His job involves a lot less of the tacit knowledge a skilled welder would have (judging the quality of a joint by feel) and a lot more theoretical knowledge of metallurgy. Instead of intuitive judgement, he relies on the methods of nondestructive (x-ray scanning) and destructive (cutting a test weld in half and inspecting it under an electron microscope) testing.


There are economic reasons behind it. My company used to invest a lot of training in the employees because most employees were working for the same company a very long time, more than half till retirement. I got a lot of training ~ 20 years ago as a new hire, while the new hires today get almost nothing, not even the bare minimum to do their job. Why? Well, a few weeks ago I had a meeting with a team from a very well known IT company for a project and they all expressed their amazement when they heard I am working for such a long time in one place; people now stay 3-5 years in a company and move on. Why train them, to make them better for the next job?

Companies that invested a lot in their employees paid less than companies that had no such expenses, so it became common to have a new hire, spend 3 years on trainings and leave for a better salary. This competition pressure made us adjust and move the training budget into salaries.


> people now stay 3-5 years in a company and move on. Why train them, to make them better for the next job?

Why stay in the same place when you make more moving?

People don't like moving, it adds uncertainty. It is done because HR and management knows this and has taken advantage of it to not hand out raises.


There's a Paul Graham essay [1] where he talks about how job security was a much bigger thing in the mid-20th century.

It makes more economic sense to train your workers if people tend to stay with one company for a long time.

[1] http://paulgraham.com/re.html


And people don't tend to stay in the same company because they don't receive the proper care. What a nice chicken-egg problem

The definition of "training" evolved.

Tech employers usually offer reimbursement for online training, conferences, books, etc. That seems commonplace and enables business models of PluralSight and alike.

Some also bring outside consultants and training firms for in-house seminars, some pay for conference expenses, and some even reimburse tuition for a professional development course.


I too wish gp would elaborate. I don’t know what caused the change but it’s clear to me that companies wishing to choose hires now with no qualifications other than teachability would have a very difficult time dealing with diversity issues.

before they had to train people because most people couldn’t afford to go to college.

but when govt started handing out loans like candy, then of course the employer would rather the university train the person for them.

it moves the cost of training from the employer to the employee paying for their own training with debt


Demographics. Compulsory public education became a thing in the US around the same time child labor laws were becoming wide spread. This was coincidentally around the time men were coming back from the world wars and needing to take back the jobs their children/wives had been filling. Well, all those boomers are still alive, and we needed an excuse to keep their kids/grandkids out of the work force a little longer. Hence over-saturation of college degree requirements. That's changing as the boomers die out, so we will see "college degrees" become less of a requirement. The only thing that could keep it going is competition from immigrants, but I doubt that will be the case.

Actually, history tells a different story: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educational_attainment_in_the_...

Notice how the high school graduation rate among 25-29 year-olds rose between 1940 and 1950. Those are people who graduated high school between 1929-1934 and 1939-1943. Before WWII.

This pre-WWII trend is consistent with the post-WWII trend, up until ~1978 when effectively "everyone" graduated high school. In other words, this has been happening since before WWII, and WWI had nowhere near the civilian mobilization as WWII, so the demobilized wives/children argument doesn't explain the inter-war increase.

As for college:

Notice how the number of 25-29 year-olds with college degrees rises dramatically between 1948 and 1951 and then slowly through about 1960. That's WWII vets using the GI bill to go to college (18-21 year-olds starting 1945 to 1948). Then the increase tapers off.

There's another significant rise between 1965 and 1978. That's boomers avoiding the Vietnam draft with college deferments. Then it levels off (actually, decreases) for 20 years until the late 90's.

The late 90's rise corresponds to the late-80's / early-90's push to throw student loans at anyone with a pulse.

Starting in 2008, the rate starts rising again: Young adults of all ages staying in or going back to finish college because the Great Recession killed a bunch of jobs. Plus, probably, some amount of people who started college around 2002 to avoid being drafted for Iraq (which didn't end up happening anyway).


I've long suspected this as the real reason but have yet to see any hard evidence.

Boomers are the children of the generation that came back from war.

Because the apprentice watching you hammer in a nail is not producing $25/hr (or what ever the min wage happens to be). Add on all the ways that employees can screw your business over without the ability to get rid of them and you get the piecemeal training systems we have today.

> Add on all the ways that employees can screw your business over without the ability to get rid of them and you get the piecemeal training systems we have today.

This is an interesting angle. Do you think it is a mutually escalating war of trying to screw each other or maximize one's own gains that has resulted in a hostile relationship between employees and employers? What would mutual de-escalation look like?


I think mostly because most high school graduates have no idea what they want to do for a job. I really didn't figure out what I wanted to do for a career until I had 2 bachelor degrees and a masters degree. The career I have been doing for the past 20+ years has nothing to do with any of those degrees (fortunately I was smart enough to get academic scholarships every semester so I was able to graduate with no debt). But if you had asked me when I graduated from high school if I could have seen myself doing what I now do I would have laughed at you for the ridiculousness of even suggesting it.

totally agree - not to mention attempting to decide on 30+ years of career at 18 years old involves significant uncertainty risk as well. all those hospitality management majors from last year and for the next couple years have lost out on upto 4 years of time plus whatever accompanying student debt.

my first job out of college was as a "financial analyst". my undergrad degree (finance) was largely not applicable - excel skills were about the only relevant experience. any 18 year old with a 2 month excel bootcamp and maybe 2 weeks of industry and department specific orientation could have done my job; meanwhile i was desperate and had no other offers so i took it making 50k per year with my shiny new 175k degree.


What field did you end up in?

I’ve been a programmer at a fortune 100 company for nearly 20 years (did a few years at a smaller company before that). In college I studied history, linguistics, and educational psychology.

We have many similar vocational programs in the US (ours are usually 1 or 2 year), but they have been historically stereotyped as being inferior options that are suited only for people who are incapable of studying at a university.

It is typical for grade-school teachers and advisors to discourage everyone but their least-performing students from considering those options.


> pharmacist

Only 3 years for a pharmacist?

I think Germany is the exception here, not the US.


I think what is meant here are "Pharmazeutisch-technische Assistenten" (PTA), which are not pharmacists but more like the pharmacists' assistents. There also is a full pharmacy course at German universities, and some regulated exams you need to pass to become a pharmacist. As far as I understand to actually run a pharmacy you need to be a pharmacist with a full degree.

3 years to be a pharmacy tech sounds like a lot. Those programs are usually less than a year long in the US.

I think there might be a distinction between those who can hand out the medicine already prescribed (pharmacy technician) and those who can prescribe as well (Bachelors and Masters of Pharmacy). At least that is how it is in Norway

In Germany only doctors can prescribe, but there's a big class of pharmaceutical products that can be sold without a prescription, but only by at pharmacies (e.g. not at a supermarket or convenience store). The vocationally trained pharmacy worker ("technician") can do that selling as well I think, but a university trained ("pharmacist") is required in a supervisorial role (e.g. the "technician" level cannot run their own pharmacy, not even a chain branch).

Much of the university requirement is a bit of an anachronism because a lot of the underlying reasoning is nominally based on the scenario of pharmacists manufacturing their own drugs in the backroom, but fortunately there seems to be a lot of political agreement that opening up requirements for theoretical efficiency gains would only enrich aggressive investors without making health noticeably cheaper.


Oh yes that is correct. Sorry then I compared apples and oranges here. “Pharmacists” in Germany only hand out the medics and produce some. Doctors are the only ones who can prescribe.

Same in US, except pharmacist in the US must go to school for at least 6 years.

That’s true in most countries, but pharmacists are trained to understand the side defects of medication better, able to detect mistakes made by doctors (dosage etc) and provide alternatives.

Some of that is due to regulatory capture. A big role of government certifications and minimum requirements and private accreditations is to artificially limit supply. For example consider the ADA (a private “professional organization”) fighting the introduction of a lower cost role called “Dental Therapist” to perform the most common mechanical procedures cheaply: https://reason.com/2017/02/22/the-nonsensical-argument-again...

Another part of it is that American college education has low upfront costs typically, due to the high supply of government loans and grants. This lets students access college with low short term financial burden and removes the immediacy of considering the cost benefit tradeoff. This is why we have tens of thousands of students graduating every year with degrees in fields with no economic value. There isn’t a clear incentive and feedback signal to tell students “get a degree in what society values” instead of “get a degree in your area of interest”. And then later when they’re unemployable or paid less than they’d like, they act confused as if the system is broken even though it was their choice to not study something that others value enough to pay for. That shows up in various political struggles 10-20 years later, as large quantities of those very same students now feel left behind.

Germany is different not only because of the availability of diverse education paths (like vocational programs), but due to its culture. The trades are respected in Germany. In the US that cultural value on trades has diminished. And now we are seeing many of those trades compensated heavily due to reduced supply.


Interesting, thanks for that insight! The respect for these “craftsmanship jobs” like baker or carpenter is certainly going down though. Everyone wants to study. Although that might be in parts because of the freedom and great time you have when studying.

But on the other hand, I am always very surprised to hear about “college dropouts” who make a living by working e.g. in a clothing store without any formal education. That seems to work.


My hope is that our culture self corrects, but I am not sure how long that will take. My teachers back in school were beating the drum of attending college very early on, and that constant messaging to children has caused them to take college attendance as a foregone conclusion or as a first goal they need to meet in life, even if there are economic signals telling them otherwise. It's hard to deprogram a belief taught to you at a young age.

I suspect that for the culture of study and work to change in America, we can't expect the current workers/students to change their views. It may only happen when a new generation no longer receives a constant push to attend college. If that's the case, then we'd see a change in college attendance and employer attitudes and employee attitudes 20 years in the future.


I remember being in High School and they asked who was going to college. I didn't raise my hand and was then publicly put on the spot to explain why not. Worked out okay for me, but I respect both paths.

We should be glad to have this, especially in these times. One problem is that people often leave the company after completing the apprenticeship and they even get encouraged to switch employers. Every healthy company I worked for didn't like company hoppers and tried to retain employees. Some departments always have some fluctuation, but it is one of the best quality markers for a company in my opinion.

But as you said, lateral entrants might have a difficult time since there is a profession for everything. It is a transient education system though. Even if you only got the lowest kind of basic education, you can do an apprenticeship to get access to university or any higher education. Some people need some time to find motivation.


Snowden provided an example of this in his book.

Receiving specialized clearances is both time-consuming and expensive, but the federal government happily covers the bills. The day after the clearance is issued the employee leaves the government job to return as a security contractor.

The government covers all the expenses, the contracting company pockets all the benefits.


> nurse, pharmacist, physical therapist, etc. are 3 year apprenticeships in Germany

I wasn't aware of that, thank you. This seems like an amazingly better way of doing things.


Pharmacist is not 3 years of apprenticeship.

>Jobs like nurse, pharmacist, physical therapist, etc. are 3 year apprenticeships in Germany.

Germany is unique among European countries in having apprenticeships for nursing.


It is now, it wasn't before.

I'm from Italy, my parents were both nurses, they started in the middle 70s, they did apprenticeships while working directly at the Hospital (couple of major Hospitals in Rome).

They received a degree of professional nurse at the end of the three year course that has been made equivalent to the new three year University degree that is required now.

My view on the subject is that it was unnecessary.

My opinion is that in Italy there was a low number of graduates compared to other European countries, so we created this short term University courses to compensate for it that don't match the MD courses, not even closely, they are just the same old apprenticeships updated and rebranded.


Do you know how many years do doctors in Germany have to study before they become fully-fledged doctors?

In the US, it's 4 years of undergraduate college + 4 years of medical school + 3 years (minimum) of medical residency training.

In my native country in SE Asia, it's 5 years of medical school + 2 years of medical residency training + 1 year of remote posting (go to a remote area to work in order to get medical license). And the medical school is publicly funded, so it's pretty much free (you have to buy books yourself, of course, and pay a small amount for lab fees etc. for chemistry, anatomy labs).

To me, the system in the US is unnecessarily complicated/long and it not only burdens wanna-be doctors with debt (not to mention that because of the high cost, mostly the affluent/well-off kids--mostly the kids of doctors/lawyers/well-paid professionals--can now afford go to to medical school), but it helps them justify the $250K+/year salaries (part of the reason why the healthcare is expensive in the US) that they earn right after their residency programs.


