Is College Worth It?

It's a well-circulated claim that a college degree adds about $1 million in lifetime earnings to the lucky B.A. recipient (I even used this in conversation over the weekend).

Now Charles Miller, head of the Dept. of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education says that figure is hyper-inflated:

Substituting some of his own assumptions for those used by the board - including six years of tuition costs (and hence two fewer years of work), private college tuition instead of in-state public tuition, etc. - Miller calculates his own college premium. "[P]roperly using the present value of the lifetime earnings, adjusted for the cost of going to college and the difference in the number of working years, and excluding those graduates with advanced degrees, calculated at the three percent discount rate used in the report," he wrote, "produces a lifetime earnings differential of only $279,893 for a bachelor's degree versus a high school degree!"

He writes: "With clearly questionable assumptions in the analysis traditionally used to prove that ‘education pays,' with the reality of continually increasing costs of college above average inflation, with weak income growth in general, and with the reality of a very narrow economic benefit to the individual with a college education, it is reasonable to conclude that a college degree is not as valuable as has been claimed."

More here, from the always interesting Inside Higher Ed. It's an interesting debate, with a fair amount of stuff riding on the truth.

Related: Does it matter what school you go to?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Soon we will have college educated janitors

  • ||

    OT

    100% Anglo-Saxon, Baby!

    Charlton Heston is dead.

  • ||

    But 4 years of college is a lot more fun than 4 years of working a post-high school entry-level job. Add to that an extra $280K lifetime and a job that, in addition to paying more, is probably somewhat more interesting and pleasant and, yeah, it still seems worth it.

  • Guy Montag||

    Speak for yourself Mr. B. A., I have a Baccalaureate of Science and light my cigars with fiat money!

  • ||

    My bad, everyone already talked about Heston in the Bob Barr thread I didn't read because Ed "Cuntface" ward was seeping posts.

  • kinnath||

    Averages are useless in this type of discussion. What degree the student is pursuing matters very much. A student with an engineering degree can expect a huge advantage over a high school diploma. With a humanities degree, no so much.

  • Taktix®||

    Is College Worth It?

    No.

    Quick poll: who is working in the field for which they graduated college?

    I, for one, am a commercial roofing manager with an English BA.

    Add to that an extra $280K lifetime...

    Not too far (relatively) to a total student loan debt. (Assuming people still concern themselves with debt anymore)

  • Guy Montag||

    Quick poll: who is working in the field for which they graduated college?

    Related field, an offshoot in my career path from direct.

  • kinnath||

    Quick poll: who is working in the field for which they graduated college?

    Mostly, BA CompSci/Physics, Engineer for 20+ years.

    I, for one, am a commercial roofing manager with an English BA.

    See previous post ;-)

  • Guy Montag||

    Isn't this study flawed? How many History majors actually report all of their bartending tips anyway?

  • Taktix®||

    See previous post ;-)

    Well, at least the BA let me skip the "mopping tar on a roof in Miami" phase, strait to office bitch!

    Yeah cubicles!

  • ||

    As an IT manager, I would never higher somebody with only a high school diploma and no professional experience. At the very least, a 2-year tech school degree is required for rookie hires.

  • ||

    Then you are missing out. I have 15 years experience and not a single day in college and the lack of a degree has never hindered me from my very first job at AOL in 1993 all the way through working for MS, HP or Averatec...

    As a hiring supervisor I always choose a hard worker who worked and apprenticed their way up (shows true passion and desire for the type of work) over some college schlub who partied his way to a degree.

  • Taktix®||

    MP,

    Are you guys hiring?

  • ||

    "Quick poll: who is working in the field for which they graduated college?"

    Does political science, then to law school count? I also have a BA in Spanish and taught high school for a couple of years. I think that's 2 for 2.

    Still, a college degree isn't a technical degree like you're saying. It makes you an all around smarter person. Perhaps not a better person, but better rounded, certainly.

  • Episiarch||

    Quick poll: who is working in the field for which they graduated college?

    I have a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Anthropology.

    I am a professional software developer with 10 years experience. I have never taken a single computer course in my life.

  • ||

    Taktix,

    Cost of education is included in it, so student loans are already factored in.

  • ||

    "I am a professional software developer with 10 years experience. I have never taken a single computer course in my life."

