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Is College A Rip Off?

  1. Jan 10, 2011 #1
    ...that's the claim I'm hearing. Anyone ever see that 20/20 segment with John Stossel?

    I understand that the claim that a college grad makes a million more than a high school grad may be misleading, but the big question that seems to be neglected is what are these unsuccessful grads majoring in? I'm a physics major; should I be concerned by the myth buster's (John Stossel's) segment?
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 10, 2011 #2


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    Some majors are useless. Theater, drama, psychology, ethnic studies, communications and many other majors are either useless or extraordinarily lacking in jobs for the number of people in the programs. The arguments are very flaky. For example, saying that some people become rich without even having a 4 year degree. Well, DUH. Who cares? To add to that, you find, as he termed "the super rich", coming from people who aren't high school educated as well that help combat the skewing he was saying exists. How many super rich people in the entertainment industry have college degrees? Surprisingly few!

    I think the real scam is universities not teaching students what an average is or that a piece of paper is a piece of paper, it's up to the students to present themselves as a good hire. A job just doesn't magically appear because a university graduates someone in the field.
  4. Jan 10, 2011 #3
    The question is vague and impossible to answer. If you want to learn physics then majoring in physics is probably not a rip off. If you want to get rich then majoring in art is probably a rip off. There is no answer to this question. I would hope that as a physics major, you could apply some critical thinking before posing a question which you could just as well answer yourself.
  5. Jan 10, 2011 #4
    There is presently a non-market driven pricing for college.

    You pay the same for a worthless bachelors in political science as you do for the highly paid degree in engineering.

    If college degrees were priced like anything else in a free market, a poli-sci degree would cost a few hundred bucks.

    The myth of the equality of all degrees is part of what creates the ripoff
  6. Jan 10, 2011 #5


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    This actually tells you the exact opposite of the point of the 20/20 episode: they are arguing that for a lot of people (those with useless degrees like the girl they follow in the story), a college degree is worth a lot less than a million dollars. Well then obviously for the average to be a million dollars, for those with a useful college degree, the value is much, much more than a million dollars. I'll be very disappointed if my degree (mech E) doesn't end up being worth 3-5 mil. I'm on track. And I'm not bragging: I don't consider myself special.

    Also, the "a college degree is the new high school degree" is not an argument against college, it is an argument for college!

    Terrible, terrible newsertainment piece.
  7. Jan 10, 2011 #6


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    Yah my argument doesn't actually have the same implications for the 20/20 argument. However the reasoning and main focus seem to be the same, that college is useless for some people in some fields. To make $1M more a year, realistically over a 30 year working period, you only need to make around $35000 more a year consistently than a high school graduate. Depending on what kinda motivation a high school graduate has in his career vs. a college educated person has, that may or may not be a fairly easy task.

    I think one thing that is sorely overlooked is the opportunities people have. High school graduates flip burgers and need to be lucky to get in on the ground floor of any decent career outside of that. College graduates are better situated to start at higher, even if they're still pretty lowly positions. To add to that, depending on the field, you could start at a salary that might be considered disappointing to other people in that same field but is still more than what the high school graduate might retire at.

    Sure you can find a lot of people who regret going to college; there are genuine problems in the system. However, if you took a survey of how many high school graduates in the workforce today feel they would have better lifestyles if they had a college degree, this report wouldn't be as shocking.
  8. Jan 11, 2011 #7
    That's basically what I was thinking; people waste their time and money in college studying useless subjects. However, I must admit that I don't really know much about the job market out there, and haven't done much research. I just sort of assume that I'll be alright because it's physics. I selected physics mainly because I enjoy problem solving; and I've always found theoretical physics interesting.
  9. Jan 11, 2011 #8
    To me, if you are unable to get a scholarship or a grant for college, going to a junior college is the best way to save loads of money.
  10. Jan 11, 2011 #9
    "I was misinformed"? Seriously, man? Going to college =/= getting ridiculous amounts of money. Letting others choose for one is acceptable by my standards but blaming these "choosers" in question for the repercussions of that choice, is however, not. I believe that the least one could do before choosing to study a specific degree is to look at the course outline and ask themselves whether that is something they think they would be able to study and whether they might even enjoy it. Question the relevance of these things with regards to your areas of interest which, for most people would be, money.

    I for one would love to study Mathematics or English Literature at university but is that ever going to get me the money that I would like? Chances are not. By the time I end up with a BA or a BSc, there's bound to be people who either can do my job better than I can do it, people with relevant work experience in that particular field (say, teaching), people who know the right people to land them these jobs or all of the above. And honestly, while I wouldn't mind that much to be a teacher, I like some fancy things which a teacher's salary won't be able to get me. Furthermore, I can teach Mathematics to myself.

