Monday, August 10, 2009

College is a Waste

While at work today I got a text from my wife. She was outlining her debt scenario after three years of higher education. It's not what it should be. As a college graduate who now works at a crummy job that doesn't require a college degree, I wondered what exactly was all that time and money spent towards? Apart from a broadened mental horizon and a chance to slack off for four years, not much. I appear to be no more qualified than a high school graduate with experience. In fact, from my past month of job searching it seems that experience counts more than education. Everyone's got a degree. And unless you had someone to pay for it for you, chances are you aren't making enough to justify your liberal arts education. I know I'm not.

I like to run after work to clear my head and decompress. At the trail, I thought about the way the higher education system in America is a mess and thought of an alternative:

A school that rewards students for getting A grades. On top of base fees, say each credit costs $1,000. For arguments sake, lets say fees and housing cost $5,000 per semester, less if there is an option for off-campus housing. For a student taking 15 credits, that equals $20,000 per semester. Not cheap. BUT! If you refund students' money per A per credit, then there is the opportunity for school to cost only $10k per year.

Ten thousand dollars is still relatively expensive, but I'm picturing a very prestigious degree. To accomplish this goal, professors will be paid well, regardless of students' performance. However, to discourage easy grading, performance reviews will determine the professor's contract. These reviews will also make sure the professor is being fair as well. The goal is to make everybody work for what they get. As professors grade more rigidly, students are forced to work harder and the overall quality of education goes up.

I imagine I'm not the first person to think of this, In fact, some high schools have similar programs, but I don't want to just bribe kids into achieving. Degrees mean the same whether you got them with A's or C's. I'm just thinking by making higher education more like a market, a better system will be created than the one we have in place now. And by taking student's money up front, an investment fund could be set up to help cover costs.

Not like anyone reads this, so I don't know why I'm asking, but... any thoughts?


  1. I read this seth. I like the idea, seeing i am paying for a liberal arts education, which is almost 35,000 a year. it would helo to get more assistance from the school rather than rely on state funded help. I'm not that inspired to get A's, so the extra incentive might boost people like mes scores

  2. I think that we should stop treating college like a McUniversity, and go back to making them extremely rigorous. We also need to stop looking down upon people that don't go to college. Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs is actually starting , which is a movement to bring back appreciation of an honest day's work. Blue collars and all that. The issue is, we all think that we're better than that. We don't want our kids doing blue collar work, we want them doing white collar work. But we need more blue collar people than white collar people!

    Nothing will fix the education mess until higher education actually becomes valuble again.

  3. Eh - the working hard in college thing experiences diminishing returns pretty quickly. Europeans have far tougher grading systems and curriculum, but they have lower productivity than we do. It's not really a matter of "let's make sure we all get A's / learn a lot / etc."

    I think it's funny when openid said: "Nothing will fix the education mess until higher education actually becomes valuble again." That's really putting the cart before the horse. Higher ed is becoming less valuable because: 1.) Everyone has a bachelors 2.) Quality of students is down 3.) Grade inflation has made college degrees devalue their sorting ability to employers.

    In short, we're paying more and more (11% annualized) for education while the degrees are worth less and less. This is a sure sign that higher ed isn't sustainable in its current trajectory.

    The solution? Job training & selection the old fashioned way: working and shining at what you do. Everyone follows the same plan: Step one, go to college. Step two, ... Step three, profit. The problem is that people aren't putting emphasis on actually becoming good at what you do - heck most kids come out not knowing what they want to be good at. That is solvable by jumping around to a lot of jobs to gain experiences.

    Let's put emphasis on the real person - not their credentials.