    Just curious: how many software developers have no college degree? How many of those are in upper management or own a sizable company?

  • ||

    I have 15 years in the business and, at least in tech/IT, lack of degree seems to be the rule...not the exception

  • Taktix®||

    It makes you an all around smarter person. Perhaps not a better person, but better rounded, certainly.

    Or, in the case of WVU, better at shoveling shit into neat, orderly piles...

  • kinnath||

    Well, at least the BA let me skip the "mopping tar on a roof in Miami" phase, strait to office bitch!

    ;-)

  • ||

    I didn't RTFA, but why assume it takes six years to get a BA? Surely the average time to graduation is available?

    Also, having assumed the more expensive private tuition, did he track the earnings of people who actually graduated from private colleges? Mightn't they be earning more than graudates of state colleges?

  • ||

    I think the main thing there is the exclusion of advanced degree holders and the fact that they are using a discount rate (which isn't very useful for calculating overall earnings but is useful for calculating future returns on investment).

    That aside, I'll have two B.A.s at the end of the month... so I guess I'll get the chance to test out the hypothesis.

  • ||

    It looks to me like, despite this guy's best efforts, he still wasn't able to erase the wage premium of a college education. Not sure why he's presenting that as a victory.

  • ||

    I thought that it used to be the case that having a college degree was more of an indication of your intelligence and ability to learn and adapt. Now it seems that anybody can get a college degree without ever really thinking for themselves. Without getting a technical degree, a bachelor's degree doesn't seem to indicate anything about the person holding it.

  • Guy Montag||

    Now it seems that anybody can get a college degree without ever really thinking for themselves.

    Liberal Arts is not the only thing out there you know.

  • ||

    "Or, in the case of WVU, better at shoveling shit into neat, orderly piles..."

    I suspect that a college degree makes some people worse off, like the way law school turns some people into pompous asses.

    Here's my take: The extra $270k is just gravy. Go to college because it will expose you to more information than you will likely get on the job. I'd say go to college even if people merely broke even. Focusing on the increase in income is a bit of a canard the college admissions folks use too much. But they know you'll fall for it, because you haven't gone to college yet....

  • Abdul||

    Quick poll: who is working in the field for which they graduated college?

    I majored in history but none of the leading history offices has been hiring. Finally, like all other liberal arts students, I went to law school to leech off of productive society. But without a college degree, I would've had to leech off of productive society by going on the dole.

  • ||

    Liberal Arts is not the only thing out there you know.

    Did I say "Now it seems that anybody can get any college degree without ever really thinking for themselves?" No.
    Also, I specified non-technical.

  • ed||

    My English B.A. has qualified me to post on H&R with a minimum of grammatical and spelling errors, and my minor in philosophy means I'm never wrong. So yeah, it was worth it.

  • Episiarch||

    Just curious: how many software developers have no college degree? How many of those are in upper management or own a sizable company?

    I worked for a company in Manhattan whose partners had worked for Lazard Frères. We were about 13 programmers/techies total. Not a single one of us had a computer science degree.

    I had the above degrees; there were history people, English people, artists, musicians--but not a since computer science major.

    We made a lot of money. We all became programmers because of a natural affinity for it and enjoyed it.

  • ||

    Considering that one needs a bachelor's degree to get an advanced degree, isn't it dishonest to completely exclude advanced degree recipients from the study?

  • robc||

    Bachelor of Nuclear Engineering, work as a programmer/linux consultant. But, guess where I learned to program? Guess what my first two jobs as a NukE involved me doing?

    Sure I havent used any knowledge from my thermo classes in 15 years, but that doesnt mean they werent worth it. I also dont program in FORTRAN anymore, but that doesnt mean learning it was a waste (although, it was FORTRAN, gah).

  • ||

    "We made a lot of money. We all became programmers because of a natural affinity for it and enjoyed it."

    I was actually asking about people in computer science without any college degree. Not just computer science. The people I know have degrees in Marketing and English. There's one with a degree in computer science and another who didn't graduate but took classes for four years (mostly non-computer classes).

    I've yet to meet a high school grad programming, or even setting up hardware.

  • ||

    Hi, my name is Josh. Nice to meet you.

    Zero college education. Not a single day.