> Jobs like nurse, pharmacist, physical therapist, etc. are 3 year apprenticeships in Germany.

You're wrong about the pharmacists (it's a study program almost as hard as medicine), and the fact that nurses are not an academic study in Germany is something that is often criticized.


Germany and the US are opposite ends of the spectrum. The US values general education highly. Germany values specialisation highly. Most places are somewhere in between. I often wonder why certain things require specialization in DE.

Germany also has strong unions across its blue collar workforce which provides a political and social base for the apprenticeship system. These don’t exist anywhere to the same extent in the US, where many in these jobs are forced into independent contractor status and unions are formed on a shop-vote basis, things which were purposely designed to prevent unionization.

Not sure what you mean by pharmacist but a real pharmacist aka 'Apotheker' has to do a full university study of pharmacy. The people selling the medication over the counter don't, but they aren't pharmacists.

True. Practical hands on beats book learning by orders of magnitude. Apprenticeships need to become the norm again. It is ridiculous to get deep in college debt that will take a major portion of your wage earning years to pay back.

But there are only so many jobs that require a 3 / 4 year Apprenticeships.

And from my experience you do a fair amount of book learning too - so you can remind the "engineer" how ohms law goes :-)


In the US a degree is often used as the first filter. Without a degree your resume could just be rejected by a computer before a human even looks at it.

Does depend some countries treat nursing for example differently and is there a path to a degree at the end.

I recall over hearing two specialist nurses discussing what their "first" degree was - this was in a transplant ward.

Three years sounds short back when I was doing my higher level apprenticeships in the uk it was 4 years and it was assumed that some if not all would have done a full craft aprticieship first.


I don't think a pharmacist in Germany just has to do an apprenticeship for 3 years? More like 4 years college + 1 year internships.

We do have that here too, you can apply to be an electrician (IBEW I think) and other trades and be paid on the job to learn. Unfortunately high paying jobs like IT or pharmacy you have to pay first.

I believe the US requires internships for professional jobs like nurse and pharmacist. Also professional schools are required by licensing and accreditation boards (which are composed of practitioners in the field, not teachers who never leave the ivory tower) to be extremely "hands on". E.g. engineering schools have labs where students make things. Dental schools have clinics where students can serve patients under supervision. Etc.

Also bachelor's degrees get all the attention, but there' associates degrees, two-year degrees offered both by colleges and (very cheap) junior colleges. These include a lot of "less theoretical" stuff like dental hygienist or working with other kinds of specialized technology.


Agreed. I have heard many positive things about Germany's "career funnels," for want of a better term. Something they could definitely improve on in the USA.

It's purely gatekeeping, just like in a lot of other fields. A lot of people make a lot of money from it, so it's not going anywhere anytime soon, unfortunately. I too don't see why one would need a degree to give me a bottle of pills (dispensed by a robot) and read the label (printed by the same robot). I can read it myself, and I'd prefer if human was optional - this reduces the probability of a screw-up.

Apprenticeships are Education

Because Americans are sold bullshit narratives about university educations intended to justify the mountains of debt required to finance the lifestyles of the people who run those institutions.

I completely reject the idea that college is a job training program. Making connections between a "career" and an undergraduate degree is exactly how we got where we are today.

I'm in support of continuing education but I don't think it needs to be tied to jobs. People should continue learning and pursuing their interests for their whole lives.

If we want job training trade schools exist and do a great job.


College isn't about job training, it's more about demonstrating that one is good prospective employee (signalling).[1]

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Case_Against_Education#:...


Perhaps the more original source for this idea is in Michael Spence’s 1973 paper on Job Market Signaling:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signalling_(economics)


Really? I remember half my capstone classmates that couldn't code or focus for more than five minutes on a project. All of them had good grades of course.

Imagine what the people who can't make it to their capstone are like...

This is a huge issue colleges face. Cheating let's these people get by.

Engineering has a few extra math classes that weed out most of these types..


People still pursue their own interests, but usually it's outside of a university setting. Mixing these things with job training and then siloing them into an expensive and overly bureaucratic[1] system called "college" is of questionable value.

[1]Compare signing up for a college foreign language course with signing up for a foreign language course outside of college.


Sure people should continue learning and pursuing their interests their whole lives. But why do taxpayers need to subsidize it? If someone has an interest in something as a hobby, they can finance it themselves.

You have a weird definition of the word "subsidize."

I suppose I will allow low-income subsidies, but I consider non-dischargeable federal debt to be less of a subsidy and more of a "sure we'll help, but you better keep paying every f'ing month, or we'll make your life challenging, and we'll still get our money when you die," and less of a "here's some free government money with no strings attached."

It's also an excellent way to "print" money and ensure a steady cash-flow.

I guess it depends on which narrative makes you sleep at night with your worldview.


I didn't say anything about funding education, just the reasoning for it.

Having said that I do believe undergraduate education should be available to everyone. As automation continues to improve there is less and less need for labor. Why not reduce the supply a bit and get more educated citizens out of the deal?

If we say an undergraduate education is not worth taxpayer dollars then the real question seems to be "how much education is enough?" If 16 years is too much how do we know 12 is the right amount? The question leaves open the possibility that 8 years is just as good.

Clearly some amount of taxpayer funded education is beneficial. It seems natural to me that the ideal amount of education will continue to increase as we learn more as a species.


Enrichment of the population can be beneficial and worth fostering? This doesn’t speak to if we should do it, just that there are reasons to argue for it.

Practically, there are plenty of ways to unbundle college. Culturally... it doesn't work like that.

Compare to other cultural institutions, like religion. When religion receded, it wasn't "unbundled." It just receded. The belief in God, the community ties, the source of leadership, the welfarism, moral support, etc.

Same for tribes, villages.

There was a Louise Theroux line about Scientology. Dissident scientologists tried to continue the practices, without the totalitarian cult stuff. It didn't work. All that was left was some squishy, gimmicky, self help stuff that people quickly drifted out of.

That said, change is coming. College is no longer a very good way of being educated, and in the US, the price is crazy high.

What still locks college I to place is that it works for the upper classes, and for the high achievers. They pay less, get more and have the most cultural influence.


> Practically, there are plenty of ways to unbundle college. Culturally... it doesn't work like that.

Yep. And you can replace college with a lot of things in that statement and aptly describe why I have nope hope for anything anymore.


IDK if it's a reason to lose hope. It just means we can't invent civilisation on the fly. It doesn't mean we can't acquire civilisation. People made university. We'll make other stuff too, eventually.

College has been a racket for a long time. There have existed huge issues on incentive structures and expectations. The hollywood dream of college life combined with the promise of adding value to an economy with a learned discipline.

The chasm that has grown between that fantasy and what the economy demands has been massive in the past few decades and the university system only increased it with political red tape.

I certainly agree that a layer that connects businesses with potential is the right shape. Something closer to the “apprentice” structure of before.


The problem is that employers would need to value those programs and see them as an effective signal that graduates are of high quality.

We have a lot of those short type of programs in my city in Canada, but employers generally seem to treat them as where you end up if you couldn't get a real degree. There is no signal and thus it is often hard to use it to get a job.


As much as college was a life-redefining experience for me, I also think it's incredibly wasteful and indulgent to send most 18 year olds to college.

To add to the parent's point, one doesn't need to go to college to have an equally valuable "life-redefining experience". You'll hear similar stories and nostalgia from others who went to trade school. the military, mission, Peace Corps, or even just going straight to work. The "life-redefining" experience has more to do with being 20-ish than with being in college.


> I think a better future would be focused, shorter-term educational programs, taken flexibly through one's early career years.

Drop the word "early" and I agree 100%.


Indeed, we shouldn't have this huge discrepancy between training to get a job and training once one has a job. There's also a lot of advantages to having a diverse group of individuals rather than separating people out into age cohorts or by lack of professional experience.

Lambda School’s ISA model is extremely good for the software training niche.

I think there are a lot of other models that could work if degree status gets separated from it’s theoretical purpose of education.

Why are all degrees for years? Why do all degrees cost the same?

A lot of the existing model doesn’t make much sense.

https://zalberico.com/essay/2019/04/08/lambda-school.html


Degrees cost the same because Universities don’t understand the value of their degree programs and they don’t understand the costs of each one.

>Colleges also have a lot of issues around cost. They haven't been good at tracking their costs or really knowing what their programs cost. For example, a lot of colleges don't know what it costs them to graduate a nursing major, versus an English major, versus a business major. And that's in part because the college business model is so complicated. https://www.npr.org/2020/09/16/913500758/as-campuses-become-...


I suspect a lot of their failures to do this in the US are related to easy money from non-defaultable federal loans.

Not only is there less incentive to control costs, but there's a perverse incentive to build stadiums, fancy student dorms, and other things to persuade new students to choose your school over another. Since that student is taking out loans without really evaluating their costs prices get driven up. The student gets left holding the bag eventually.

I understand the intent behind these loans is opportunity - making it so students that would otherwise be rejected for a loan from a bank can get one, but the negative knock on effects are severe. I think ISAs (structured like Lambda's that are very student friendly) align incentives between the school and the student while also giving all students opportunity.

There's also the issue that universities are primarily selling status with some education on the side (particularly true for fluffier majors that are almost entirely status). That's a harder cultural problem to fix.

Software is a good place to get a foothold though since if lambda school can actually deliver students that can write code and pass interview questions they can build out a referral network. Since universities are generally pretty bad at actually teaching students how to write code and pass interview questions there's a good opportunity here.


I’m so inspired by Lambda I’m working on a startup where we use it in another non-tech field.

Time will tell.


> I think a better future would be focused, shorter-term educational programs, taken flexibly through one's early career years.

A better future would be free education. Get knowledge and experience without the financial burden. College is more than studying. It's also about making friends, connections and getting to know yourself.


I totally wish I would have gone to college when I was like 24 or 26 rather than 18. I would have been a great student with a much better idea of what I wanted and how to get it, rather than lazy and aimless.

This already exists, it's called community college.

Interestingly, junior colleges appear to be suffering the worst of this drop according to the data linked by the article. BS enrollments are barely hit while enrollments for advanced degrees, the biggest risks of all, are seeing increases.

Because community colleges have the largest proportion of people whom are impacted by the covid related economic debacle.

It's interesting to me that most people in this thread view colleges as jobs programs. In other words, many of us seem to view universities as machines that take in undergraduates at one socioeconomic level and graduate them at a higher socioeconomic level.

If this is how we come to view "higher education," we should be careful because that's not the ideal that gave birth to the university in the form that we recognize it. And so it's not clear to me whether universities as we recognize them will continue to exist if we continue to view them as a jobs programs.


>It's interesting to me that most people in this thread view colleges as jobs programs

What else would it be for the vast majority of people? You're investing thousands of dollars (either directly, or through opportunity cost) and huge chunk of time. If you can't make back that investment, then it just isn't worth for most people. The number of people that could make a living from pure research is always going to be miniscule. The number of people that could justify the expense (or opportunity cost) to just learn something for pleasure, is miniscule.

> that's not the ideal that gave birth to the university in the form that we recognize it

Right. Because originally universities were for the ruling and religious class that could justify the expense of education for its own sake. In modern world, many more people could make that calculation too, but lots of people could not justify the expense ... especially if you put this in these kinds of stark terms.

>And so it's not clear to me whether universities as we recognize them will continue to exist if we continue to view them as a jobs programs.

They could not. And that's a good thing. Humanities are a mess just for the reason that they take tuition and time from students and leave them hanging out to dray, after they graduate with no direct job prospects (i.e. a way to make a living).


> What else would it be for the vast majority of people? You're investing thousands of dollars (either directly, or through opportunity cost) and huge chunk of time. If you can't make back that investment, then it just isn't worth for most people. The number of people that could make a living from pure research is always going to be miniscule. The number of people that could justify the expense (or opportunity cost) to just learn something for pleasure, is miniscule.

You describe the function of the current system, it's not an inevitability. There's massive wealth in the US, and it could absolutely subsidize a different kind of education which is intended to produce an educated and informed citizenry. It's telling that this is not a priority. (One could also imagine a hypothetical culture that does not prioritize earnings so highly, and could value other attributes of service or community more highly than earning high incomes, but let's not get too crazy here...)

