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Oct 3, 2023·edited Oct 3, 2023

"The missing piece of the puzzle, in so much of the discussion about college costs, is the degree to which public funding for state colleges cratered amidst post-financial crisis austerity."

College debt is an effective way to discipline those who otherwise would turn out to be surplus elites, or just troublemakers.

Especially debts that generally cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. *cough* Biden *cough*

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SECOND

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I liked you better as a Firster.

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I like the sound of this but what does it mean?

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You aren't likely to stir up trouble if you gotta make your student loan nut every month.

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If you're going to graduate from college and work as a waiter you might as well go straight to the job and skip the debt.

The question I have regarding whether or not society is sending too many kids to college is whether or not there are enough white collar jobs available to support all of the graduates. Peter Turchin and others suggest that the answer to that question is "No".

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My intuition is that there is a massive hollowing out of the middle. In tech, there are LOTS of top level jobs-- the type that have a 1 day+ interview processes. Zero at the bottom and middle. (I dont see too many 'wanted: average programmer' or 'midlevel -meh- project manager') Below that, plenty of signs in my city for midnight shift work at the local fast food outlets. Even those I suspect the people doing the 1 day+ interview process jobs are looking for ways to automate them into history :(

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The problem is even worse in China. Their college youth unemployment was north of 21% before CCP just stopped publishing the data. So this is a not a US specific phenomenon.

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I think China is in the midst of an economic downturn, so is the problem there structural or a consequence of an impending recession/slowdown?

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I would say it is structural in nature. These college graduates need jobs. There must be a large number of large successful companies offering those jobs. Unfortunately for CCP, this ecosystem requires more freedom than Chairman Xi is comfortable with. China is more authoritarian now than it has been since Mao and authoritarian societies do not produce a prosperous white collar job class. What China needs is less CCP, and that's one thing it won't get. Add demographics to the mix and increasing graying of the population and you have some problems that you can't simply stimulate your way out of or austerity your way out of it. No one knows the future, but China model is showing its severe limitations right now.

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If the population is greying wouldn't that mean more opportunities for younger workers in the future?

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Along with academic ability, discipline, etc, such an important topic often neglected is whether the kid has any interest in college in the first place. A decent number of bright kids would just prefer to do other things (some for better reasons than others of course).

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I've always thought in an ideal world 18-22 year olds who are going to community college, getting trade apprenticeships or working service jobs should be able to live on college campuses, go to parties, play intramural sports, act in plays, join clubs, etc. I think it would be very healthy for our society to have more cross-class fraternization, and the social experience of going to a new place, meeting new people and trying new activities should be available to all people, not just people who have rich parents or score better on a test. It would be expensive to offer scholarships to all 18-year-olds, but from the 40,000 foot view it would be a drop in the bucket compared to what we spend on health care for elders.

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“go to parties, play intramural sports, act in plays, join clubs, etc.”

In pre-WWII America (not to mention Europe) there was an incredibly diverse array of community-based organizations that provided for just such activities for and by the working and middle classes, whether trade unions and workingmens’ clubs, political clubs, fraternal service clubs, religious groups, community theaters, etc. One could argue that (for the college-attending middle-class) universities and their internal networks replaced a lot of these community ties.

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One could indeed make this argument, and I would agree with it.

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In Israel there is a 2 yr (F) or 32 month (M) national service. I’ve heard that this results in many cases in a much more mature sense of how to handle the next steps in life (whether college or whatever)

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Not sure the situations are compatible. In Israel, young people don't do national service. They go to the army to learn how to defend their country that is under constant existential threat. Of course that breeds a more mature sense of how to live later.

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Sometime right before 9-11 but after the "2nd" Intifada started in Israel, I was visiting for work purposes. We usually stayed at the Dan in Herzliya, and there was a little bar bar up the beach from there that we would hit in the evenings after tedious meetings. I very distinctly recall being there one evening when all these young solders pilled in (men and women - late teens early 20s), still in uniform. a big pile of riffles near the entrance, and started pounding beers. Mind you, there were some places getting bombed at that time, it was a bit stressful.

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My son really enjoys working with his hands and being outdoors and is not a willing reader. I am actually hoping that he doesn’t want to go to university when he turns 18, and instead pursues a trade. Machinists, electricians, and carpenters make very good wages, and demand is high for these jobs. Of course, if he wants to go to university I’ll support him. But trades is a very lucrative option that I don’t think schools push nearly enough for the next generation.