    My resume includes AOL (Network Ops), MS (Win 95 release support team) and Averatec (test engineer).

    I didn't even include the SysAdmin, tech sales, project management jobs I've had at smaller local firms.

    Curiously, I am currently a personal chef and food blogger. Another profession in which an over priced education (Culinary School) is mostly worthless.

  • ||

    Did I say "Now it seems that anybody can get any college degree without ever really thinking for themselves?" No.
    Also, I specified non-technical.


    I know plenty of people with technical degrees that never learned to think for themselves. There are quite a few people on this board with a B.S. that are in dire need in taking a logic class or five.

  • robc||

    Isnt a 3% discount rate awful low for this kind of thing? In my engineering econ course we always used 20% for these kind of calculations (which seems very high to me). I would think 8-12% would be about right.

  • Guy Montag||

    robc,

    I don't use the Black and Scholes Option Pricing Model from my Merkets classes or work, but I am trying to figure out a way to use it for NCAA basketball brackets.

  • ||

    Lamar,
    I have a friend that's a programmer for a financial services company and now a sysadmin for said company that's a college dropout.

  • robc||

    I know a lot of progammers/sys admins without a college degree. They all have 2-3 years of college.

    One is now going back at night/on-line to get a degree. Any degree. His company wants him to get an MBA and grad schools seem pesky about requiring an undergrad degree first.

    He was a CS major his first time around in the mid 90s. He was majoring in communications, but when I talked to him this weekend, he has switched to something with a shorter time to graduate. I forget what it was, but someone else said that he should have switched to basketweaving but he replied that basketweaving would be tougher than this major.

  • Episiarch||

    Programming is one of the least college-degree-bound professions there are. If you can prove you know what the hell you are doing, most employers don't give two shits if you have a college degree, or if you do, what it is in. Now, proving you know what you're doing can be subjective, but usually references and the conversation during the interview are enough to indicate if you do know what you are doing.

  • robc||

    Episiarch,

    Yep. Throwing simple problems at a potential employee and having them pseudo-code on a whiteboard during the interview shows you a lot. Weeds out the posers (some with degrees) real fast.

  • ||

    As an IT manager, I would never higher somebody with only a high school diploma and no professional experience.

    Knowing the difference between "hire" and "higher," however, is optional.

  • robc||

    Seamus,

    Knowing the difference between "hire" and "higher," however, is optional.

    The compiler will catch it.

  • T||

    I work in my degree field, but my undergrad BS was Mechanical Engineering. As long as oil prices stay where they are, I'll have a job.

  • ||

    Mo -
    agreed. I was just specifying for Guy Montag what I said.

  • Episiarch||

    Throwing simple problems at a potential employee and having them pseudo-code on a whiteboard during the interview shows you a lot.

    That's a good way to interview. What I can't stand (and usually refuse to do) is take some fucking quiz as part of filling out my application information. I've never seen one of these that test anything real, and instead are usually "gotcha" questions where they want to nail you for not noticing that they left out a keyword, etc. As you said, the compiler will catch it. Also, I follow the Einstein maxim: I never memorize anything I can look up.

    Additionally, the reason I usually walk out of any interview with a "quiz" is that it indicates something about the personality of the hirer. I pretty much don't want to work for them, as they are almost assuredly a micromanager.

  • ||

    Quick poll: who is working in the field for which they graduated college?

    Chemical engineering degree 8 years ago. 8 years of work as a process/manufacturing engineer. It's not a lifetime on the same track, but it probably will be.

  • Timothy||

    I think the six year assumption is ridiculous, if you're taking six years to finish you're quite nearly on the Blutarsky plan. Further, Guy, you're a total asshole. I know a lot of pretty smart people with BAs in liberal arts disciplines, many of them are doing just fine for themselves. Don't you have some books to burn or something?

  • ||

    Programming is one of the least college-degree-bound professions there are.

    Only if you have been able to build some professional experience. Otherwise, it's very hard to get your foot in the door with only a HS diploma and zero college experience.

    And TaxTix, no, we're not hiring.

  • ||

    Additionally, the reason I usually walk out of any interview with a "quiz" is that it indicates something about the personality of the hirer. I pretty much don't want to work for them, as they are almost assuredly a micromanager.