In reality, and sadly, higher ed is a series of moats. At the highest tier, the expensive schools protect the oligarchy by keeping their children in different social spheres than the rest of the population. At the level of state schools, it's a zero sum game that people feel forced to enter because their ability to make a living is otherwise severely impaired.


>There's massive wealth in the US, and it could absolutely subsidize a different kind of education which is intended to produce an educated and informed citizenry.

No. It couldn't. You certainly could make a 4-year degrees ostensibly an extension of high-school - where the school is fully paid for - and some countries do do that. There's still opportunity cost of not earning an income for those 4 years. There's no getting around that.

>One could also imagine a hypothetical culture that does not prioritize earnings so highly, and could value other attributes of service or community more highly than earning high incomes, but let's not get too crazy here...

Plenty of people do that already. In fact, most people balance out income with other life goals whether it's through career choices, deciding to stay home and raise kids, or even deciding to stay in some city because your entire family is there. So I don't know what you mean by a "hypothetical culture that does not prioritize earnings so highly", everyone already makes those considerations and though income is important, for most people it is not the most important thing.

>At the highest tier, the expensive schools protect the oligarchy by keeping their children in different social spheres than the rest of the population. At the level of state schools, it's a zero sum game that people feel forced to enter because their ability to make a living is otherwise severely impaired.

I don't agree with that characterization at all. For one thing, state schools provide quality education (that is as good as any high-priced ivy league school). I'm not sure what the zero sum game you're referring to is. Many people do see university as a vocational institution and what's wrong with that? Making Nobody is forcing anybody to do anything, and most people are excited about becoming teachers, or software developers, lawyers, nurses or architects.


> For one thing, state schools provide quality education

Long ago I worked at a startup in Los Angeles. We had software engineers from all over, but because of the location many from UCLA or Cal Tech. We used to have a joke about hiring a "CS major from Brown". I am sure Brown is a great school. But some of the Ivy League educated people that we would interview would have a ton of confidence and polish but not necessarily better technical skills. So they felt they deserved a better job, but it wasn't clear they were equipped to do a better job.


> For one thing, state schools provide quality education (that is as good as any high-priced ivy league school). I'm not sure what the zero sum game you're referring to is.

I know UC-Davis provides as good or better an education than Stanford (not at all sarcastic and meant in an earnest way), but it seems willfully blind to not see that they serve different social and economic roles in the American class system.


>but it seems willfully blind to not see that they serve different social and economic roles in the American class system.

Sure. Just like a BMW is a status symbol in a way that a Toyota Corolla is not. The irony in this case, which also applies to state vs ivy league schools, is that a Corolla is a more reliable car (cheaper to operate and cheaper to maintain too!) - so as a car it is 'better', though just not as 'cool'. Similarly, a state school will provide you a quality education at a fraction of the cost and afford you all or most of the same kinds of opportunities as a ivy league school.

So what does that mean for the 'American class system'? To me it means that we live in a a society where you can spend lots of money to acquire 'status'... or you can save that money and do your own thing.


> I don't agree with that characterization at all.

Are you denying there's a networking benefit to attending an Ivy League school? I don't have the article I was thinking of handy, but this source (0) seems to say the main advantages are networking and status.

[0]: https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0811/the-value-o...


> an educated and informed citizenry.

The sad part is that with the exception of those graduates with degrees that require mathematical or statistical rigor, I don't find my college educated friends to be better informed than my friends without degrees.

If there is one thing I could change about education in the US, I would add classes in statistics starting in the same grade we start teaching algebra and I'd have students take both a pure math and a pure statistics classes every semester until they finish their schooling.

Classes in philosophy, especially the philosophy of science I think should also be required. As should classes in logic.

The problem is that education has become a factory that teaches people what to think and not how to think.


There’s an old concept from classical education: rhetoric. The art of persuading people with words, writing, speech, debate. A small corner of students today, law and politics, learn this.

In earlier times, we were sending a few people to college to be leaders, and thus all were expected and required to learn to persuade. The hoi polloi were not in college, and were to be convinced by said rhetorically trained leaders. There were many more hoi polloi, and democracy provided the check and balance between the educated and manipulative (in good and bad ways), and the unarmed masses.

Now we have many more topics to cover and many more students, thus the term Universe-ity. Few students learn rhetoric formally. Which is good in the sense that when there is an expectation of needing to argue, it descends into sophistry. Arguments about how many angels fit on the head of a pin, etc.

What all non-rhetoric students should learn is how not to be convinced, not to be persuaded. Something that has been called critical thinking. There have been a lot of writings in the past on how to train students in critical thinking. It was a hot topic in post-WWII education. When 60 million people die, arguably because of a lack of critical thinking, and those that survive go to college on the GI Bill, they start asking good questions. When hundreds of thousands of older students who lived through the horrors of modern war entered campus, they made it clear to the Academy that critical thinking was a priority. That sort of moral authority, gained at the end of a rifle barrel or in a cockpit facing life and death, is lacking now.

Expand that to persuaders in the visual arts, and it becomes media studies. Media studies as the transliterate counterpart of critical thinking and classical rhetoric in text. Logic falls under rhetoric. And, when you think about it, there is a broad overlap between statistics and media studies. I recommend the book, How To Lie With Statistics, published in 1954. Tufte wrote some good stuff too.

Not everybody needs to learn to be a persuader in college. That can be picked up later as needs arise or not. But everyone coming out of college needs to learn to be a critical thinker, an anti rhetorician. There are standard techniques, philosophies, ways of thinking, psychologies that could be bundled together in a Freshman course. I’m still a fan of General Semantics and cognitive bias research myself. Mixing humanities and STEM in a common cause. Fifty years ago as a high school senior, I developed a unit plan to do something similar for high school students.


Looking at prior examples, state-subsidized education seems to become indoctrination at the worst possible time. The value of education being determined by employers may be suboptimal, but it's at least decentralised enough to resist mass dishonesty or tyranny. If you have an idea to replace the current system I'd want to know how it doesn't lose that feature before I listened further.

Many European countries pay for their citizens’ university education, and from experience I can confirm that there is none of the sort of indoctrination that you are concerned about.

If anything I’d say more college-educated citizens is a shield against tyranny, as it trains you to be more intellectually critical, and therefore (one would hope)c , inoculated somewhat against anti-factual biases.


In Europe far fewer people go to college vs the US (apart from Norway, UK, NL). Moreover, they have significantly more rigorous secondary educations, especially on the technical track.

If you don't think indoctrination at universities is a serious issue, you clearly haven't seen the inside of a college classroom for quite some time.

How does Hungary defunding gender studies fit into that worldview?

To maybe add some more particulars to this, in most Western countries governmental authority is legitimized via public opinion. We all have heard that "a well educated citizenry is critical to democracy" but one ought to also consider that one's education will impact one's opinions. So state funded education could theoretically manipulate mass opinion in favor of government backed positions over time (maybe by framing historical events in a particular way for example).

Manipulating public opinion may seem petty or roundabout for a government but having legitimized policy creates a lot of stability for decision makers so it seems worthwhile. The gambit even pays off when the majority of the public isn't persuaded by education too, since the people who agree with you are by definition the "well educated" you can give their opinion more weight without seeming like a tyrant.

That's the idea being alluded to by the parent here at least I think.


Yes, and it's an idea that has no basis on the actual, not theoretical, experience of most of us here.

> Looking at prior examples, state-subsidized education seems to become indoctrination at the worst possible time.

3/4 of the university students in the US are currently enrolled in a state-subsidized public institution. This has been the status-quo for many decades.

To the contrary, US state universities are known for their solid educational foundations and research output -- and the reputation of various private-universities in the US is rather spotty.


The reputation of private schools is “spotty” in the sense of being a much broader distribution, IMO.

The very top schools and the very worst schools tend to be private, with the latter being the (near-?)scam, for-profit schools.


As a european that statement just seems disconnected from reality.

I understand that it is how many americans view the world, but claiming that the society that I live in can't possible exist is... disheartening.


Even to many Americans.

college education is free in Germany. They also are known for their engineering prowess...

Is it true that Germany “tracks” students early and aggressively? I.e. if you’re not doing well academically, then you are encouraged to use the vocational track.

Not that there’s anything wrong with vocational training compared to a university. The plumber who came out for a 15 minute house call probably makes more than I do in a year.


That’s a lot of corporatocracy kool aid you’re drinking.

Corporations (who pay lower taxes than citizens) in charge of education is a specific form of dystopian hell.


I did say it was suboptimal. The fact that you chose to insult rather than put forward solutions tells me you either don't understand the strengths of such a system or know your own solution would fall short.

Education determined by private employers will have less groupthink than education determined by a democratically elected group of legislators?

>At the level of state schools, it's a zero sum game that people feel forced to enter because their ability to make a living is otherwise severely impaired.

What you're missing here is that colleges... teach stuff. You are more skilled after you get a good STEM degree than you were before you got that degree. Medical schools aren't a "zero sum game" or way to protect the oligarchy, they teach you how to practice medicine. This tangible, practical value of education is missing from the humanities.


The humanities in theory would teach humanity. That is, the patterns of literature, philosophy, art, and communication that lead to the best human outcomes and amplify human talent and virtue. It should be training in how to engage with the wider world productively and positively.

The alternative to viewing college like a jobs program is not "pure research".

There is still a stark difference between someone who has the expectation that: "college will get me a job" and "college will give me the education I need to be successful". And that difference is not whether or not someone is employable.

There are many activities that universities facilitate, which are of upmost importance to society, but are not vocationally important. These activities should not be undermined. If you want a vocational education, you really should be attending an institution with that goal.

The vast majority of people leverage their liberal arts education in furtherance of not only their career, but their quality of life in general. Narrowing that scope is a regression, not an improvement.

If vocational schools aren’t offering the types of educations that job seekers are looking for, that’s a a failure of our vocational schools, not a failure of our universities.


Many of these universities would state the point: university education enriches the mind, introducing students to a broad range of topics, perspectives, and readings that were pivotal to human history and human civilization. For example, at UChicago, the Core Curriculum has most of the students reading Das Kapital by Marx, a text with profound implications for the history of the 20th century.

I'm agnostic about the value of this: on the one hand, we need informed citizenry who can dissect media and think critically. On the other hand, we need practical skills and we don't need a massively indebted younger generation.

The DIRE push for undergraduate education in many K-12 schools has probably undervalued solid vocational training. What does it say that I'm now into woodworking and making things, but in my entire 22 year education, no one ever showed me how to use a single power tool.


The irony of putting people in debt in exchange for ordering them to read Das Capital. :)

I laughed so hard I almost spit out my coffee when I read this. Well done.

>on the one hand, we need informed citizenry who can dissect media and think critically

That isn't what universities are creating though. They're creating people who think one specific way about the world. The problem is that they only teach Marxist ideas about the 20th century, and you have to go elsewhere to get a balanced and realistic view of what actually happened. My humanities classes 20 years ago all glossed over the horrors of Stalin's gulags, the horrors of Mao's great leap forward, and all the death caused by Marxist ideas being put into practice at a wide scale in the 20th century. I had to learn about all these things from my history classes. My humanities classes were all talking about the evils of capitalism while glossing over the 20-100 million dead from starvation and exposure under totalitarian communist regimes. I can't imagine it's gotten any less biased and one sided in the past 20 years.


>My humanities classes 20 years ago all glossed over

>I had to learn about all these things from my history classes.

So the education provided you with multiple, different viewpoints, then. If you evaluate specific, individual classes, yes, you'll find a bias depending on the specific, individual faculty. I had faculty ranging from those who extolled the virtues of a strong-man in the white house, to those who wanted a complete anarchy.

I'm willing to bet most university/college educations contain a little bit of everything.

Or, put more simply, wide ranging viewpoints. . . .


Depending on how you define "a little bit of everything", you'd lose that bet. Colleges have always leaned left politically, but the viewpoint imbalance has been getting larger in recent years. The last study I read said that in social sciences, colleges average 17:1 liberal to conservative professors, whereas in previous decades it was around 4:1. My wife got out of teaching at college because the schools were more interested in pushing a far left ideology that appeals to college students than actually giving them a good education.