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Trades CAN BE a very lucrative way to go. But there's also a ton of people making bad money in menial roles in the trades. Huge variance within a huge chunk of the economy. https://freddiedeboer.medium.com/lots-of-talk-about-the-trades-not-much-evidence-d7009d8db49e

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Oh, absolutely. If you’re an unskilled labourer you’re making peanuts, and there’s the added risk in trades of losing a finger, a foot, or you know, dying on the job. But once you’re into the journeyman phase of your career, you can pretty much call your shot, and that is a great option for those who are less scholastically inclined and don’t mind getting dirty. Plus, as long as you don’t fall into the drug and alcohol problem that many tradesmen do (another drawback of the trades option) you can stay pretty fit without setting foot in a gym.

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Plus there is the question of fit. Somebody who loves working with their hands should probably get a job working with their hands, especially if the alternative is dying a slow, stress related death in a crappy office job.

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"Plus, as long as you don’t fall into the drug and alcohol problem that many tradesmen do (another drawback of the trades option) you can stay pretty fit without setting foot in a gym."

Is it really a good way to stay fit? I'm sure they all have incredible grip strength but I've always assumed it's hell on their joints. And if you tweak your back you're not just going to take it easy to recover -- you'll probably just make it worse every day for the rest of your life.

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It’s better than sitting in a chair for eight hours a day, which is what a lot of jobs nowadays boil down to, and, if you’re not overweight, the damage to your joints should be negligible. And when you get to the higher levels of most trades, the more labour intensive stuff is usually done by the apprentices and unskilled labourers, so you won’t have to break your back when you’re 45 and can’t lift like you could back in your twenties.

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And the people who end up in leadership in the trades probably went to college. My brother got an art degree, then worked at some NGOs, then became a welder. When it came time to promote a new business manager, they picked him because he had the necessary office skills for the job.

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The way I see it is that there are 4 different outcomes from a college degree: 1.) you acquire new skills and knowledge that make you employable in your chosen field. 2.) your degree is a signaling mechanism that serves as a filter for employers to see you pass a minimum threshold of intelligence, but your curriculum is irrelevant. 3.) you learn a lot, get a ton of intrinsic value from your courses but it has very little impact on your employment prospects overall. Or 4.) you are saddled with debt and a degree that literally has negative utility in the job market.

I think of all of these outcomes, number 1 is by far the smallest cohort. For the vast majority college is a series of hoops, and even high performing students will come out with any real knowledge in their field. My good friend graduated Cum Laude in economics and didn’t even know who Keynes was or that Keynesian economics was a thing. 4 years studying economics, gettting good grades, he still couldn’t even articulate the basics of economic theory. Huge waste of resources.

I completely understand why kids would make poor decision about their major, but I can’t wrap my head around why more parents dont push back against their son or daughter wanting to take out a 150k loan to major in vocal performance or something. It boggles the mind. You’re way better off moving to a major city, waiting tables, finding as much stage time as possible and getting a vocal coach.

I think college should be free, but far more rigorous with way less people attending. As it stands now it’s the worst of both worlds.

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Oct 3, 2023Liked by Freddie deBoer

We need a serious option for high schoolers who aren't sure if college is right for them, don't know what they want to study, or don't have the discipline and focus to be successful college students yet. Eighteen is extremely young to make any decisions about your long-term (or even medium-term) path in life. Many kids in this category end up joining the military, but there should be a national service version like they have in Germany. City Year is great but it focuses on mentorship of younger kids - which isn't something everyone's necessarily suited or ready for.

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Come with me! Let’s create our own society out back!

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Oct 3, 2023·edited Oct 3, 2023

I've often thought that a mandatory 1 year of civil service, after high school, would be an outstanding benefit to both kids and the country at large. Doesn't have to be military of course, could be some sort of WPA likeness and/or various apprenticeships mixed in. Hell, even Peace Corp could count. Basically anything to get kids a) out of their comfort zone, b) engaged with people and places they wouldn't normally have exposure to, and c) learning and doing skills/trades that benefit themselves and the community.