    A foolish assumption. A quiz is an extremely efficient way to get a baseline understanding of writing skills, creative thinking, and technical understanding. A post quiz analysis with the candidate can be very revealing. I couldn't filter people effectively without it.

  • ||

    Hmmm..shall we add interest on student loans? Also, let's not forget the eternal argument over whether college grads do better because of their time in college or because people who can get into college are, on average, more capable.

    As for my B.S., it got me into law school. Otherwise, it has only been a piece of pretty paper.

  • Taktix®||

    Focusing on the increase in income is a bit of a canard the college admissions folks use too much. But they know you'll fall for it, because you haven't gone to college yet....

    Agreed. College has definitely enriched my personal life, but the skills I use at work could have been learned in about a semester's worth of classes.

    I wish I had known this. Maybe I wouldn't have opted out of "Vampire Literature" in order to take "Obituary Writing 101" or whatever...

  • robc||

    Timothy,

    At Georgia Tech (late 80s-early 90s, cant say about today), 6-years was a very reasonable assumption.

  • ||

    The value added by a college degree diminishes daily, as "higher" education is increasingly diluted by remedial instruction in subjects and skills which have been deemed "unnecessary" by the praise-for-no-reason mob (aka degreed educators).

  • ||

    I was informed by my dad that the prevailing society for Philosophy PHDs (I can't remember its name) has actually been advising current PHD candidates in its newsletters not to expect to get a teaching position after completing the PHD because the market is saturated.

  • Episiarch||

    A foolish assumption. A quiz is an extremely efficient way to get a baseline understanding of writing skills, creative thinking, and technical understanding.

    Not really. Every quiz I've ever been asked to take was an idiotic mess of multiple-choice questions, usually checking stuff that the compiler will instantly let you know about. You can't quiz for whether someone understands black boxing, metadata separation, or good practices of say inheritance vs. interfaces vs. polymorphism. You just can't do it.

    Programming is an art. You need to look at people's previous work and design. Quizzes are meaningless.

  • ||

    I think 3% was used because that's a decent proxy for inflation. Probably the fairest discount rate would be around 8% or so.

    At Georgia Tech (late 80s-early 90s, cant say about today), 6-years was a very reasonable assumption.

    Based on my experience, people that took more than 4 years went to public universities and those that went to private schools took 4 or 5 years. This had little to do with the quality of the students, but financial hardship. Working part time makes taking a full load significantly harder. If this study was truly fair, it would include income earned during college used to pay for it as well.

    Of course, then it would no longer fit the outcome the authors desired, so it generally took unfair assumptions.

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    Four years at a college or university -- $80,000 or more.

    A decent suit for interviews -- $300

    Copies from Kinkos of that pack of lies you are calling your resume -- $25

    Knowing the difference between "hire" and "higher" and landing or not landing the job as a result -- priceless!

  • ||

    You need to look at people's previous work and design.

    Usually you can't, since prior work is typically covered under non-disclosure.

    Multiple-choice Qquizzes are meaningless.

    Fixed. Good quizzes are not multiple choice. I don't care what you've memorized to the Nth degree. I care what you know.

  • ||

    Funny, maybe its difference in computer stuff, but I've found that multiple-choice separates the true thinkers from the blowhards. I'm thinking of a test where all the choices are correct, but some are better than others, and the score is based on consistently choosing the better answer....

  • ||

    First Year Law Students Realize a B.A. Is BS:


    http://law.richmond.edu/jurispub/jpubsite/default.php?pageType=2&docId=529&docIssue=2008-04-08

  • ||

    BAs in Biology and Psychology.

    7 years in a psych reseach clinic, 3 years in a Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison program in a DAs office, 10 years SAS programmer and running a stats department in an insurance company.

  • Nephilium||

    Lamar:

    Hello, I'm an IT guy who was a college drop out. Went for a year of an English major, then realized I would be spending a large amount of money to get a piece of paper that would allow me to get a job making far less then I would make using my hobby to get a job.

    I have no student loan debt, and I didn't lose four years of technical knowledge learning on old systems.

    I think I made the correct choice.

    Nephilium

  • ||

    I was informed by my dad that the prevailing society for Philosophy PHDs (I can't remember its name) has actually been advising current PHD candidates in its newsletters not to expect to get a teaching position after completing the PHD because the market is saturated.