FWIW as a current _Political Science_ student, my only marxist professor thus far was muzzled by their department...

> The problem is that they only teach Marxist ideas about the 20th century

To you, what is a "Marxist idea" about the 20th century?

And if your teacher really did gloss over the crimes against humanity committed by Stalin / the USSR, Mao / the PRRC, then, well, that person was a poor teacher.


Sounds like your college did teach you a rounded viewpoint then?

Yeah what is this guy complaining about? Learning both sides is now "Propoganda"? They're clearly mad that they didn't experience an echo chamber.

Or teaching that math is racist...

If you want to learn humanities, you can pretty much read any book anytime in your life (in fact most of the teaching in humanities is just assigning books to read). I would say that there the value added of a college over an online reading list is marginal. For STEM, completely different story, it is very hard for someone who hasn’t been trained formally to pick it up later in one’s career.


>in fact most of the teaching in humanities is just assigning books to read

I don't know what college you went to, but at mine, reading was the homework, and the discussion on the books (even with the professor's inherent biases) in the class with my peers is what developed the profound thoughts and ideas that I still carry with me. Humanities might not contribute to jobs, (I'm STEM) but I don't for a second regret the philosophy classes I took.


A lot of this is dependent on class size and class level. It's not until you get to class sizes of less than 20 and at the 300 level and up classes that you get actual discussion instead of lecturing and leading questions. And even smaller class size and higher level isn't a guarantee of good critical dialogue.

I went to a large well ranked public university class in the United States, have both a STEM and non-STEM degree with over 200 credit hours over 4.5 years and I can think of exactly two humanities classes that had real discussions that weren't just being assigned books, largely uncritically accepting their contents and being lectured. Both classes with real dialogue were higher level classes with just over 10 people in them.

One class was about the intersection of art and technology and the other was a philosophy of science class.

There was way more critical thought and dialogue on average in my STEM classes.


> I would say that there the value added of a college over an online reading list is marginal.

If you can read through Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy and get everything out of it without help good on you, but I certainly couldn't.


If you want to learn humanities, you can pretty much read any book anytime in your life (in fact most of the teaching in humanities is just assigning books to read).

The pragmatic part of humanities is argumentation and writing. You can't get that from just reading.

What you're saying is like "the value of a computer science degree over just reading programming books is marginal." It's ignoring that the most important part of the learning happens in application.


Good luck with James Joyce's Ulysses ... or Samuel Beckett. Or Thomas Pynchon. Or -- the author you didn't even know existed until the domain expert (aka professor) assigned/suggested it.

Or, you know ... history?

Or even Shakespeare, for that matter. For some, a course makes reading such material hugely more enlightening.


You are describing a reading list.

> most of the teaching in humanities is just assigning books to read

To you, apparently, one book is as good as another?


>Or teaching that math is racist...

Can you elaborate further?


This is also happening in K12 schools. Seattle, which has a famously far-left leaning school system, is creating a plan to inject ethnic studies and progressive ideology into math classes: https://www.seattletimes.com/education-lab/new-course-outlin...


> no one ever showed me how to use a single power tool.

This is because using power tools is most of the time following safety protocols and reading the instruction manual. if you learned how to read well, you shouldn't need someone to teach you this (unless you're using highly specialized tools for niche situations, but that's more of vocational training)


What? There's a lot more to learning the intersection of power tools and a given craft area X than just how to not hurt yourself.

Why would I use a spade vs a single point vs a Forstner drill bit? When would I use a backer board? When would I use conventional cutting vs climb cutting? If I want to achieve tolerance X on face F, what should be my sequence of operations? How can I fixture this work to give me the best results? When is a circular saw vs a table saw vs a jig saw vs a mitre saw appropriate?


The cost of universities has also ballooned in both raw costs and risk adjusted terms in the last few decades, likely driving out most people who historically would have viewed their "opportunity cost" as worth it.

In the 1970s one could earn ~$2.75/hr as an entry level employee at a union job in a factory (~$20/hr today). UVA instate tuition and fees were only $484/yr, meaning that over a summer a student could earn ~2 years worth of tuition and fees.

At the time, spending the opportunity cost also opened doors just from having done it - substantially lowering the risk.


The costs really exploded in the past 15 or so years.

I'm in my mid-30s and managed to pay for the first two years of (community) college out of pocket while waiting tables. Quarterly tuition was ~$1500; I just cut a check at the registrar after scheduling my classes. By the time I went back for my BS a decade later, costs were closer to $10k per semester.


aye - The numbers I quoted were from my father's experience. I ended up carrying 1 years pay in non-dischargeable debt on graduation in 2010. Even on an accelerated payment schedule it took 10 years to fully pay down the debt. Paradoxically my initial inability to pay the debt nearly cost me my first job.

Sadly, you're no longer just buying an education. You're now forced to pay for an entire country club experience and all the administration required.

> The number of people that could justify the expense (or opportunity cost) to just learn something for pleasure, is miniscule

I disagree with that. Most people who enter college in "soft sciences" or "humanities" these days understand very well that it's a risky investment that will probably not get them rich, or not even get a job. Still they enroll into it, because the knowledge and understanding they seek, the relationship they want to build with the world, is not tied to the brand of their car or the size of their house.


a college freshman (or high school senior) may factually understand that their chosen major is very risky, but I don't think most of them are in a position to really understand the choice they are making. I knew a lot of people in highschool who bravely said they were willing to starve for their art (or other low expected income passion). it's an easy thing to say when you haven't yet had to grapple with the day-to-day experience of actually supporting yourself. several of these folks realized they were making a mistake halfway through college and pivoted. of the ones that finished the original degree, most of them had to find some unrelated work to make ends meet. I can't imagine the sense of regret that must come from paying off debt for a degree you don't even use.

> > And so it's not clear to me whether universities as we recognize them will continue to exist if we continue to view them as a jobs programs.

> They could not. And that's a good thing. Humanities are a mess just for the reason that they take tuition and time from students and leave them hanging out to dray, after they graduate with no direct job prospects (i.e. a way to make a living).

Why is that a good thing? Just because the humanities don't funnel into jobs the way STEM does doesn't mean that they should cease to exist. Every book you've read, movie you've watched, song you've listened to, play you've seen, etc. has been a direct result of our journey through the humanities, and I'm positive nobody thinks those forms of entertainment should just "cease to exist". It's the same thing for countless other fields of study universities offer. The problem is not that these fields don't have the ROI of STEM, it's that the cost of education is way too fucking high.


Every book you've read, movie you've watched, song you've listened to, play you've seen, etc. has been a direct result of our journey through the humanities, and I'm positive nobody thinks those forms of entertainment should just "cease to exist".

Ah yes, but how many of these would require obtaining a 4-year degree with 6-figure debt?

In the words of Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting “You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.”


Maybe we should question why colleges charge 6-figures for an education like that. Instead of trying to get rid of it entirely.

You’d learn more about the humanities by traveling for a year, than spending 4 years being lectured to by ivory tower academics.

Perhaps we should allow the Peace Corps to grant 4-year degrees? I feel like that would give you the best of both worlds.


And yet he attended Harvard, until acting picked up. You also kind of reinforced the actual point he was making - the preppy douchebag didn’t actually understand the material he was quoting. Rather, he had just memorized a bunch of stuff, which without comprehension, provides little value.

Yes and unfortunately thats the humanities education that most students get. How to game the system through rote memorization in order to get a high GPA so they can get into grad school.

Sure there are exceptions to the rule, just like how there are people who have contributed greatly to the humanities without stepping foot in a degree granting institution.


Did Shakespeare have a four year humanities degree?

Although no attendance records for the period survive, most biographers agree that Shakespeare was probably educated at the King's New School in Stratford,[19][20][21] a free school chartered in 1553,[22] about a quarter-mile (400 m) from his home. Grammar schools varied in quality during the Elizabethan era, but grammar school curricula were largely similar: the basic Latin text was standardised by royal decree,[23][24] and the school would have provided an intensive education in grammar based upon Latin classical authors.[25]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare#Early_life


Newton did. If a BA and MA count as humanities degrees.

Democracy requires an educated population. If you want to live in a democratic society, then subsidizing education is pretty much a requirement.

It's the amount/level of subsidized education that is up for debate, not education in general.

That might be the case, but to me it's not much different than saying that it is the amount of democracy that is up for debate.

People who want to end democracy rarely say so, it is always just "a little less than it is now".

Same for education, where would you draw the line?


> The number of people that could justify the expense (or opportunity cost) to just learn something for pleasure, is miniscule.

When you make this argument for college, it seems reasonable to also ask “is grade 12 the ideal point at which this fitness function is optimized for most?” Maybe it should be after grade 14. Maybe it should be after grade 10.


> What else would it be for the vast majority of people?

Its supposed to be to attain an education, but judging from the communication capabilities of many college graduates education was clearly not the top priority.

> Humanities are a mess just for the reason that they take tuition and time from students and leave them hanging out to dray, after they graduate with no direct job prospects (i.e. a way to make a living).

If you wanted job prospects you would instead focus upon a professional license, which is not education. In addition to better job prospects it's also cheaper and substantially less time consuming to attain.


> If you wanted job prospects you would instead focus upon a professional license, which is not education.

At least in the US, too many fields rely on the degree as the professional license, so there's no alternative.


Right. Because originally universities were for the ruling and religious class that could justify the expense of education for its own sake.

That doesn't sound right to me. That may have been partly true, but education was also just necessary training because the jobs demanded literacy and other specialized training.


Values have changed. Universities were one only for the rich. Students were only of slightly above average intelligence (Jordan Peterson mentions this). Some time in the 20th century (I'm guessing 50's or 60's) we recognised the importance of education, and universities changed from being a place of the financial elite to more of a place of the intellectual elite.

In the 70's, and earlier parts of the 80's, a university degree was your passport to a job. You had a university degree. You KNEW something. In the UK students were given a grant.

As the saying goes, what a wise man does in the beginning, a fool does in the end. Time passed, this mindset persisted, but things changed. The whole thing became increasingly commoditised, universities now seem less like seats of learning and more like commercial enterprises, with people talking all manner of crap about "return on investment". Graduation fees were tagged on and students nickeled-and-dimed at every opportunity.

The US seems to be particularly egregious in that respect.

The whole thing has become a fiasco. Universities and governments want to keep the game going as long as possible, with young people being suckered into enormous debt on the premise that they'll get a good job out of it. That premise is looking increasingly sketchy.

What "should" happen, IMO, is a return to the 70's. School pupils should get a good educational grounding through O levels. You can then get a job, or pursue further education either with an academic bent (A levels) or a vocational bent. For the really bright, the possibility of university exists. For the less bright, but those who want to pursue skilled professions requiring a lot of knowledge, there is (or at least was) Polytechnics.

We don't have that, though. What we have is a monstrosity of a system that still seems to be able to sustain itself despite common sense dictating that it is no longer fit for purpose.

How long can this continue? I don't know. I do hope it collapses, though. We need a better system than the one we've got at the moment.


> Humanities are a mess just for the reason that they take tuition and time from students and leave them hanging out to dray, after they graduate with no direct job prospects (i.e. a way to make a living).

It seems like this is a rumor that refuses to die. Humanities majors do just fine.

According to a 2018 ACS survey,[0] humanities majors are looking at 2.13% unemployment, which is comparable to other fields. The same survey shows that people who majored in the humanities earn comparable salaries to their peers in other disciplines.[1]

A 2014 study in Forbes found that humanities majors go on to earn even more than their peers in other disciplines as they all advance on their chosen career paths.[2]

I'm curious why the image of the deadbeat humanist persists, especially in an era where we need people who have been trained to look at potentially misleading information, identify why it is misleading, and point us towards better sources. Rampant misinformation in this social media age has shown us that "the facts" are much more slippery than anyone would like, and we need people who have been trained in the subjective arts of parsing contradictory information and -- even more importantly -- justifying their interpretation to others.

[0]: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ld4Ki99C_0WFUcyBXyix...

[1]: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ld4Ki99C_0WFUcyBXyix...

[2]: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffreydorfman/2014/11/20/surpr...


