This morning as I went running on the beautiful river walk near my new apartment (BEST way to see the sunrise!), I was listening to a podcast… as usual. This morning, it was Jeff Goins’ The Portfolio Life, and the episode was called, “The Wrong Reason to Go (Back) to College.” You should listen to it, here.
Ultimately the question he poses is more of less my subject line: is a college education useful anymore, or is it a better idea to create your own education?
I’m one of the lucky ones, I guess, in the sense that I actually use my college degree (biochemistry) every day in my medical practice. I couldn’t do what I do now without that background (because they wouldn’t have let me in to med school without the prereqs). For that reason, it was money well spent.
But, I would certainly agree that college is becoming an increasingly poor investment. A quick Google search tells me that a four year in-state college costs $9139 per year; a public four year out of state college is $22,958, and a private four year college is $31,231. Yet unemployment rates for college grads is currently 7.2%, while underemployment is 14.9%. That means 22.1% of current college grads are graduating with debt between $36,500 and $125,000, with little to no means of repayment.
Goins also makes the excellent point that often, college classes (particularly in liberal arts, but also often in business or in the tech industry) are taught by professors who have not actually worked in the industries they’re training their students for. Most of the college grads I’ve talked to say that college coursework didn’t truly prepare them for their jobs in “the real world,” beyond teaching them how to think, and giving them a piece of paper that (sometimes, if they’re lucky) qualified them to be considered for the position in the first place.
This definitely wasn’t my experience in medical school—I felt that my preparation there was exceptional for what I faced in “the real world.” But I could argue that this is because medical school is far closer to an apprenticeship than is the training for most positions. The didactic courses there are taught by practicing physicians who know what’s clinically relevant and what isn’t, and they emphasized in class the clinical pearls they knew we’d need in practice. We also spent two years in rotations, practicing under licensed docs who could correct us and teach us in a clinical setting. What is that if not an apprenticeship?
I think it’s a shame that more professions don’t have a system like this. A few others do encourage internships, though, and I think this is great. How else can students learn 1) whether they like the profession in the first place, and 2) what skills are truly applicable?
Goins suggests that, for those who don’t have a clear apprenticeship opportunity available to them, go make your own internship. Find someone who’s doing what you want to do (or what you think you might want to do), and interview them. Find out what a day in the life really looks like, and ask them how they got where they are. If you have to pay them for that information, then by all means do so… because that kind of information is valuable. It saves you the time of having to learn all the lessons they’d learned on your own.
These days, with the internet, YouTube, online course platforms like udemy.com and lynda.com, audiobooks on demand and podcasts on every subject you can imagine, it’s possible to learn on your own almost anything you might otherwise learn in a classroom. I LOVE that. It’s amazing. I get to enroll in “Automobile University” every day, and consume new ideas while I’m stuck in traffic. So for subjects that are idea-heavy (rather than placing the emphasis on practical skills that you’d have to learn in an internship setting), how much does the piece of paper really matter anymore? Especially at the price of $125,000?
I’m just wondering how much longer the system will manage to survive in its present form.