    And has been for thirty years. Take it from someone with a BA in philosophy.

    Of course, I got a Bachelor's because it was a prerequisite for law school. And for the beer and girls (I went to school during that blessed period when the drinking age was 18).

  • LT Nixon||

    I didn't realize college was strictly a vocational endeavor.

  • ||

    "First Year Law Students Realize a B.A. Is BS:"

    No, that jackass not having a plan before he decided to get a non-technical degree is BS. College isn't technical school. If you want a place where your training leads directly into a field without any uncertainty, join the damn army, and even then you'll do better with a college degree.

    Funny how that law student's bachelor's degree gave him the ability to see how useless the bachelor's degree was. But he still thinks that people would have hired him before he had the ability to distinguish between real and BS. Fascinating. Too many whiners.

  • Guy Montag||

    Timothy,

    Thanks for correcting me. Name calling, is of course, the best way to show off that big BA brain.

    BTW, the smartest bartenders I know have History degrees, so calm your jerking knee.

    For others, while we are on the topic of advanced degrees, my son was working in IT for two years before he started his Computer Science degree, continued working in the field while in college and is now in Law School, still working part time in IT. Supposed to begin ROTC later this year and become a JAG after graduation.

    Will that count as 3 areas of study directly into related work for him?

  • Guy Montag||

    Lamar,

    If you include layoff time during slumping oil prices, I did better as an Army Aviator than my civilian rotary-wing counterparts did during the same period.

    Then again, this is not typical.

  • Mortimer McMier||

    Six years? WTF? Maybe if you're a dipshit.

    People use student loans to pay for all kinds of stupid non-college related stuff and then bitch about how high the interest rates are. I really have very little sympathy for them.

    Whatever undergraduate degree you get (Excepting specialized degrees) my experience has been 90% of us, B.A. or B.S., start out in the same mid-level cubicle. After that, it all depends on how good you are at your job. So the kulturkampf against B.A. holders is mostly BS, usually just mediocre engineers protesting too much.

  • ||

    Guy,

    So let me get this straight, your name-calling is good, Timothy's is bad? At least Timothy's is based on empirical evidence.

    "First Year Law Students Realize a B.A. Is BS:"
    Funny how every useful skill, creating a relational database, using Excel, are things that I learned on my own or at my summer/part-time jobs. There was no MS Excel classes. All incremental knowledge I gained on that was through independent learning. Joy is just too lazy to learn on her own.

  • ||

    "every useful skill, creating a relational database, using Excel, are things that I learned on my own or at my summer/part-time jobs."

    These things are skills for a secretary. To a professional they are tools. A skill is the ability to solve a problem. MS Word just gives you a tool to express that solution on paper.

  • ||

    I got out of college with very minimal debt by 1)going to a public university, 2) commuting for the first year, 3) living in a very cheap apartment after that, 4) eating a lot of rice-a-roni, 5)getting out in four years.

    It can be done.

  • Guy Montag||

    Mo,

    Who did I call names? Black and Scholes Option Pricing Model is not calling someone something bad, it is the title of something.

  • ||

    Ive been going for 11 years. It's worth it.

  • MikeB||

    These studies are usually useless as it is difficult to normalize all the other factors. One million doesn't seem like much of a lifetime earning difference when a grouping of morons is compared to a set of intelligent and motivated people. Perhaps college has a negative value. It is sad that these studies mislead so many young people. The previously mentioned statistical dishonesty may be bad, but the failure to compare college to skilled trades is nearly criminal. For example, programming often does not require a degree. Within only a few years, the pay will plateau in the low 100s, which is far above the earnings an average college graduate may ever see.

    My own degrees are nearly worthless to me. In 1990, I received my BA in Economics. As most graduates were gainfully employed in pizza logistics, I choose to attend graduate school. I attended SUNY Buffalo, which at the time had a top 40 MBA program. I received my MBA in Finance in 1992 and was blessed with a position moving furniture in a warehouse. Finally after 3.5 years of failure and achieving the breathtaking salary of 24,800, I gave up. I read a couple books, lied my way into programming, and never looked back.

  • Episiarch||

    "I've been going to this high school college for seven and a half years. I'm no dummy."