As an added bonus, rich parents could have the option to buy their kids out of participating, with the money added to the program itself. It might cause some social stigma, but it's not like rich families don't buy their way in and out of lots of things already.

On a personal note, I was a good student throughout grade and high school, yet was woefully unprepared (and too mentally immature) for the college social scene. I ended up dropping out for a few years and finally joined the Navy a full 7 years after high school. If I could do it again I would 100% have joined the Navy straight outta high school. At the time, zero of my friends went that route and it never once came up. College was simply what middle class kids did after high school, it was hardly a discussion.

I really wish there were other civil service options besides the military for 18yo's. For tons of modern kids, college, and the hard financial lessons associated with it nowadays, is too early to be making those unalterable life decisions. Older girls and boys really need time to marinate in all the joys and pitfalls of early adulthood before becoming women and men. Because modern living has pretty much defanged all the old, time-honored, hard ways of growing up. Speaking from some experience, it's too easy to be a man-child in the modern era.

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Second this comment. I was really, really ready for the high school to college leap, but I will wish to the end of my days I'd taken a year, or five, between college and law school. It was the first time I was out among people who'd had lives, families, entire other careers before coming to law, rather than being in my exact age cohort. There was a huge difference in maturity between those who'd done literally anything besides college after high school and those who hadn't, and I keenly felt what I was lacking as a member of the second group.

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I went to law school at night after working 7 years in an engineering job. This was not by design. I had no intention of law school as an undergrad. I needed a job and paychecks (got married young). Then, for a bunch of reasons, I decided to go (after also doing pointless night school MBA). We had two kids while I was going, but I had the good fortune of a day job that was not very tasking, so I could do all my class prep at work. this was over 30 years ago, and now I am close to retirement. That time off, and also the job experience (and I think that I was married with kids) also helped me secure a job at a high end IP law firm, which was not easy to do at that time for night students, As I remember it, most of the students were similarly situated to me (had day jobs, spouses, kids). Lots of the women also had kids during school. I recall one who was out of class on a Thursday night delivering a child, and back in her seat the very next Monday night. she was hardcore.

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Sounds like communism to me. Kidding aside, I genuinely think this would be a great idea but would never happen in a country as obsessed with "freedom" as this one.

"College was simply what middle class kids did after high school, it was hardly a discussion." This one really hits home. Looking back every conversation was like "you're a good student and you like math and science class. Go be an engineer." So it was like okay, guess that is what I am doing.

Everything basically worked out in the end for me but it was not super smooth. Looking back I'm pretty sure I had really bad anxiety issues in college that I just didn't really know how to deal with at the time. I still have a great group of friends in my 30s but only one of them was someone I met in college.

If i could do it all over again I would have changed some things but it is hard to know as an 18 year old. I think my people in my general age group (born in 1990) had the additional burden of most of our parents not going to college, but if they "made it" the way to be a successful parent was for your kids to go to college. I don't know, it's a murky topic. All i know is that I hope in 17 years (1 year old at home) the college/post high school landscape looks completely different than it does now.

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I think there's side benefits to not letting even rich kids buy their way out of such a compulsory civil service system, mostly in the leavening effects it seems like such systems have in blending people of various backgrounds together. It bursts a lot of social bubbles and attitudes about "other people".

I think such a system also should have a strong vocational component, like an option to sign up for an additional year and get some kind of accredited trade experience.

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Oct 3, 2023·edited Oct 4, 2023

Agree. What's nuts is that many many others also agree and yet as far as I know there has been zero political action to create something like this (please correct me if I'm wrong). I genuinely don't have any idea how something like this could be made real...

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Can we also impose a year of civic service on retirees as part of their social security entitlement?

Based on what I’ve been subjected to in social media and forwarded emails, I think it’s needed.

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Oct 4, 2023·edited Oct 4, 2023

I am 62 and paid into social security max for over 40 years. I don't need it, but if I did to survive, and some one in Congress actually proposed that, they would be out on their ass with a "fuck off" the very next election.

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I recently had a forced fun dinner with other members of the PMC class at my BS job and the topic of "college -- is it worth it?" came up. Many said maybe not, and hopefully their children consider all avenues. (I know it was BS and a way to sound edgy and open minded, but they said it.) They all say things like "Facebook was founded by drop outs" and "my plumber charges $200 an hour." I was like but you have to understand why this emphasis on college started! Zuckerberg is a genius and your plumber will get a knee replacement at 30.