The ideal that gave birth to the university in the form that we recognize it was tied to the fact that until very recently, the university was an intellectual playground for the wealthy. Most of these folks either didn't need to work for a living or already had good jobs waiting for them via well-established social connections among their fellow elite.

The vast majority of people need to work for a living and need practical skills that others are willing to pay them for. The idea that the university should exist for "learning for the sake of learning", and the idea that "everyone should go to college" is incompatible. You can have one, you can have the other, you can't realistically have both.

If you want to learn for the sake of learning (I know I do), there's never been a better time to do it. The average person with a $200 laptop and an internet connection has access to more and better information than a Harvard graduate student did 50 years ago. We need to rid ourselves of the notion that college == education and that education == college. At this point a college degree is mainly just proof that you are diligent and were able to follow directions for four years while meeting deadlines.


I think university should exist for “learning for the sake of learning” and that “everyone should go to college.” I don’t think it’s incompatible. I think someone becoming more educated has a lot of positive externalities. I think the list of positive externalities is so great that we should provide free tuition, room, board, and even a stipend to anyone willing and able to attend college. This should be funded from tax dollars, and seen as an investment in people. All of the money _will_ be returned by increased tax revenue from a more educated populous but this is just a side effect. The real benefit comes from having a more educated community capable of a high level of critical thinking.

I think you're largely right, but it's a very tough sell, particularly because of the opportunity cost. It's easy to make the case that learning is valuable in its own right, but it becomes much tougher to say, "learning is valuable in its own right so we should spend more money on it instead of spending that money on pressing and immediate issue X".

Let me sell it to you.

On average a college graduate will have one million dollars more of lifetime earnings than a high school graduate. This one million dollars will be taxed at at least twelve percent federally. Twelve percent is a very conservative estimation on the federal tax rate of that money. This means the federal tax revenue of a college grad is at least one hundred and twenty thousand dollars more than a high school graduate. The average net price of a public college education with room, board, fees, and tuition is fifteen thousand four hundred dollars a year, or just under sixty two thousand dollars for four years.

In four years the federal government spends $62,000 to send someone to college.

Over their lifetime the federal government receives $120,000 back.

Today we create jobs for staff, professors, admins, etc at university. Tomorrow we have a more educated and skilled workforce.

Of course, what I really want is for my fellow citizens to be more well read, better critical thinkers, and better informed citizens. Sometimes the best way to sell someone on something isn’t to focus on what you want out of the deal.


> On average a college graduate will have one million dollars more of lifetime earnings than a high school graduate.

This does not scale. Adding more college degrees does not make that many more productive jobs exist. It just moves the education bar higher for the jobs that do.

College degrees quadrupled since the 1960s. Productive jobs haven't. We already have an oversupply of degree holders working at Starbucks.

The stark reality is that the human race doesn't and can't have enough aggregate demand to productively employ everybody. The necessities of life - food, housing, medical - really only take about 10% of the population to produce and supply. Maybe another 20% in productivity-adjacent areas like finance and government services and other administration. Everything else is leisure and service economy, and there isn't infinite demand for that.


>On average a college graduate will have one million dollars more of lifetime earnings than a high school graduate.

Does that statistic account for greater starting wealth of college entrants?


Is going to college the cause of someone earning more? Or is the type of person that goes to college someone who inherently will earn more money regardless of the education level they receive? Seems to me if you took Harvard students (and not the legacy/donor admits) and had them stop at a high school education, they'd still do way better than other non-college graduates.

How many people did you know in school who were there for the education? Everyone I knew in my engineering program was there for the degree to get a good job, only 1 or 2 people I ever met genuinely wanted to understand the material, and it was kind of strange upon first realizing that. This was in a top state university.

I studied computer science at a state university. It is fully accredited, but otherwise has very little prestige.

Maybe 25% of the students in the program were there to learn how to make video games. They weren’t there to get a job in making video games. They weren’t there because there is money in making video games. They were there because they wanted to know enough about computer programming to make video games, and everyone had ideas about what type of game they wanted to make.


Disagree on the "playground" historical note students hundreds of years ago would probably not agree at all, basically since life back then was tougher for everyone including elite compared to tosay. Somewhat agree with 2d and 3d paragraphs though

That's because college-as-increasing-earnings-potential is the simplest way to rationalise taking on a lifetime of debt.

Spending $100,000 to boost your income by $20,000 per year for life is a very simple argument.

On the other hand, to argue a manual labourer with a $100,000 philosophy degree that didn't boost their income at all had nonetheless made a good investment requires much more complex arguments about the nature of human happiness and the inherent value of knowledge to the individual and society. Which in turn leads to a wealth of follow-on questions which can't be answered with any finality.


Consider knowledge as a strict tradeoff against things like interesting vacations and buying a house N years earlier, and it's genuinely tricky. Would you trade buying a house at 30 with less knowledge of liberal arts for buying a house at 40 and knowing a BS worth of liberal arts?

Luckily (unluckily) the decision is easier because to buy a house at 30, you likely need the degree too, so the question is flipped.


Philosophy majors are about the only humanities major with a marketable skill: actual skills in critical thinking and not largely an illusion of critical thinking

As such they do better financially than other humanities majors:

https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2015/09/philosophy-majors-...


Yeah, I mean I'd say that a philosophy degree shouldn't cost 100k and that's the problem.

I mean, universities were born out of the need to train Christian ministers in the faith. Even the earliest American universities were of that form; Harvard was founded by the Massachussets colony to train clergymen.

So in a sense, they were always jobs programs. If today they seem secular, it's because society was able to reshape the institution over time. For example, the Morril Act, which established the land grant universities, made it's utilitarian purpose explicit:

> without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.

But it's not clear to me that universities _should_ exist as we commonly imagine them. Why are the worlds top researchers presumed to be the worlds top educators, when we have all the evidence in the world they are not and generally believe being recognized as a good educator is a career curse? And even if they were at least good at the job of educating, why are there 100+ courses independently designed without meaningful comparison?


You're right, but I'd say that the damage has been done.

There was an ugly truth even to the ideal that it allowed scions of rich families to network - so even when it was a jobs program in neither practise nor theory it upped one's chances of success later in life dramatically.

Once that game was known, the attendant success became desired and colleges were flooded with applicants. Colleges optimised for large numbers of undergraduates motivated by socioeconomic mobility, their marketing efforts and staffing levels are optimised for that reality.

I'm not sure when you encountered universities, but I was never aware of them being marketed as anything but jobs programs, and I'm closer to an X'er than a Zoomer.


What's interesting to me is that so many people believe that tertiary education should be nothing more than a jobs program, but they're happy to let students "waste" time in secondary and primary school on useless (for an office job) activities like sports, camping and reading fiction books.

The vast, vast majority of high school graduates aren't going to be professional athletes. But everyone (I hope) understands that we don't have PE in schools just so that schools can supply professional sports leagues with athletes. We have it because it helps people live better lives, even if it doesn't prepare them for a job.


> that's not the ideal that gave birth to the university in the form that we recognize it

True but originally it was just a small subset of people that went to university.


Starkly, incredibly small.

>that's not the ideal that gave birth to the university in the form that we recognize it.

I get it when people say this, but at the same time, I don't. Why are you basing the effectiveness of the institution in modern times on what it was designed for half a millennia ago? The world has changed since universities were introduced. Do you do the same thing with other institutions that were around at the same time? Do you talk about how marriage customs were different in the middle ages and what we call marriage now is not originally in the spirit of marriage the way it was practiced in the middle ages? Do you talk about how the catholic church was run in the middle ages and how organized religion is different now, and how we should consider what religion was used for centuries ago? Why are universities some special exception that get to be downright reactionary and not move forward with the times?


In the late 1990s my school sold itself mostly as a way to get a high paying job. There was a clear disconnect between admissions (the salespeople), the professors, and the students.

The salespeople: College is a way to get a high paying job.

The professors: College is about exploring academic subjects.

The students: College is a rite of passage to be part of the upper-middle-class.

IMO, the only way to fix the system is to be stricter about who gets into college, and more lenient about who's hired for professional jobs. Also, we need more trade schools.


I always get a lot of pushback when I express this sentiment but I think you're spot on. To me, this situation is another symptom of the weakening social contract I see between societies and their citizens. The responsibility of a society to educate its populace extends beyond mere vocation. It's frighteningly naive and optimistic for societies to assume that flattening that responsibility to such a small fraction will not result in horrific second order consequences.

This sort of thinking that “universities are only a function to get jobs” is the sort of thinking that can allow other countries to supersede the technological and scientific advancements of that particular country, because so little emphasis is put in higher learning and research. This dismissal of higher education and research is a bit troubling.

Sure, this country with that thinking might be able to attract the best talent from other countries to innovate and do research, but politically it might not be wise to always count on it.

When a populous has the mindset of dismissing universities and education to just get a job, then don’t be surprised when they fail to keep up with the latest advances in AI and science.


The human mind is one of the most wonderful things in the whole known universe. That we have saddled most of them with meaningless toil and vapid entertainment is disappointing.

The shift to the right coincides with a decades long attack on academia and intellectualism. Change incentives, allow the structures to corrode and the weight to shift and the bridge will come down on its own.

If one is only outcome based and based on simple linear line of sight, we will never make the discoveries. But if that statement is outcome based, we should be settings these minds free to discover everything they can, not just STEM advancements.


> The shift to the right coincides with a decades long attack on academia and intellectualism.

This is a comforting narrative for leftists, but it's objectively false.

The attacks on academia and "intellectualism" (isn't it interesting how progressives presume a monopoly on this, just as they do on progress?) are a reaction to the exploitation of the academy as a tool for political indoctrination.

Individuals with openly right-wing beliefs are personas non grata on faculty, in administrations, etc. There's a reason for that. The left is desperate to maintain its stranglehold on one of the major sense-making organs of the culture - and its stranglehold on the ability to socially engineer the next generation of educated professionals.


It shouldn't surprise you, public schools and universities sell themselves as jobs programs. Ignorance is not an excuse, and I'm going to go ahead and venture a guess that your surprise comes from arrogance and not ignorance. "We need to be careful" is not a solution. The article itself is about the fact that universities are dying out, so you being "unclear" on the abstract nature of western education itself doesn't add anything to the conversation.

Then why do jobs say "BACHELORS DEGREE REQUIRED"

The "ideal that gave birth to the university in the form that we recognize it" is inherently aristocratic.

If the financial investment in university doesn't provide social mobility, if it's a nebulous "preparation for citizenship," then you're essentially asserting, by default, that people who are blind to the financial ROI of university are better citizens.


I'd argue that universities as we recognize them are already an unstable hybrid of their original purpose with jobs programs. Institutions of pure academic curiosity are valuable, but not so valuable that the US needs thousands of them, so a return to the original vision would probably mean closing most colleges.

Care to elaborate on how football and basketball fit into your view of "higher education"?

Responses to your insightful post demonstrate why we'll never achieve Roddenberry's dream of a post-scarcity economy. Because in my day I walked 100 miles in the snow so I could get to school to study and become an engineer to pay the bills.

Higher education is seen as a means of both economic AND social mobility. I think most economic models fail to capture the latter. This explains why so many people get into debt to attend a “prestigious “ university for little apparent financial gain.

So long as universities are charging tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for degrees that employers are requiring, university will always be a jobs program. It's very sad, particularly since it's not a very good one at that.

If colleges are simultaneously marketed for the average person and carry large bills (not just in $$ but in taking 4 years of your life), they better be jobs programs at a bare minimum.

I agree with you, but unfortunately our government is using them for that purpose.

The ideals -- "liberal arts" -- were agreements about what enabled people to live a "free" life.

We've lost those as ideals. Instead, we interpret all the liberal arts through racialist-socialist lens, and find they required us to adopt norms outside ourselves.

The ideal we do hold together is hating authority and norms outside ourselves -- whether that's racial, religious, political, sexual, biological, musical, literary, fashion, filmmaking, etc. Just Do It. Have It Your Way. Think different.

So, the jobs part is the part we hold in common. The ideals dispute is leading to violent protests in the streets.


Then don't charge 60k per year LOL

I'm sure the reasons for this trend are incredibly complex, but I suspect that undergraduate degrees are increasingly failing to accurately signal competence, pushing those wishing to distinguish themselves to pursue graduate studies.