  • mickeyklein@berkeley.edu||

    If that private school is a shitty liberal arts school then perhaps, but if it's Duke then you have another story.

  • JD||

    MP: Then you would miss out on hiring three very good system administrators of my acquaintance, none of whom graduated college. Hell, one has a GED. I wouldn't hesitate to hire any of them.

    Abdul: I like to say the same thing - "Well, none of the big Anthropology firms were hiring when I graduated..." I have a BA in Anthro; been working in IT since I graduated.

  • Guy Montag||

    MikeB,

    Same with many other skilled trades. I knew a fellow who used to do almost all of the sheetmetal work on airplanes at the Knoxville, TN airport. He had no certifications of any kind, "just" HS education and talent. An Airframe and Powerplant licensed mechanic had to sign his work off before the plane could fly, but nobody there could do the work as well as the "uncertified" guy. I think the "uncertified" guy drew more per hour than several of the A&P guys combined too.

    Also, take a look at some of the car auction shows. The guys who do that stuff for a living can make huge money, as long as they have some talent. They don't need a bunch of specialized tools (but they are nice to have) and don't even need a huge shop, if they are turing the right "junkers" into something the wealthy folk want to buy.

  • ||

    Quick poll: who is working in the field for which they graduated college?

    BS in Biology, followed up with a PhD in Microbiology with a minor in Biochemistry.

    Now I'm in assay development and grantwriting for a pharmacogenetics clinical diagnostics laboratory.

    I WILL say that I think the PhD probably should have been a Master's if I wanted to be making decent money sooner. I was hooded at the end of '04 and am only now making a respectable salary. My graduate stipend went from $15k in my first year to $20k by my fifth and final year. That was followed by a pathetic $36k postdoc before I decided to GTFO of academia and leapt into this little startup.

    My pay is still too low - these guys are getting me for a bargain - but this is a start-up and I must be patient.

    I'd have been screwed if I'd stayed in academia. So I suppose although I'm not doing what I set out to do when I graduated college, I am at least working in the general vicinity.

  • Guy Montag||

    BTW, a good way to get your child to pay for their own college (and be a good enough student for csholarships/grants/etc.) is to convince them that they will not live to adulthood unless they attend college.

    Just some experience that I don't mind sharing.

  • MikeB||

    Guy,

    You are correct. There are plenty of other skill sets that earn well. Most of the guys I know in automotive repair earn from 60-80k. I think it is sad that most people entering college are not aware of this fact.

    I did learn one thing from my MBA program: Do not trust reported average starting salaries. They usually come from Career Planning and Placement and are based only on the people placed through them. I beleive that number was five the year I graduated.

  • ||

    "Or, in the case of WVU, better at shoveling shit into neat, orderly piles..."

    Let me guess....VT grad?

    I'd imagine shoveling shit would be more useful to a Hokie, particularly those in the 'caretaking of dogs' professions...

    Insults aside, I acquired a very solid education in philosophy and greek and latin history at WVU. The econ department was about half and half. The other humanities courses, aside from a couple very dedicated literature professors, were taught by a bunch of PC socialists.

    And I was very surprised at the utter ignorance of the New Jersey kids. I was tutoring a Jersey girl in econ and she didn't know how to divide by 10,000 by 0.1--nor could she figure it out after numerous examples. Journalism major if I recall...

  • Guy Montag||

    MikeB,

    That "average salary" thing was one that always tickled me. It was usually "average starting salary" and limited only to those who started work right after graduation, leaving the ones with a salary of $0 out of the "average".

    Even by their measure, my unadjusted starting salary was the hightest of the B.S. Finance majors I graduated with (second highest when COL was factored*), $10,000 higher than the law grads from that semester and about the same as the Masters Accounting grads and MBA grads.

    Not sure how well my salary is holding up with them 14 years out, but I value stability higher than many others, and I know I have had a bit of a salary tradeoff for not chasing every incrimental increase with a different firm that has come along.

    *One fellow got a job at the Saturn plant in TN, slightly lower salary than I but cost-of-living much lower in his area than in the DC area.

  • ||

    I enjoyed college so much I spent 8 years there. Of course, I was also on the pay-as-you-go plan and refused grants.

    But I have 12 years in my field (mechanical engineering) and still love it. My understanding is 5 years is now standard for most engineering programs.

