Monday, January 02, 2017

Why College Is Almost Irrelevant

A Question of the Day episode I recently listened to featured a questioner who felt that he had wasted his life (in his early 20s) because he hadn’t gone to college. He wanted to feel less like a loser.

If you know me, you know that my primary claim to fame is that I dropped out of college TWICE. And NEVER GRADUATED.

When my kids tell this to people, it’s, “Mommy never went to college.”

Guy gets annoyed when they say this (and I can only imagine how my parents cry themselves to sleep every night), and says, “Mommy went to a LOT of college.” It’s true, I did go to a lot of college.

The short-ish version is this: I finished high school at the end of 11th grade and went to college at Brandeis University to major in Theatre Arts. My parents paid a LOT of money for me to go there, and by midway through my sophomore year, I had credits that counted me as a first semester junior, a 3.8 GPA, and a plan to study abroad in France for my junior year. The extra credits I had racked up would make it easy for me to either take a lighter load in France, graduate a semester early, or take a REALLY light load my senior year.

And then I decided to move to Israel and join the Israeli army.

So I dropped out of college.

After I completed my army service in Israel and got married, I went back to school. In Israel. In a Direct MA program in English at Bar Ilan University.

In Israel, college is 3 years. The Direct MA program was a 4-year program that granted a BA and an MA to students and saved a handful of courses and year or so of tuition. My two-plus years of credit from Brandeis translated into admission into year two and a half of this program.

I was in my final year of the program when I learned that I needed to take these dumb requirement courses that I did not want to take because they were in Hebrew and boring and dumb.

I was working full time at the time, and I HATED most of my classes. The undergrad courses I had to take were fairly ridiculous, in that my classmates would hand in handwritten term papers, and mine would be typed and footnoted, and we would all get within five points of each other. In the graduate courses, I had several teachers who realllllllllllly liked to hear themselves talk and wanted seminar papers full of their own ideas.

On the days I had school, I would cry as I approached campus. None of what I was learning was actually relevant for the job I was already getting paid to do. And so leaving was a pretty easy decision.

I guess that wasn’t really a short version, but there you go. Maybe if I had graduated, I would have learned how to tell a shorter story.

Anyway, have you looked at what college costs in the United States lately? HOLY CRAP. And for WHAT? For so many people, classroom learning doesn’t match up with what’s required in the real world.

Here’s the thing: I believe firmly in education and knowledge. These are good things. I read all the time, but I don’t rely solely on books when I want to learn new things. In the last few months, I’ve spent time learning how to draw, learning to play guitar, and learning  knife skills (like, for cooking, not for murdering people). I watch videos, listen to podcasts, and yes, read books about topics that interest me. I love acquiring new skills. But I don’t believe that a college education is right for most — or even many — people today.

At least twice a week, I dream that I’m back in high school, and I’ve somehow managed to completely bail on some class or other all year long. Two nights ago, I dreamed that I was frantically trying to memorize the answers to an English test on a novel I had never touched. I’m pretty sure that these dreams are driven by guilt at the money my parents paid for me to not graduate from college. (My other stress dream? We’ve gone somewhere on vacation, and it’s time to go back home, and I haven’t packed ANYTHING, and there is SO MUCH STUFF — like, actual dressers that I brought on the trip — and not enough suitcases. I don’t know. You figure it out. I don’t have a degree in anything.)

James Altucher said in this episode that he doesn't want to pay for his kids to go to college, because he doesn’t believe that college is worthwhile. Stephen Dubner understands the argument but isn’t ready to go there yet.

We’ve told our kids that we will pay for their higher education in Israel, where it is far less expensive than America. This is absolutely for selfish reasons: 1. They will be here, in Israel, where we can see them. 2. It will cost less. But I don’t think they’ll sacrifice anything by studying here. Okay, they’ll sacrifice the potential for attending drunken frat parties. Very few of those here. The whole college culture is different, because the vast majority of students don’t live in dorms. I’m okay with depriving my kids of that experience.

And I’m not saying they can’t HAVE that experience — I’m just saying I won’t pay for it. And if my kids don’t want to go to college or go and then drop out? I’m cool with that. As I tell my kids daily, “Marry rich.”


Ducky said...

More than a half-century since I left college, I still have a dream at least once a month where (a) I didn't attend classes all semester and now it's finals week and I haven't studied and don't know what to study; or (b) I forgot all semester that I had a particular class and never went and have a day to get ready for the final. In real life, the first day of the second semester of my sophomore year, I really did completely forget that I had a Physics Lab from 1 - 3pm. It's the only class I ever missed in all of college and med school. I wonder if I'm still feeling guilty about that?