    So what do I do? I choose to study something else which is relevant to my interests (while also having the potential for more job slots), which, in this case, would be: science and money. Right now, it seems, that engineering would be the most logical choice. Not to mention that I like the idea of doing something worthwhile for the community, in general.

  11. Jan 11, 2011 #10
    I think it's questionable whether ever more formal learning is an efficient way of doing things compared with starting a job at a younger age, and learning on the job combined with a philosophy of lifelong learning. However, as the system is at present, clearly a degree is vitally important if you are applying for higher paying jobs.
  12. Jan 11, 2011 #11
    I don't get the question/consideration. If your goal is simply to make lots of money, and if you're an intelligent and self-disciplined person, then you don't need college to learn what you need to learn to make lots of money. There's so much money in America that there are, virtually, an incalculable number of ways to get rich in America if you have brains and balls.

    On the other hand, as a physics major, if you're simply fascinated by some specialization in physics, and want to confer with similarly oriented people and be a part of research and have access to resources that pretty much only proceeding through the college, graduate and post doc programs offers then it won't be a ripoff -- no matter how much money you make from it.

    If you're just interested in money, then if, after getting your doctorate, you don't conjure some innovation that nets you millions, then is that the fault of your college education? Or were you simply not up to it in the first place?

    Who's John Stossel?
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  13. Jan 11, 2011 #12
    I'm not sure about this whole thing. Sure, that's an argument *for* college. But I think it's also a sad indictment of what our society is turning into. In my opinion, people are getting their prioties mixed up. People that are smart in high school feel obligated (and although it's usually a willing obligation I would still question it) to go to college/university. I find a sad amount of people nowadays thinking less of people that didn't go to college, whether it's always up front or not.

    Now, I went to a great high school - a ridiculously high percentage of my year went on to go to university. At the time, the attitude I had, now that I can look back on it, boils down to: "well, I'm smart - how could I *not* go to university? I should do something difficult, like physics too!"

    I don't regret going to university, and I don't regret getting my PhD. I enjoy life in research - but every now and then I wonder about how my life would have been different had I even entertained the idea of going from school straight in to work. At the time, I genuinly didn't think that it was a valid option - and it wasn't presented to me as such by my institution or my parents. Why not?

    Diverging a little, but the point that I'm bringing in reply to this thread is that: for me, college isn't as much of a necessity to happiness and success that it's made out to be. In that sense, yes, I think it's a rip off. People have different priorities, and at the time in ones life that you choose to go to university - I don't think you're really in a position to make the decision about what's important to you.

    I could probably chat about this topic all day, and I think there are too many good arguments from both sides to ever really make a decision so I'll cut it there :smile:
  14. Jan 11, 2011 #13
    However, in taking those majors you learn general skills (meeting deadlines and writing reports) that are useful in office jobs. People that major in French literature generally don't get jobs in French literature, but they do end up being office drones for which a general bachelors is useful.

    Also there are a lot of jobs in theater and drama, but most of those happen behind the camera.

    On the other hand if government policy is broken, it doesn't matter how good your credentials are.
  15. Jan 11, 2011 #14
    And market pricing doesn't work for everything. Markets are sometimes bogus.
  16. Jan 11, 2011 #15
    One problem is that there is a chicken and egg problem or perhaps more accurately a fox watching the hen house problem.

    The problem is this. How is a student supposed to get the information that they need to make reasonable life decisions. Now I have the silly and perhaps old fashion notion that college is the place where professors teach you enough about the world so that you can make good life decisions.

    However, if professors get paid more if students make certain decisions, then you have a serious conflict of interest. Not sure how to get around this issue.

    Actually what you really want to ask yourself is how much money you would like and why you like money.

    The problem is that if a lot of people go through the same thinking process and come up with the same answer, you've got yourself a bubble. Ironically, you also end up with anti-bubbles. People don't go into teaching because there is no money, and because there is a shortage then suddenly you have a demand for teachers.

    And then there are some deeper questions. Is this the society we really want to live in?
  17. Jan 11, 2011 #16
    That's the myth. I don't really think it's true.

    There is something called the middle class that seems to be disappearing. In most stable societies there are lots of people that are neither hyper-millionaires or living in poverty, and I think one big problem in the US is that the middle class has disappeared which makes everyone money obsessed because people are terrified at being poor.
  18. Jan 11, 2011 #17
    I also think this is because colleges got their priorities mixed up. What ever happened to learning French literature for the sake of learning French literature. Does everything have to be about money?

