College Bashing and Skills Transference

College bashing is popular among the crisis-seeking, anti-establishment left. The best argument they have is anecdotal evidence, that they know someone who is wildly successful despite not obtaining a degree, and thus their single example overrides all empirical evidence from hundreds of studies that show otherwise. The left, like a Malcom Gladwell book, can only offer anecdotal evidence, wishful thinking and protestations. They tell each other the narratives they want to hear, ignoring all evidence that shows they are wrong. Arguing with a welfare liberal is more for entertainment value than educational value.

These college bashers remind me of Amazon self-publishers who insist their ‘literary masterpiece’ is better than traditionally published work, or that they will be the next Hugh Howdy or E.L. James.

Research suggests college degree in the United States will earn the recipient an extra $500K+ in lifetime earnings vs. a high school diploma in today’s dollars. It pays to be smart. Graduating from a “good” school with an in-demand job (e.g. STEM or healthcare instead of the arts), will result in an extra $1M+ in lifetime earnings.

Only 70% of college students graduate with student loans, and of those that do, the average amount of debt is a bit under $30k, or about the same as a new car. I don’t know about you, but taking out $30K in loans to earn $500K-$1M+ seems like a good deal.

A common retort is that ‘blue collar’ workers can earn as much as degree holders. From a debate on Reddit, someone posted:

“Welders, plumbers, electricians can make $60k almost anywhere. Maybe not at 18, more like 20 to 22. But no everyone wants a four year liberal arts degree.”

Those figures are exaggerated. It’s more like $40-50k and that’s after lots of certification and other requirements, and typically only the most experienced tradesmen can command high figures. Contrary to popular myth, many ‘blue collar’ workers do have degrees, so all else being equal, an employer is more inclined to chose someone with a degree than someone without. An engineer for a high-tech company can make six figures easily with lots of other perks like options, plenty of vacation, generous insurance and a comfortable, safe work environment. Many blue collar workers are independent contractors and have to pay for everything out of pocket. Not such a good deal. Even amongst the skilled trades, $60K at the age of 18 is damn near unheard of outside of very high risk jobs in remote locations — and there aren’t many of those, either. $120K at all is very rare as well.

Some else shared their anecdotal evidence:

” My brother skipped University and started a business. He’s got more cash than me. Plumbers, gas fitters etc make more money than software consultants. Of course it will go down like a lead balloon here since Reddit is full of people who’ve just left Uni and have no money.”

Not true. A Google search shows that software consultants can make $60-90k, while plumbers make around $53k. Second, the stats also show that most small businesses fail, so for every dropout that is successful, the majority fail to do well. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 70 percent of new businesses survive at least two years, but that drops to 50 percent by the five-year mark. After ten years, only 30 percent are still alive. These statistics tell you nothing about how much profit these business generate for their founders. It’s not implausible to assume many surviving small businesses operate at a loss. A diploma (especially from a prestigious school and or a high-paying major) has a lot of extrinsic value while a failed small business leaves you with nothing but debt and frustration.

Someone suggested you could bankrupt and ‘start over’

“But it’s business debt, just bankrupt it, liquidate and start again. Try escaping your student loans.”

Except your credit score will be shot and you won’t get another loan. (Assuming you are able to get the first one. Good luck getting enough money to start a business when you have no income, which again, brings us back to the college degree – the first step to getting a job that pays a decent income, which in turn can be used as collateral for a business loan.) You really think lenders are motivated by altruism than the ability to turn a profit. What he is suggesting, which won’t even work, is immoral and was a contributing factor to the 2008 financial problem.

On the other hand, the problem is graduating from college only shows you have an above average IQ and or work ethic to complete the required work; that says nothing about the marketplace demand for your skills. This is where skills transference comes into play. College graduates, even in less lucrative majors, should take comfort knowing that not only will having a diploma give them an edge when applying for a job, but after graduating college they can apply their above average IQ and study habits to acquiring in-demand skills. Due to skills transference, being a history, English or other liberal arts major does not preclude success in a high-paying STEM field. Getting a master’s degree, even for a low paying field, already means you’re smarter than most people and can make the jump to learning coding and other skills. Those who major in STEM have a heard-start, but with the necessary hard work, many non-STEM majors can acquire STEM skills with relative ease compared to the general population.

For example, an English major probably has a good command of grammar, which is in many ways similar to programing. One can argue that grammar is harder than coding because with programming you know when you’ve made a mistake when the script errors or doesn’t output the intended results; however, in writing, just because something ‘sounds’ correct, even if the intent of the author is obvious to the reader, doesn’t mean it is correct.

Consider this example:

The man that lifts weights…

The man who lifts weights…

The second is correct, but to most English speakers the first doesn’t sound jarringly wrong, and the intent of the writer is obvious in either case. There’s hundreds of rules like this and they are packed in large writing handbooks for reference, similar to that of coding books. With php or Javascript, if you’re unsure, you can do trial and error until the program stops giving errors, and then you know you have the correct solution. With writing, unless someone finds the errors, no such luck.