So many factors are leading to increased number of undergraduate degrees... not limited to degree mills, grade inflation, standardized testing, and availability of virtually everything in undergrad curriculum available for "reference" online. This simultaneously increases the number of undergraduate degrees while decreasing the average quality. Institutions that rely on the formerly strong "has a degree" signal are finding that the signal is weakening. Undergraduates now failing to signal are somewhat forced to pursue more education.

I see the same thing happening with masters degrees. Universities seem to increasingly offer combined BS and MS programs. I don't believe strong MS students are formed by tacking on just an extra year to a BS program.

Finally, another observation on STEM fields: due to the funding situation and glut of PhD's it appears to be incredibly difficult to build a solid STEM career without a PhD. Undergrads in certain STEM areas try to leave university only to find out that they actually need more credentials to meaningfully work in the field they just spent 4 years studying for.


Your point about PhDs is spot on. I’m increasingly seeing job postings with PhD asks for software and ent architecture roles that don’t seem to articulate the need for the PhD. Anecdotally it seems PhDs are also getting dragged into the credential race.

Hiring someone who's spent ten years in academia to design the architecture of real-world systems sounds like a very reliable way of getting terrible architectures. What are they smoking, are people with actual experience just way too expensive?

PhDs seem to me to be for quantifiable knowledge. They imbue highly specialised skills and imply a huge understanding of technical literature. But they structurally can't imbue skills that are nebulous. They can only teach things that are either consensus, or easy to evaluate academically.


You're confusing a Ph.D with an extension of a BS.

A Ph.D requires independent creation of new knowledge, and being able to go deep in a field. That's neither consensus, nor easy to evaluate academically. It's far more nebulous than most industry work. In many cases, they also require deep algorithmic and mathematical maturity.

A freshly-brewed Ph.D isn't going to be an expert in the mechanics of software engineering (e.g. setting up CI/CD, microservices, etc.), but will outclass most people with BS degrees in other areas. 5-10 years down-the-line, they will pick up the applied skills, while the BS won't pick up the theoretical skills.

Ph.D is also a signalling mechanisms: They were admitted, and they finished.

I'm not arguing for or against Ph.Ds, but your stereotypes seem grounded in, well, nothing. Ph.Ds have their problems, but those ain't them.


The knowledge created by a PhD by definition has to be evaluated academically. If it can't be evaluated by peers, it can't be published.

I don't mean this in a superficial sense, I mean: there's no way for a PhD to be certified for investigating the kind of knowledge that's difficult to verify in that context. They can investigate it, but the system is only allowed to give them a qualification for academically verifiable results. It cannot verify esoteric knowledge (unless it can use consensus as a proxy).

Sure, they'll pick that stuff up with experience. We might be talking past each other. I read it as: they're hiring graduates. That might not be what OP meant.


The evaluation process is quite sophisticated, with thesis committees, talks, reviews, etc.

That's much more sophisticated than for software engineers. I'm not trying to imply SEs are evaluated by sprint planning points and velocity, but a lot of that comes down to sprint planning points and velocity. Beyond that, you have performance reviews, and I've never been in a company which did that well.

Code reviews are nice. But even a lot of that is pattern matching sanity checks, little better than a lint program, when a team is rushed.

I mean, do Ph.Ds know how to architect maintainable code? Perhaps not. Have they been encultured in a culture which rewards cowboy individualistic douchebags? Without a doubt. Are they arrogantly convinced of their own superiority? For the first few years after graduating, at least from the "better" schools, more likely than not, yes.

But I think your comments about lacking esoteric knowledge are completely off-base. Ph.Ds thrive on esoteric knowledge.


Maybe that will at least encourage some US universities to offer shorter PhDs like in Europe, where one year masters degree followed by two years PhD for a total of three years postgraduate isn't uncommon.

This comment doesn't seem grounded in reality.

In Europe it is far more common to have 1.5-2 year masters degrees (half a year saved by overloading) followed by a 3-4 year PhD. It is almost a universal truth that a PhD shouldn't take less than 3 years unless there are exceptional circumstances.

I honestly can't believe any credible university is turning bachelor degree students into doctors within 3 years. Would love to see an example.


Even Terence Tao needed 4 years to get his PhD: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terence_Tao

I don't know any three year examples. I'm sure there are PhD degree mill spots that'll give you the degree in a couple of years if you pay enough.


I know a few people who finished in 3 years from top universities. It’s possible but something of a stars aligning situation.

I have never heard of 2 year phds anywhere in Europe and I'm in European academia, working a lot in European projects so I have quite a bit of exposure to academic cultures across the continent. Nominal time is 4 years, 3 years is already something special. And a masters doesn't count towards this, not having a masters is basically not having finished your studies, nobody I know would hire a phd student straight out of their bachelors.

Yeah, this is completely inaccurate, as other comments are also saying. Indeed, PhDs are shorter in Europe, but getting a PhD in 2 years is not just uncommon, but next to impossible. Credible universities won't even let you defend that early (bar exceptional circumstances). Never mind 3 years, most students go well into their 4th (occasionally 5th) year to finish. The difference with the US being that in Europe the funding typically runs out after 3/4 years, so after that students have to "improvise".

That really depends on the country. For exact sciences in the Netherlands, two year master degree followed by a 4 year PhD degree are the norm.

Same in Austria.

2 year PhDs? That sounds like a Master of Philosophy. Maybe in Europe PhDs are easier because you require the extra step of habilitation.

As I understand it, in Europe they give phd students canned projects to work on, which are designed to only take a couple years. It's just the whole plan of how long they want it to take. In the US doing a project of that size may be enough to get by at some schools, but it generally isn't supposed to be.

It's absurd to try to say how it is in Europe. You can't even say how it is overall in Germany. There are various different arrangements with companies, research centers like Max Planck, universities, some are full (state) employee positions, some are half, some give stipends, some take 3 years, some 4 or 5, some make you teach courses, some don't.

Depends on country, field, particular university or company, even the department. So you can't generalize over a whole continent.


I am not sure what you are referring to, but a PhD in Europe takes 3/4 years. They are generally organised such that you are tied to a single supervisor/research group, which might be where the confusion comes from? They are by no means canned projects, at least as far I know.

I remember hearing this back in high school:

Bachelors are the new high school diploma, cause “everyone” has a diploma

Masters are the new Bachelors, cause you need one to live a comfortable lifestyle

PhDs are the new Masters, to stand out amongst the rest

Of course, I don’t agree with some of that statement, but it does hold some truths.


Some 90% of people have a high school diploma now. All it means at this point is that you were not thrown out of school or locked in jail, and even then a lot of those people have it.

If someone said "I have a high school diploma" to you, what could you reasonably infer about their skills and abilities? Next to nothing.


The value from a degree arises from the fact that it is difficult and you can fail to acquire one. If everyone has a degree then not only does the signaling component of the degree disappear, the competitive advantage is also disappearing because everyone has the same baseline of competence. Electrical engineering or software engineering might be lucrative industries but only because companies can't fill all their openings. Once there are more workers than jobs we get the usual "McDonalds" hiring patterns.

This sounds like the actual problem is lack of jobs and bad economy. The employers are increasingly picky in their selection of people and people compete for increasingly higher degrees.

If economy was good, employers would have to be less picky, leading to people more likely to decide they dont need to compete over signaling.


It was actually getting better too until COVID. The labor market was tight and wages were rising, even in more rural areas.

> This sounds like the actual problem is lack of jobs and bad economy.

Prominently a lack of the factory production kind of work, I'd say.

So you keep people in school system(s) as long as possible. For people who would previously have gone to a factory after leaving school at age 16 or 18, you now keep them and give them a high-school+2y or +3y degree (it is free), and you release them only at 21-22 years old, they will be some random clerk performing some random procedure in some random client service or administration.

1. While they're in schools, they don't grow the unemployed figures.

2. Degrees guarantee a better chance for employment, they say. It is a stupid fallacy because it is only a comparative advantage, and when everyone gets one, even the advantage is gone.

So now, in France, by widening and easying them, we reached 95% of "success" for high-school degrees (which also grant access for universities). Also, high-school has become the almost unique way, so overall 80% of all kids get one of the high-school degrees every year. So, technically speaking, it means we're giving the high-school degree to a few light morons (or whatever it is called these days).

Cherry on the cake, they now finish high-school without having repeated any year (now, you can sleep your way through your whole primary/middle/high school career without repeating, no matter how little you do and you know, as long as you are not an exceptional PITA), so they are even less mature, which is another problem for practical and technical paths.

One big issue is that all those people at different levels think that they are valuable because they got a degree of some level. Except the degrees are valueless, and they are plenty of these people being given licences or master degrees. So there is a huge gap between what they think they will get (status and salary-wise)and what they will actually get.

----

There is however a big difference between France and a lot of other countries: in France, good pupils do not go to University ; after high-school the top 5% (perhaps up to 10% now) goes on a path to Engineering schools (and similar paths for humanities) through competitive exams. One major consequence is that, opposite to most countries, the PhD does not represent the "elite" here. Of course there are gateways going one way or the other between the two systems, but still, the paths are pretty separated (and the gateways are mostly used to allow a few good ones from University that were missed earlier, to join Engineering schools after 2 and 4 years of University) and University/PhD is not considered the royal path. Actually, 40 % of PhDs are delivered to foreigners.


PhD is not specifically elite thing, PhD is specifically learn to be researcher education. As in generally being PhD and being engineer are two very different things. In areas where PhD is hard, they are also seen as proof that you are hard capable worker. Are you sure that seeking "royal path" and competition between PhD with Engineering is not a French artifact?

> Masters are the new Bachelors

And then you have people like this (https://blog.alinelerner.com/how-different-is-a-b-s-in-compu...) saying that a Masters degree is an indicator of incompetence...


In my experience, not all masters are created equal. When looking at resumes I like to differentiate between research track MS (basically, the first years of a PhD) and "classes only" masters. The former typically ends with a thesis and for CS the latter is typically aimed at folks doing a career change after an unrelated undergrad.

Now, there's nothing wrong with doing a CS masters to make a career change, but these masters indeed tend to have lighter curriculum than the undergrad version of a CS diploma.


What is the new PhD? Assistant prof? Ivy League PhD?

Postdoc

Absolutely. It's almost unheard of to work at a major academic institution without one. Becoming a professor is all preparation from 18-30, and then was an assistant you still have to grind and run errands to "earn your place".

Nobel Prize :-)

I agree that the signaling ratio of undergraduate degrees is low, but I suspect that's been true for a long time. The education is too unfocused, and employers no longer want to train people. So any degree must have you work-ready. General education is great for conversational ability, but useless for work, especially in STEM.

As for requiring PhDs - I have built my career without a CS degree at all. But I've worked with a lot of PhDs, and I think the signaling ratio they offer isn't any better than undergraduate degrees, I've worked with too many semi-competent, lazy PhDs to let them hold much weight with me.

Some of the best people I've worked with were those who dropped out of their PhD programs; it seems these people didn't care for the academic publishing circus, but were passionate about the work. But again, it's a poor signal.

The best signals are work experience and references - which doesn't help much for entry-level positions. But it does lend credence to programs that incorporate co-ops and other work-like experience.


On your last point, I would like to comment so anyone coming here feeling discouraged: I am at a mid-sized biotech and manage a team of 15, one has a masters, and all the others started right out of college with BS degrees. I look for right out of college BS degree holders! The key to finding these types of jobs is moving to a city with a robust industry because it means there is a ton of upper level jobs that need supporting help.

My company is headquartered in Cambridge, MA, but the main campus is now in Norwood, MA (30 min outside Boston). There are more jobs than you'd expect within 1h rail commute of cheap housing. If you're about to graduate with a BS in biochem, chem eng, or mol. bio, drop me a line. I would love to help you discuss your career!


There are more jobs than you'd expect within 1h rail commute of cheap housing

The Boston area has among the most restrictive zoning regimes in the country and that's consistently driven up the cost of housing: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-06-19/how-to-bl...

The cost of housing is driving up the cost of salaries. Until Boston/Cambridge/Somerville and so forth build more housing, housing is going to remain very expensive relative to locations that have legalized the building of housing.


