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Sunday, July 25, 2010

I do not think higher education should be protected in any budget cut.

I have been the source of consternation recently with some folks because I do not think higher education should be protected in any budget cut / balancing discussions. In fact, I suggest higher education might be one the first places governments should look to balance strained budgets and strip inefficiencies. My basic point is that formal higher education can, to a greater extent than other core government services, be postponed with fewer consequences. You postpone basic road repairs and the cost is often higher later than taking care of it now (e.g., pot holes, clearing drainage). The same goes for public safety and many health programs.

With higher education (I’m referring to the completion and awarding of diplomas) a delay in degrees will not stop jobs from being filled or people from making money. And I’m not saying people shouldn’t learn. Everyone should take every opportunity to learn whether it be from reading books, on-the=job training / apprenticeships, or participation in groups and volunteer endeavors. Heck, if they do it right they could re-enter college later a lot better prepared and focused (a la past discussions of European gap years). The library at my old college had a quote above one of the main entry doors that went something like “They know enough who know to learn.” There’s a big difference between learning and getting a piece of paper that says you went through a process. The latter can be delayed with relatively minimal impact.

Of the higher education that is publicly funded those funds should go toward highest public return and programs which benefit most from structured learning and hands-on resources (labs). Those typically are in the sciences.

The part I’m not sure about is what long term organizational impacts there might be. i.e., Retention of key instructors or replenishing staff later. In any event, cutting programs now and reinstating valued programs later will probably get you where you want to go sooner than continuing to work within the current system that protects itself well.

From MM (with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA).

Not all well-paying jobs require a college degree. They all require specialized training (either on-the-job or at technical school). But if you want to be a photographer or nuclear power operator, you may want to consider the specific requirements of that job rather than spending 6 years at an expensive college studying, Psychology or Medieval History. This is an interesting article on the subject.

The world has changed. When my grandfather graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1921 (I don’t know if the UC system had any other campuses at that time), having a college degree really distinguished the college grad from the high school grad (or the non-high school grad). I can’t find the stat, but my guess is that fewer than five percent of high school graduates subsequently graduated from college in the 1920’s.

Today close to 60% of high school grads go on to college. But then only 53% of them graduate within six years.

College makes sense if one desires certain jobs (science and engineering in particular). But an expensive Liberal Arts education is no longer much of an advantage. Many Liberal Arts graduates only have big student loan payments to show for their “investment”.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What college majors are in demand this year?

This article discusses how college grads are doing in the job market this year. At least there is some emphasis on what engineering majors are earning. Unfortunately the US is graduating far fewer engineers that we need.

But this article fails to report on the starting salaries for Ethnomusicology, Sociology, and Gender Studies majors. Could it be that there are no starting salaries for these interesting but not-in-demand majors because there are no job offers?

Let me ask you how many History major graduates you know that got a related job or even a job that pays more than their non-college graduates this year? I can’t find a single one – but I am still looking.

So the school you attend is not the important thing. What you study and learn is what counts. And if you are borrowing to attend an expensive school and graduating with a Bachelors degree in Psychology then you may be considering (ill advisedly I might add) going to grad school so you can postpone starting to pay off your student loans.

Study something that is in demand, pay for it as you go and pay attention to the cost. This is advice that will result in a solid payback for an investment in college. But borrowing big time to attend a prestigious college with a pretty campus in order to study Liberal Arts, will leave you with few choices and Law School as your only alternative.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is College Education the next bubble to burst?

This chart is an interesting way to look at the cost of college.

During the height of the housing bubble, how many times did you hear "You can never lose with the purchase of a home?" - And today, too few families are questioning the cost of their college education.