    In my situation I was in a cultural context in which it was considered a good thing to be educated, for reasons other than being educated helps you make money. The main reason I *had* to finish my Ph.D. was because my father was unable to finish his.

    Now if you put me into a situation where I had a real choice about getting a job after high school, then I'd be living in a totally different environment. In my cultural environment, physics plays pretty much the same role as football does in some parts of West Texas. Part of the reason college was useful was that I had enough time to study enough history to figure out *why* physics was so important. OK, I believe X because my parents told me X, but who told my parents the stuff that they thought.

    One time I was reading this obscure philosopher and I thought it was a freaky coincidence that he happened to believe exactly what I believe. It took a while for me to realize that this wasn't a freaky coincidence, and that I found one of the people that brainwashed my great-grand parents so that they could end up brainwashing me. If you take French literature seriously, then you'll find other people like that.

    For me it's pretty much the opposite. Physics is a part of my life.

    Also, I was pretty lucky to go to the college that I did. The coursework of my college isn't particularly spectacular, but one thing that I learned in college (and in some ways it's the most dangerous thing that a college can teach you) is that "you can change the world."
  19. Jan 11, 2011 #18
    If you look to college solely as a way to make more money, then of course, if you're not making an equal return on the money you spent on education, you'll see it as a waste of time and money. But college is also an experience, it's a great place to learn things you're interested in, meeting people, doing things you'd otherwise never get the chance to do. I'm a junior and I can tell you it's been the best three years of my life, I would start all over if I could. There is worth in college outside of the increased amount of money you will make in getting a degree, if you see it this way, you'll realize that it isn't a waste.
  20. Jan 11, 2011 #19
    I can't speak for college, I have never been to one but I've been to two high schools last year. The second is a private institution and something which they have, which my previous school does not (or at least, did not at the time), was career guidance. There was a career's week at school, where every afternoon, for ninety minutes or so, people would come, most of which were parents whose children went to that school, and talk about their jobs, how they got there, etc. (pretty much a good insight into their professional lives)

    Furthermore, there was this one day, where representatives from various institutions came. They all had their little stands with brochures a go-go and these people would talk about the universities or institutions they represent. For example, there was this woman from the US embassy, who explained about going to university in the US and another, who was a UCAS representative in the country and outline the whole UCAS-process.

    Now this might not be that much of a big deal and it might be the norm in US high schools and perhaps, you might have better "guidance" than this but hey, that's all I got.

    My teachers are helpful with regards to "life decisions" and it's good to have further insight, rather than what just your parents have to tell you.

    At any rate, I find that "being misinformed" is a terrible excuse. If people around you aren't of much help, USE THE INTERNET! University/college websites? Forums? Hello?

    I thought that was implied with regards to the "fancy things" phrase. Sure, it was vague but I hardly have to illustrate every one of my possible ("fancy") wants to make point, now, do I?

    Is that not extrapolating a little too much?

    Face it, with a degree in Maths or English, there are not many other available options besides high-school teaching. While I have toyed with that idea before, I don't want to get stuck in that kind of job - who knows, even if I do, I might find some kind of "opening" at some point and earn more but at this stage, I would like to have a certain amount of income which teaching high school students alone, will not get me. Don't get me wrong, I do like the idea of teaching but as I said, money is a problem here.

    Haha, in a bubble I am, yes. Things might not work out the way I would like them to but I'd rather give this a shot than do nothing at all or settle for "less". If the opportunities present themselves, when doing my degree in whatever engineering field I will be doing, I'll take a few courses in subjects that interest me, like creative writing/journalism, history, economics or law.
  21. Jan 12, 2011 #20
    This isn't true, at all, and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what college is about. I'm sure if you end up going to one, you'll find out. Mathematics is a great degree to have specifically because you get so many options. The world is a big place, but I'm sure you'll grow to appreciate that in time.

    College is about learning skills, and when you graduate and are looking for a job, the skills are often more important than the knowledge. For instance, as a mathematics graduate you'll find all kind of jobs where companies are looking for someone that enjoys sitting down to some obscure problem and won't be phased. Mathematics graduates are good problem solvers, and comfortable with technical material - which makes them suitable for many of the same graduate program jobs that engineers and physicists can go for, the company can train them in whatever bits and pieces of knowledge they need. There may not be many jobs that are specifically only mathematicians, but then a high school maths teacher isn't either.

    The situation is similar, but not quite as straight forward for English graduates. As an English graduate, chances are you're pretty good at reading/summarising documents, writing big reports, being clear + concise. These are skills that have applications in lots of different places as well. Consider an archivist, for example - English graduates are ideal for these positions because they probably don't mind sitting reading all day, and are good at quickly identifying key information within a document.
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