  • ||

    Quick poll: who is working in the field for which they graduated college?

    BS ChemE, 1972, CMU with computer programming minor. I just retired from the federal govt as a nuke eng (degree was relevant but not sufficient), and have no questions whatsoever about my financial future.

    However, it should also be noted that my wife and I are DINKs - children are probably a much more important financial factor than a college degree. But if you get a degree in something like engineering, you can easily figure out that your financial future will be MUCH better without kids.

    And you cannot count on your kids to take care of you when you get old - you have to plan that out for yourself.

  • ||

    Quick poll: who is working in the field for which they graduated college?

    Hmmm ... Biology degree AND

    Househusband / pool guy / yard guy / kid chauffeur / bunny feeder / sex worker for just one client to whom I'm married.

    Well, arguably the last item has some relation to the the biology degree. ;)

    OTOH, have a family income well into the 6 figures, so college may have paid off in unexpected ways.

  • ||

    MP: Then you would miss out on hiring three very good system administrators of my acquaintance, none of whom graduated college. Hell, one has a GED. I wouldn't hesitate to hire any of them.

    No, I wouldn't, because they have professional experience. As I said, it's HS graduates without professional experience that couldn't get past my resume screen.

  • ||

    I've yet to meet a high school grad programming, or even setting up hardware.

    Well, you've met one now - not even high-school, got a GED, with a couple years of majoring in music at community college. Formerly an MVS (now OS/390) systems programmer, development support tech, DBA, and now a Unix systems and SAN admin. And, yes, I'm at the high-end of the pay scale in that occupation.

  • kinnath||

    I haven't met him, but I hear that Bill Gates did relatively well without going to college.

  • Brandybuck||

    Bachelor of Arts in Literature. Now a senior software engineer. This is not at all unusual in the software industry.

  • Guy Montag||

    kinnath,

    I haven't met him, but I hear that Bill Gates did relatively well without going to college.

    What fiction have you been listening to? He did 3 years at Harvard and quit after starting a company with a couple of his classmates.

  • kinnath||

    What fiction have you been listening to?

    Are you telling me the Main Stream Media lied to me ;-)

  • ||

    "Well, you've met one now - not even high-school, got a GED, with a couple years of majoring in music at community college."

    I explicitly said "college dropouts don't count." When you say you went to community college, that's college.

  • Guy Montag||

    Lamar,

    According to Adam Carolla, community college is "13th grade". Now who do you expect us to believe, you or him?

  • ||

    According to Adam Carolla, community college is "13th grade".

    Actually, it mostly amounted to a great way to get college credits for smoking dope and playing my guitar - activities I was spending most of my time on even without getting college credits for them. ;-)

  • Guy Montag||

    Groovy!

  • MikeB||

    Wow, I don't know how representative the posters on this board are, but it seems like IT related work saves many college grads from remedial work. If it wasn't for programming I would probably still be a 35k/yr credit analyst.

    I am curious how many of the IT people wish they had skipped four year college, had taken a few computer courses in community college and started working by 20.

    I partied hard the first two years of college. Then buckled down and carried a 3.9 the next two years. The 3.9 helped me get in to every grad school I applied to. Looking back, I think I had the right idea the first two years.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Just curious: how many software developers have no college degree?

    It's rare at the major software companies. The exception is usually someone who hired on during the startup phase, and/or is a really, really scarily brilliant person.

  • robc||

    I am curious how many of the IT people wish they had skipped four year college, had taken a few computer courses in community college and started working by 20.

    Nope, I like my engineering degree. Also, GT won the MNC my senior year, I wouldnt have wanted to miss that.

  • kinnath||

    I partied hard the first two years of college. Then buckled down and carried a 3.9 the next two years.

    I was married, had two kids, completed 110 out of 126 credit hours in three calendar years (including all 74 for my double major). But then, looming poverty can be a prime motivator.

  • xxx||

    http://www.twincommas.com/billionaire-college-dropouts

  • MikeB||

    It's rare at the major software companies. The exception is usually someone who hired on during the startup phase, and/or is a really, really scarily brilliant person.

