The Inflated Value of a College Education

Before I begin, I would like to make one point clear. I believe in learning and education. I believe that knowledge makes the world a better place and people better persons. I also believe that learning is a lifelong practice. With that caveat, let's begin.

The college degree is becoming more and more suspect as time goes on. Granted, degree holders on average earn more than non-degree holders, but this probably has less to do with the learning than it does with the signal that a degree confers. A college degree tells potential employers that a.) You can read, and b.) You can devote yourself to a long term project and show up. What it also tells employers is that you have a bunch of student loan debt and are probably desperate for a job to make those payments.

Here are the problems with a college degree and a college education:


Imagine taking a fresh college grad and then giving them a random question from the stat course they took in their sophomore year. Unless they were a stat major, I'm betting they won't know it. This would be an interesting study to undertake, but speaking from personal experience, you can ask me just about anything from fifth grade, and I will blow it. Jeff Foxworthy knows what I know. You either use it or lose it.


If I offered you a deal on an encyclopedia set, you might be interested. But once you discovered they were published in 1952, you would realize that all you got were an expensive set of doorstops. No one buys dated encyclopedias. Yet, they will buy dated college degrees. Nowadays, people are still making payments on education that is no longer relevant.

When you add up the costs and consider the value, a college degree is a bad deal. So, why do people get degrees?

I tend to divide the world into two groups on this issue. There are those who are into continuous learning, and there are those who aren't. I have lived long enough to meet brilliant people with no sheepskin and stupid people with the sheepskin. The ones without simply loved learning and reading and had an insatiable curiosity about things. They were open to new things and new experiences. The others were averse to new things and change. For them, college was a chore to get the paper, and they are glad the experience is over.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that the bulk of my knowledge came from outside of a classroom. This is because I read and that reading got supercharged by the advent of the internet. I am way smarter today than I was in 1994 when I got my sheepskin. I am smart enough to know I would have been better served learning a good trade and keeping my library card in use. Most jobs are actually dull repetitive tasks and this runs the range from auto mechanic to ditch digger to surgeons. When you meet a guy who does nothing all day but repair torn ACL's, you wonder how much brainpower that takes. It's not much different than an auto mechanic that rebuilds starters all day.

Aristotle made a distinction between work and leisure, but I think we have lost the original meaning of what Ari was getting at. Work were the things that were necessary to be done. Being free from that labor to pursue philosophy (education) was the goal. For us, leisure is watching TV or going bowling or getting drunk as hell. More motivated types might go climb Everest or something. But for Aristotle, free time was meant to be devoted to the cultivation of learning and the mind. This might seem like a waste until you consider that the welder sipping his beer after a long work week wouldn't be drinking that beer if it wasn't for Aristotle.

Work and education are loosely related. They are separate spheres. If you doubt this, ask my employer if he cares about the "A" I got in History 101. It was always my dream to see my love of learning and my love of work meeting at some point. But it never has. I have learned things from work, and I have worked at learning. But they tend to be separate fields. They complement each other.

But I digress. . .

People get college degrees because they expect to make big money with them. Nevermind that their practical value is nil. But degrees, standardized tests, exams, and licenses are all signals to potential employers that you know something. The reality is that these people know less than they pretend to, but we can take heart in the fact that you don't really need to know a whole lot to be successful or at least gainfully employed. And if you are a smart guy, I can tell you that no employer wants your brilliance on anything. I have never worked on any job where I was not both praised and ignored. I have talked with others who have similar experiences. It might be different at Google or Apple.

In conclusion, I had a conversation with a non-degree person who derided some college educated people as "educated idiots." I had to agree with him. They were idiots. But I also noted that he said it with a tinge of bitterness and envy. The value was social. The guy with a degree was a "somebody" while he was a "nobody." And so it goes. . .

Minimalism, Maximalism, and Essentialism

I read this post, and I was taken back to the internal debate I have at trying to find the midpoint between maximalism and minimalism. The person in this post clearly has found essentialism. To compare, go here:

Maximalism is simply a cluttered desk with everything crammed onto every surface. This would be my desk at home.

Minimalism says less is more. The result is elegant simplicity but a lack of functional ability. This would be the vice of deficiency.

Maximalism says more is more. The result is chaos. You lose functional ability because you have too much stuff. If you have ever dealt with an unruly modern remote control with 200 buttons, you know what I am talking about.

Essentialism runs the midpoint between these two extremes. I give it the name "essentialism" because the ethos behind it is to have what is essential--no more, no less. What makes it difficult to deal with is a question? What is essential?

Music might give a better example. Brian Eno's ambient works would be minimalism. Yes's rock symphonic compositions would be maximalism. AC/DC is essentialism. But I would also say that Pink Floyd is essentialism as well.

Most of my time issues go back to this issue of essentialism. I do a lot of non-essential tasks, and I am bewildered. My time runs out of my hands like fine sand. I am constantly busy, but I achieve so little.

Aristotle was big on the telos or "end." Determine what the end of something is. What is its purpose? What are you trying to achieve?

I find the biggest problem in my life isn't having time but deciding what to do with that time. I have gone from one extreme to the other. I tended towards minimalism for a time but now I am mired in maximalism. I just can't seem to work it out. Woe is me. Balance is a difficult thing.

Time and Agony

I need more time. It is driving me fucking nuts. I can't maintain my fucking life, and everyone wants something from me. I am fixing to have a full core meltdown.
That first wave of pain is a motherfucker.

Bud Shootout/A-Rod

Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout was the shizzle. Very exciting race. Even guys who got wrecked out like Jimmie Johnson had smiles on their faces. This is a very fun race to watch.

I don't know what makes the Shootout so great. It could be the length of the race or the smaller field or the fact that it doesn't factor into the points race leading to more daring racing. But it was a total nailbiter until Harvick took the win on caution. I told everyone it would not finish on green, and I was right.

In other news, A-Rod is outed as a juicer. That is staggering. I always thought he was one of the clean guys. Live and learn.

I don't know what MLB will do now. The steroids shit is unending with Bonds and Clemens still in the headlines and facing some jail in their respective futures. Baseball needs a major overhaul, but I suspect that the sport is in permanent decline.