How much of this is just that most people coming out of these institutions are not prepared for the jobs they're applying for? A programmer with two years experience in industry is probably better than the same programmer coming out of a two-year masters.

Like, from what I can tell, most BSc graduates... suck. They're not able to program professionally, they damage your codebase. The credential just isn't a signal of adequate ability. Any hiring managers able to chip in here?


>A programmer with two years experience in industry is probably better than the same programmer coming out of a two-year masters.

There's a possibility the programmer who did the masters was simply unable to get a job after his BSc.

>Like, from what I can tell, most BSc graduates... suck. They're not able to program professionally, they damage your codebase. The credential just isn't a signal of adequate ability. Any hiring managers able to chip in here?

You can't expect college hires to be productive on day one. There's a learning curve between programming in college and programming professionally. If you want guys that have already completed this learning curve, you need to hire them with a few years of experience.

But keep in mind that right after college is the only time where almost everyone will be on the job market at the same time. After that, some of the best engineers simply disappear. FAANGs hire them and they basically never actively look for a job after that. [0]

[1] https://www.inc.com/magazine/20070501/column-guest.html


These are interesting points.

>There's a possibility the programmer who did the masters was simply unable to get a job after his BSc.

Yeah, that would skew the data completely. Especially if you don't stratify by institution.

>You can't expect college hires to be productive on day one.

To be clear, I don't disagree with this, I'm just looking at it from the persective of employers. Why hire them if you need to retain them for a year or two before they're worth the salary? You need to pump money into them that whole time? Just hire people with experience to begin with.

But like, that's also where this debate normally goes and I think it's the less important point: the bigger issue is the credential is not preparing graduates properly. People should be angry about that, and demand it changes. They should be told that up front, before they purchase.

>the best engineers simply disappear. FAANGs hire them and they basically never actively look for a job after that

This is interesting. I hadn't thought about it in these terms.


>Just hire people with experience to begin with.

Everyone tries. That's why you see entry level positions with 2-3 years experience requirements and entry level pay. Of course, these stay empty for years since nobody bites!

To get someone with experience in a reasonable amount of time takes money. Also, keep in mind that the engineers with 2 years of experience might be looking for an other job because of performance issues at their current one. Those who are learning fast and getting promoted aren't looking around.

>the bigger issue is the credential is not preparing graduates properly

The most important skill is really how fast someone can learn. I've always said it's harder to learn CS fundamentals than the tools and practical aspect of software. Someone who is comfortable with graphs and trees should be able to figure out git pretty fast. Someone who rote learned git commands and knows one workflow might not be able to figure out graphs that easily.

>This is interesting. I hadn't thought about it in these terms.

It's actually worse than that. With internships some engineers are off the market a few years before they even graduate. And then accept a full time offer with a 4 years vesting schedule that makes it incredibly hard to poach them.


It’s a spectrum. Some are brilliant and incredibly motivated while being humble and open to learning. Others not so much. I’d say the majority aren’t very good out of the box. And I include myself in that category when I started in the industry.

Mentoring is important and finding the people in your org that enjoy doing that and are good at it is the challenge. I’ve also found as a manager you need to find some quick wins for the new professional. Low risk things that get them experience with you services and systems.

Here is what I find most difficult for new devs in the workforce: understanding what the business does. Going beyond the technical abstractions and understanding the nuance of the business. Our best devs are in lockstep with the business side of things. They know how to translate business requirements into technical requirements. And they understand at a higher level how the business functions.


Are you just drawing from devs you've worked with/hired?

(Not meaning to be rude, just that they're already going to be way above average.)


Yeah it's all anecdotal. I haven't conducted a study across the industry or anything. Just my experience and observations/thoughts.

Agreed in most part

The only winning move is not to play. See what's best for you and don't worry about the alleged perks of a "better university" so much (especially not so much as to get into crippling debt)

Universities want your money but it's not educational quality that's bringing students, it's the fluff, the facilities and the "connections". Meanwhile some janitors are making more than some faculty members.

And you can definitely build a stem career without a PhD, don't buy into the hype


The epidemic has obscured the biggest problem faced by the higher education industry: it's far too expensive.

For the last couple of decades the industry has been in a debt-fueled frenzy of higher executive pay and shinier facilities. The debt has been incurred not by the service providers but by their customers.

People graduate with good preparation to be a schoolteacher, health-care worker, librarian, social worker. That's great. They graduate with many tens of thousands of dollars of debt. That cripples them and messes up their lives.

The so-called reform of the bankruptcy system in 2005 made it hard for graduates to declare bankruptcy. That shifted the risk from the lenders to the graduates.

There was a time when student-loan officers would call university executives and say "Jack here wants to borrow $70,000 to pay your tuition so he can be a schoolteacher. Are you serious? We both know that's far too much debt for the pay he expects. We'll loan him $30K, and you better come up with the rest in grants or lower tuition." Those conversations kept a lid on education prices.

But that doesn't happen any more. Education lenders are dangerous predators and students are their lawful prey. No wonder would-be students are refusing to play the game.


> Education lenders are dangerous predators

Which is the US government, who will rubber stamp any loan amount as long as a college is getting the money. Which is eventually the US voters’, who love to vote for the politicians who cut taxes, who can do so by reducing the amount government contributes to the the colleges.

Politician that cuts spending on education and increases lending to students is hailed for cutting taxes and assisting students in obtaining education. This is the end result after decades of gutting society.


Both private institutions and the government are student loan lenders in the US. The government also guarantees a lot of private loans.

It's good to clarify which lenders you're referring to when you say "Education lenders are dangerous predators". Do you think that the Federal government is enabling private lenders by guaranteeing their loans?


> The government also guarantees a lot of private loans.

No, they don't. A rider to the ACA removed government subsidies of private loans. The federal government is now solely an issuer (though I believe their portfolio still includes some loans that were originally private but later bought out by the government).


I did a Google search and found multiple sources that support "The federal government fully guarantees almost all student loans." One example: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/08121...

Seems like you're talking about government subsidies. I was talking about government loan guarantees.


It's also important to point out that state governments are contributing less and less to public education across the board, which also impacts the financial situation of public universities.[0]

Universities see the writing on the wall: that state money is dwindling and therefore more financial burden needs to be placed on students. I agree with your main points, though.

0: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/state-colleges-receive-the...


Isn’t the average student loan debt ~$36k? That’s not much more than a new car. And there’s income based repayment. And it gets forgiven after 20 years. The interest rates aren’t too bad (I recall having one at 6%).

I really don’t see what all the fuss is about.


The only actual skill I gained in college came from my own efforts outside of class. I paid for the chance to be in a learning environment on my own for several years.

I looked at going back to school for about a year and and no matter how I spun the numbers I wouldn't be able to afford it. I dont have the time, space or likely the coherency to explain it all in a single HN comment, but the way the costs were structured and the financial aid system struck me as quite blunty, incredibly stupid.

I hate to say this as most of my income is from teaching at a University, but this pandemic has shown us that you can get a quality education remotely. Also, most of college can be learned free online or in books these days. The only real value anymore are the friends you make who will one day be people who will help you get work.

If people really wanted to learn, they could have been auditing courses. The obvious reality is that most students don't 'learn' much, and it doesn't matter. You needn't fear, because your university (like all the others) is in the business of providing a scarce resource (degrees).

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Case_Against_Education#:...


I’m a bit confused by this - are you asking people who have an otherwise full course load to additionally audit courses or asking people out of school to continue education by auditing courses?

Maybe I’m a bit of an outlier, but I still watch lecture series on YouTube long after graduating college and didn’t really have time to audit courses alongside my other courses in college.


I'm saying they could audit courses instead of 'taking' them if learning was the objective. Of course, 19-year-olds would never audit courses instead of taking them, because they understand that the degree is valuable, and the knowledge is not.

I've looked into auditing courses for free a few times at my local and graduated college, but I could never find any decent information for the process accept for full-time students (which is straight forward). And for the alternative of paying to audit the course, what is the point? It's the same course, may as well get the credits for it. It's the same as not auditing.

Officially, schools need to restrict access to classes for liability and other reasons. As an alum you may be allowed to audit by paying a fee. It should be a lot cheaper than tuition.

Or, since you know the place, you can just drop in and ask the prof if it's ok to sit in. They'll probably say yes and be happy to have you sit in their class (i.e. not demand you enroll and pay the fee; Professors generally aren't big on toeing the line on such rules). This is extremely common.


Many universities and professors allow auditing for free; there's often no process for it because nobody wants to audit.

This is far from obvious. Caplan’s thesis is contrary to the common sense view accepted by the vast majority of people – the purpose of formal education is to learn stuff, and it works. Of course, that doesn’t make it false, but the argument is so far from obvious that even other libertarians have challenged it: https://reason.com/2018/03/24/bryan-caplans-case-against-edu...

I think this is true in the pure educational sense. There's nothing in most non-research degrees that you need a particular person or scarce resource to learn. Everything is public and nowadays online. It's even better: If you don't understand one guy's explanation of vector calculus, you can get another guy's without getting out of your seat.

The problem is there are so many people with degrees, and there's a vague but established pecking order of universities. People still would rather hire someone from a top uni, especially in the Anglosphere. For most things that aren't dev work it's like the old IBM quote, you won't get fired for hiring the Harvard grad.

For not-top unis that teach you the same stuff, I think they're gonna be in trouble. The mini-mill has already been built, and there's a huge gap in price that will only make it more attractive to just do a degree online.

Even looking at my own education, it could have been done a lot faster. In terms of time it added up to 96 weeks of class time. At the time you needed professors meaning it had to be spread over 4 years, so you got a bit of socialising as well, but it's have loved to just do a massive intense 2 year course and be done with it. Fact is you socialise better at work: you'll have more varied people and a bit of cash to pay for stuff.


I like your statement 'the mini-mill has already been made'. The thing is though not everyone needs an employee with Harvard degrees. Small companies may be happy with a finance person with a 4 year degree from a smaller university for example.

> this pandemic has shown us that you can get a quality education remotely

It might just be my university, but to me that reads like a joke. The last semester has been utterly useless to me. I might as well have taught myself (actually, I mostly did.)


Even 12-15 years ago when I attended University, a lot of times Khan academy and youtube was better way to learn than the faculty from my university, And I attended schools from global top 100-200 range .

You are always self-taught. That's the only way to actually learn . University only does three things

1) pacing and structure ,

2) grouping you with other similar level peers you learn along with

3) giving access to experts who can help when stuck in a complex topic.

Some people don't need a lot of this , some do. Most attend to get a job after graduation not because they may or may not need assistance to learn.


My college said I should spend at least three hours studying for every hour in class. So in a sense, three of my four years at college were getting "a quality education remotely. Also, most of college can be learned free online or in books these days."

There is a pedagogical and psychological question of how much one learns from reading books on ones own, at one's owns pace and reading order - and how much one learns from lecture, from speaking to the professor before, during and after class and during office hours, and from working with and talking with other students taking these classes. Plus access to the library, the computer network and different servers, computer rooms, internships, student computer club meetings and open talks etc. Plus the usual of making friends, growing as a person, having access to a nice gym and swimming pool etc.

Does the unguided student even know what to study? I took graph theory for a semester and wondered why it was a prerequisite until my data structures course where I dealt with trees, graphs etc. How many people without a Bachelors in Computer Science can explain the difference between O(n) and O(log n), other than maybe they know O(log n) is faster? Yes, having a BSCS doesn't guarantee you can, but I rarely meet people without a BSCS who have any kind of theoretical basis in computer science. Maybe they went to a bootcamp for a few weeks/months and can code CRUD apps in Javascript.

I can go on...I took a writing class from a very good teacher. Although this would probably fall off the path of any focus on STEM, it improved my writing skill. Reading e-mails, instant messages, documentation, code review comments, code comments, architecture plans, presentations etc., I think a lot of people can do with a good course in writing, and it would help more IT projects get on track if people knew how to write and communicate clearly. It is not something on the clear path of STEM, but in a sense it is, and is just another thing college helps at. It can refine people in a way that helps them go on to professional work.


> Also, most of college can be learned free online or in books these days.

Very much depends on the subject. And sure you could've always learned via books, but if you go that route you will be spending a big multiple of the time to gain the core knowledge than you would have at university, because as a non-subject matter expert, you can't judge yet what's going to be important or not.

It might work well for computer science, as that's more or less a subject native to the internet, but for most other subjects there is basically nothing there. I'm currently studying biochemistry as an undergrad, and for every course beyond the second semester, there are barely any resources available. I wouldn't even dare and dream of a full open source(/access) curriculum like they exist for CS.


If you need help or someone to ask questions about the material, than it is very valuable to have access to a teacher or tutor. Sure, a lot can be self-taught. But some material is just hard and many people will require a more knowledgeable/experience person in that subject to help them grasp it.

However, if online learning could be paired with effective online tutoring, than I think you are absolutely right.


It's not just the textbooks and lectures.

The amount of learning that happened outside of classes, during labs with my peers, was on par with lecture halls if not more. I've seen side projects, discussed random technologies, even startup MVPs on Campus. That will be hard to replicate going fully remote.


They mention International students in the article. I'm not surprised at all that those numbers have dropped, but it probably didn't gain much attention until this year.

Every student, or friend of mine, that I've talked to in China, Korea and Taiwan have told me they aren't applying to US universities for any number of reasons:

1) Too expensive 2) Crime / Danger ( debatable here, but the school shootings in the past few years hasn't helped ) 3) Racism

Out of the three, fear of racism was the least mentioned. The biggest reason was cost. Crime fear of major crime was also mentioned in most conversations I've had.

In the past I've always tried to downplay the danger / gun violence, but nowadays I don't even bother. Unless they want to go to MIT or Harvard, I really don't think there's much value in the 4-year degree in the US when you consider the cost ( and international students almost always pay more unless they get scholarships ).


Work visa after school is also messed up for international students. They are expected to spend full tuitions and it doesn't get easier to get a job which is willing to sponsor visa and then go through a literal lottery.

>2) Crime / Danger ( debatable here, but the school shootings in the past few years hasn't helped

How is this debatable? The US is likely more dangerous than any comparable European country. Not just shootings but crime across the board.


Good. Hope it’s permanent.

Lambda is pioneering an ISA that only gets repaid if you find work in your field.

Let the schools fail that graduate burger flippers and retail sales clerks with $50k in debt. Nothing wrong with those jobs if you need work but you shouldn’t have a system setup to saddle young people with $50k in debt to do that kind of work.


Lambda was repeatedly in the news about reselling ISAs contra their marketing claims.[1][2]

They also engage in puffery misrepresenting mixed-to-bad student outcomes.[3]

I know Austen Allred can only fall up into more money, but my read on Lambda by this point is that it is a predatory institution.

[1] https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/12/21135134/lambda-school-st...

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22313474

[3] https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/02/lambda-schools-job-p...


The only conflict of interest I see here is that lambda school could increase their student body within a single year by admitting worse students to sell the ISAs and then close up shop to run away with the money. The biggest victims would be the investors. Although it's possible it sounds very unlikely. You'd expect this from a Bitcoin exchange.

For profit Ed? Predatory?! No! Who could have ever guessed?!

The idea of Lambda is great, but their execution has been shit. First off, the ISAs are securitized and resold. Lambda has zero incentive to do anything above and beyond pushing students through some percentage of the program.

Second, Lambda’s level of instruction in the software tracks is abysmal. I’ve witnessed someone in my household go through Lambda. Day after day she struggled to stay on top of a constantly shifting and poorly organized curriculum. It was taught by an incredibly inconsistent and constantly rotating cast of instructors.

The only thing Lambda did provide with some consistency is structure & discipline. There are certainly people who won’t study anything on their own outside of an externally imposed framework that provides a daily cadence of learning as well as regular milestones. In this sense Lambda is a calendar priced like a mid-size family sedan.

Third, Lambda’s career guidance and job placement assistance - both of which are advertised as part of the package - are simply laughable. It consists mainly of asking newly hired alumni to post their job offers in a highly visible Slack channel. This is meant to encourage participants to look for jobs “because surely you can do it if those other people can”. Otherwise Lambda doesn’t do anything to help one polish their resume or find jobs through networking.

Last but not least, the ISA’s monthly payment is calculated based on gross pay before taxes are netted out. When viewed through this lens, the payment is a lot steeper than originally advertised. Buyer beware.


>ISAs are securitized and resold. Lambda has zero incentive to do anything above and beyond pushing students through some percentage of the program.

I disagree with your analysis of the incentives here. The price people pay for tomorrow's securitized ISAs depends heavily on how well today's ISAs pay off. It's a delay in the feedback loop, but it isn't broken.

That being said, this incentive alone is likely weaker than the prevailing incentives in for-profit education, which seem to encourage saving a buck wherever possible and over-promising, under-delivering.


It is also better than nothing. If they show it works, others will follow. Lambda will improve its offering or someone else will come in with a better one.

I'm extremely skeptical of bootcamps, especially after learning that some of the TA's at Lambda are hired to help with teaching as little as two months into the program as students[0].

It's no better than some diploma mills but any state school with half a decent curriculum sounds better than this.

[0] https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/02/lambda-schools-job-p...


The core idea of an ISA is good, but I don't think anyone but the smartest people can be taught software engineering at the good level in just 6 months.

Any job that requires creativity for large parts of it, cannot be learned in 6 months. The human brain requires a couple of years to play with various projects, to reflect on them, to digest lessons before you start getting mastery over the job.


FYI for others, ISA in this context means "Income-Sharing Agreement", not "International Study Abroad", which is what springs to mind when I read ISA in an educational context.

It’s getting more and more difficult to justify undergrad 4-year degrees I don’t find it all that surprising that when you strip out the facilities and don’t drop tuition it’s causing this effect.

It’s essentially a luxury service in many ways without the ability to provide the luxury.


The effect of... unchanged enrollment in four-year programs? Did you read the linked article?

Bachelor's degrees are not significantly changed, post-bac programs are up 20% or more, and master's programs are up as well. This suggests that students with money are seeking more schooling and more expensive schooling, not less. It's the poor people who get two-year degrees who are dropping out.


There is typically more of a counter-cyclic effect expected from recession, however. At the school where I work, enrollment this semester set a new record. Apparently that came at the expense of some other school(s).

But I agree with your point generally, this probably has nothing to do with a backlash against college itself, and instead seems to be something more specific to "college-adjacent" degree programs.


Yup. The only reason colleges aren’t facing the wipeout of gyms or restaurants is that education is extremely counter-cyclical

I'm always surprised by the negative comments about US colleges. Sure, they are expensive, and many students pursue useless degrees, but is it that big of a deal? Most people really enjoy going to college for the social experience. It's the first away from home experience for most young adults. I doubt that Lambda Schools or Devry will offer anywhere close to the social experience that a typical US college offers, even if they give better economic results. It would be a sad outcome if college saw a huge decline and wasn't an institution available for future students.

College campuses are the closest many people get to living in a proper city center (in the spirit of Europe or Japan), as opposed to the suburbs we all flee too later in life.

At face value, you're right--but shouldn't we focus on building places people (young and old) can feel a sense of community beyond just college?


Being able to waste money on a fun social experience is an enormous privilege for the upper middle class.

For the other 85% of Americans, getting a job with an investment that doesn't put you into debt is super important.


> Sure, they are expensive, and many students pursue useless degrees, but is it that big of a deal? Most people really enjoy going to college for the social experience. It's the first away from home experience for most young adults.

Yeah, the thing that it is expensive and simultaneously all too often primary referred to as "social experience" is issue. Because people don't want to pay that much money for social experience. Experience of being away from home, frankly, is absolutely not worth that much money. It just does not give that value. If you ever leave town, there is gonna be time when you are away first time. And if you dont leave town, well then you dont.

Non college educated students, which is the majority of population actually, somehow so without expensive social experience. So I think that college educated minority should seek more and colleges themselves should provide more to be worth the price.


Do you think that people should get in tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt for the “social experience”?

Rather than send child to college, I let him party in Asia for a year then he gets a Porsche when he lands back in the states. And I still come way out ahead! A far more useful social experience for a lower cost IMO.

I'm reminded of https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/college-level-mathematics which contemplated adjunct professor pay …

I'm not sure if this is a bad thing.

There are far too many degree programs with dismal graduate employment rates in their field of study. It pains me to think of the many who are shouldering student loan debt for degrees that are barely employable.


Aren't we all treating this like some sort of emerging trend when it seems directly in response to COVID? Is the assumption also that masks are going to become common after this is over because we saw a mask wearing trend this year?

Time will tell if this is a real problem or just a blip, but I think it may be too soon to raise the alarm of a socioeconomic shift during a pandemic.


It wouldn't surprise me if mask wearing did become pretty common place after this. I think some people view it as such a minor inconvenience that it would be worth it to wear during flu season.

While I'd like that as well (I haven't had a cold since January), there's so much pressure against it in the middle of the pandemic I can't help but think won't last when the pandemic ends.

If it's sporadic for someone who thinks they might be sick, I can understand, but I'm already worried about unintended consequences of so many people giving their immune systems a vacation, and the longer this goes on, the more likely it is that a Covid mutation that bypasses masks takes hold. We've never fought a disease like this on this scale, so these are pretty big open questions that I'm surprised I'm not hearing more about.

I halfway see people in the US using it to show their political preference.

Bachelor's degrees only went down slightly, which isn't too surprising. What's worrying to me is that associates and certificates have dropped significantly. Both are primarily for individuals who are in lower socioeconomic status categories, which is more emblematic that there is a problem than anything else.

Well, every degree is essentially an online degree now. Unless you are in a field where the degree itself is the most useful part of your education, you would defer.

However, if you are unemployed right now, you want to avoid becoming long term unemployed. Therefore you go and get a graduate degree.


Most of us just want certificates of employability. I got a BSc Biol and immediately became a developer. The education wasn't important, merely the certification that I can complete work to a reasonable standard according to a deadline. To that end, an online degree is fine (as long as it holds its value to employers/HR bots)

It’s about time this industry gets “disrupted”.

Two examples:

1: My 18-year-old nephew decided to attend classes online. No sense paying for room and board if he can't do anything fun while he's there.

2: My neighbor's son decided to delay his senior year. No sense paying full tuition if he can't be there in person.


Notably, the enrollment in bachelor's degree programs is flat. It is enrollment in two-year programs that has declined. That includes associate's programs in "practical," "hands-on" things like car repair and dental hygiene.

I think Scott Galloway has already covered this authoritatively[0]

[0] https://www.profgalloway.com/higher-ed-enough-already (and other articles)


One interesting thing that might not be obvious on the surface is that this is a massively deflationary trend (in the sense that debt is money and educational loans increase the money supply) a time when we are already fighting deflation and have run out of traditional monetary tools to fight deflation (with interest rates already approaching 0)

I actually think less people enrolling in college as it currently exists is a good thing but in the sense above it has the potential to have very damaging side effects (I'm not arguing we should continue the lending just because getting rid of it will cause some pain though)


Part of the cause is the US birth rate fell after 9/11 and stayed lower for a couple of years, and so we are now 19 years later and seeing lower enrollment. The financial crisis had a much more dramatic effect on birth rates, so colleges will really be struggling 8 years down the line. https://www.statista.com/statistics/195943/birth-rate-in-the...

Maybe it will be time for the world to massively move towards online education. Khan academy and other MOOCs are already doing a fine job. If universities finally move towards online certificates that can be recognized like or more than degrees, we might finally be able to drop the costs for education and enable more people worldwide to get a good education.

A skill tree map like in Path of Exile for education would be a major step forward, but small steps first...


The most obvious and direct reason for this is corona - what's the point of attending college if you don't get the full experience? I imagine despite your political affiliation, you want your kids to actually experience college for all it is and not just attend a bunch of self-help courses where you're responsible for teaching your self.

I suspect lots of incoming freshmen are taking a gap year program.

All the party schools with questionable degree value must also be hurting


The growth specifically in Post-baccalaureate Certificate program enrollment while general Certificate programs drop is really surprising to me. I wonder if undergrads just have less faith in certificates or if graduates are more worried about CV gaps.

Anyone have thoughts on why this might be happening?


It's probably because most colleges are waiving GRE requirements right now.

I love how the bar graph uses the darkest color to represent white people.



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