    This is correct. However, these are only a very small segment of the total programming opportunities. Most small-large companies have a development staff for internal applications. If you are willing to accept contract, college degrees become nearly irrelevant. Contract usually pays more too. One can often get 120-150k/yr on stable long term contracts with absolutely no after hours support. Best of all, this is the rate in Dallas where 150k still buys a nice house.

    If I had known this in High School, I would have kept learning programming and been retired by now.

  • ||

    EE degree from Ohio State University. I would not have the job I have today without the degree and am working in the field I trained in. The money is not great (around 70K) but I like what I do. College was a smart choice for me.

  • Famous Mortimer||

    I went to school for an English degree. However, after moving around, having my mother pass away, and slowly realizing that an English is only going to be useful for teaching, I decided that it was time to try something else.

    I ended up getting para legal certification. The job description fits my personality. I like to be left alone while I'm working.

    However, I wouldn't say that my time pursuing an English degree was completely useless, it was just very, very frustrating.

    My primary interests in literature were poetry, and short stories: two types of literature that are not very popular, period. The endless examination of literary criticism, which was often infuriatingly pretentious, was quickly destroying my love for the field.

    I love popular science, but I am truly not interested in Mathematics, so Academia has always been an uphill battle for me. I had to eventually realize that the structure was not for me.

    If you want to become educated for personal enrichment, then the burden truly rests on your own shoulders. I would say that College can even delay that pursuit for the initiated.

    I also believe that it would be a truly dull world if every College student was only interested in Computer Science, Business, or Law. We have enough sociopathic assholes floating around as it is.

    I would probably choose homelessness before working in an IT field, but that's just me. It seems to have saved many people on here from some less than desriable fates.

  • Famous Mortimer||

    "The money is not great (around 70K)"

    Do you live in Manhattan?

  • Famous Mortimer||

    Also, it seems that a lot of Law students think that thier Law degree is an automatic six figure income.

    I was always under the impression that a good paying job in law was dependent on what you were doing, and what your rank was in school.

    This leaves out a pretty large portion of law students who hope to pay back their huge loan amounts. My cousin is doing this, and I tried to explain to him that if he wasn't going to be a trial lawyer, or open up his own practice, then he would likely be making as much as a school teacher.

    When you really think about it, finding the well paying job that most people seem to imagine is pretty much a pipe dream, regardless of the degree acquired.

  • zoltan||

    How did the IT people who had no experience in college or who graduated with radically different degrees get into it? Is it self-education or a similarity in the way that people who understand grammar will understand programming? I don't get how a large amount of the people on this thread broke into the field so easily (not that I don't believe you, I'm just interested in how you did it). Was informal experience a part of it?

  • MikeB||

    Zoltan,

    Like you, I am a bit surprised by how many posters here switched to IT like myself. However it is a common story in the IT field.

    I don't know about the others, but I found the path of least resistance and took it. In 1995, I was at a personal bottom. I had moved to a new city (Fort Worth) from Buffalo and knew no one. My fiance had left me and my career was a complete failure. This provided me with the motivation to abrupty change course.

    First I found a good learning platform. I choose and still recommend MS Access. It allows you to learn all the required skills in a self contained environment: Programming, UI, Database design, SQL, reporting. I read books and started volunteering at work to consolidate department data and produce reports. Credit departments a full of spreadsheets screaming out to be combined.

    I still beleived in formal education at the time and enrolled at UT Arlington in their masters of Information Systems program. I took VB and C++. I finished the semester and withdrew for good the next semester. For someone now I would recomend the next step to be VB.net with Access still as the database. Community college is a great place to get started.

    I then exagrated my programming experience and minimized my credit experience on my resume for my current job and had two offers in a week. I took a position developing an Access database with reports and a VB front-end. I went from 24k to 33k. At this point I began studying SQL server, which I still recommend.

    After a little more than a year I became a contractor and my pay jumped to 70k. After that I just started moving with the new technologies as they became popular: ASP, ASP.Net, C#. Currently I am using C# 2.0 Webforms and a SQL backend.

    Hope this helps.

  • Neu Mejican||

    ? Is College Worth It?

    Yes.*

    *now working on my 3rd graduate degree.

  • wizard of oz books||

    With many new announcement about the wizard of oz movies in the news, you might want to consider starting to obtain Wizard of Oz book series either as collectible or investment at RareOzBooks.com.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement