Monday, November 9, 2009

Stoplights and Freeways. Part 2

The second problem arises in the fact that you have multiple people getting off at the same exit, but that have entirely different destinations. Many times people miss their exit and have to get off at the wrong one (a change of Major is a good example).

Overall, this creates congestion. People only have or know of (college) one way to get to where they want to go, so they get on the "freeway". The problem is that the freeway only has capacity for so many people. Eventually there are too many and nobody is going anywhere.

This is when smart, and confident people get off the freeway and take the side roads. It's a  risk, and we know that, but it's better than just sitting there. At least, if we fail, we learned something, saw something, or stopped for a latté. But many people do choose to just sit there. Why? What's the point?

The point is that they have faith in the "system". They have faith that the freeway is the fastest way to get them where they want to go. They have faith that it will speed up. They believe in what the freeway was designed for. But its not functioning anymore... so they wait. They wait until the congestion goes away. But the congestion of the college "freeway" won't go away. Not until a change is made.

This congestion is due to the fact that more and more people are required to go to college to get certain jobs. The jobs that require you to have master's degrees now didn't require them ten years ago and the jobs that require lesser degrees now didn't require any at all before! More and more people are going to college because they see that the people with the degrees are the ones getting the good jobs. It's not that we needed more training to do the same job, but that the perception is that if you have a degree, it makes you a better person, and distinguishes you from everybody else. This is a problematic assumption because in some ways it does make you more accomplished, but in other ways it doesn't, and it no longer differentiates you. Let me explain.

A degree is a certificate of accomplishment, nothing more. It shows that you did something that other people did not do. It shows that you put up with a lot of bullshit and made it through. In a lot of ways, college is a big endurance test. How much time can we make you waste? How many demeaning projects can we make you do? How many ways are there to read a book; write a paper; pronounce tomato? The system is designed make some people quit and others stick. It is not particularly designed to help you learn or gain experience.

Since the system is not necessarily designed to give you the knowledge and definitely not the experience needed to make it in most jobs, employers have resorted to requiring extra on-the-job experience for employment candidates. Employers know that a degree doesn't really mean you know what your doing. Also, in response, as I've mentioned, they now require more and more schooling for the same job. I'm not sure why they continue to buy into this system, but I'm not them. I can't really answer for their misdeeds.

Here's the big problem with this: Eventually the returns for going to school will be so dismally low that it won't be worth it... and people will notice. Imagine having to spend even 4  years in college just to pick up a minimum wage job. Imagine 10... 20. Extreme? Of course, but it is where we are headed unless change happens. Which is why change is inevitable. Obviously we will never let this happen because nobody wants to spend half their life learning how to live the rest of their life.  Change will happen eventually...

... so lets get a head start. 

Summary of points:

  • Just like on the freeway, congestion is a major problem in college
  • Scarcity creates value
  • The current Higher Education system creates diminishing returns. (any entry economics, stats, or sociology class can show you this)
  • If everybody is getting on at the same place and getting off at the same place, what differentiates them in the post-graduate job market? Without specific experience, nothing.
  • Employers want that something special that makes you stand out. College can't give you that.
  • Eventually the system will collapse if change is not made. 
  • It's quicker, and less painful, to peel the band-aid off quickly.

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