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I think there are two issues that directly affect this question; they're starting to move but haven't moved sufficiently to clear the way. One is that we expect children to grow up later and later: in times past a child who was 15-16 years old was adult enough to start adult life. Now we don't expect kids to become adults until they're 25 or more. This is part of the reason why college has become more or less expected: because what are you going to do with the kid if he's not old enough to be an adult but is done with high school? just send him to four more years of high school, apparently.

The other issue is what, exactly, we go to college for. The current view, which is I think very slowly changing, is we go to college to collect skills to turn into a job. In my family we viewed college as a kind of finishing school; it gave experience being responsible for yourself without being in the parents' home, it gave socialization opportunities you couldn't have at home. If the kid didn't really need that finishing and wasn't looking into a career that needed the degree there was no reason to go to college, they could just live at home, or move out once they were financially stable, and work. Not necessarily at their lifetime job; living at home gives you the opportunity to work at this job, discover you hate it, and move on to something else. Or to find that you really like this job even though you had never considered it before.

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Oct 3, 2023Liked by Freddie deBoer

I honestly think any discussion on this topic starts and stops at the cost question. $75,000 per year for anything needs to give any rational person pause. In state tuition at a garden variety state flagship school is $25,000 with room and board and even that figure ought to beget questions. The money needs to be paid back if you borrow it. The person who opts not to go can do a lot of different things and even though they may not make productive use of their time, they won't own Sallie Mae $200,000 when they finally achieve some sense of direction.

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It's worth saying that nobody pays sticker price - for reasons of perverse incentives, colleges have inflated official tuition figures and then give almost everyone some kind of "discount."

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Yeah, but there's plenty of people who pay more than they can afford, then get saddled with debt or have a path closed off to them to do something they would have preferred -- like become a teacher or social worker -- because they chose a private college when they were 18.

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Oct 3, 2023·edited Oct 3, 2023

Like I have a friend who left a corporate job that he hated to become a social worker. But he borrowed money for college 10 years ago and the rent + debt combo in an expensive city has been a major, major source of stress for years and is now about to restart in full.

Sure, financially speaking, he should've stayed at his boring job or at least become a social worker in a cheaper place.

But let me ask a different question: what about that situation is good or right? Should a college graduate with a working class job have to suffer for years for never making their full earning potential? Should cities have to draw from a smaller base of civil servants -- those who were born rich, born so poor they have no college debt, or willing to sacrifice their financial health for years?

Like, this strikes me as a tragically bad situation that needs to be remedied in some way.

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Many teachers and civil servants are enrolled in the federal public service loan forgiveness program.

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Not nobody.

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When I was a teen I think the labor participation rate was high 55-60%. I think its somewhere in the 30-40% range now. Thats a big difference. Talking to my friends with children they seem to mostly encourage them NOT to work. They want their kids to "focus on education" etc. I think that kinda misses important life lessons about having a job when you are a teen. You are dumb, you make mistakes, you get your ass fired maybe. Its just not that consequential at 16 to get fired from a movie theater. You get a taste of what crap jobs are like. I worked as a bus boy in a bar in my last year of high school and holy crap, that was a real motivator to do well in university. Whole host of other soft skills too come with crappy jobs as a teenager.

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This is a good point. I was wondering where all the teenage workers have gone. Many of the jobs I worked from 14-18 like barista and waiter seem to be done by college graduates now. I made just over minimum wage making lattes. Now Starbucks is unionizing and providing healthcare plans for a team of 30 year olds. That’s a good thing, but it’s also weird that there aren’t many entry level roles for kids to learn about work anymore.

And yeah, after a summer pouring concrete I’m forever grateful for my comfy office job.

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I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, of course people should have decent wages and healthcare. On the other, I see a lot of 33yos in my expensive city barista-ing, and it seems like arrested development. I sympathize that they’re not earning enough to buy a house, etc, but that's partly because they’re not supposed to still be baristas at that 33. But this may be cause I live in a place with a lot of artists…

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This is not my experience. My family is definitely upper middle class, and all my teen cousins work. They have a lot more choice, too than I did when I was a teen due to the labor shortage! The athletic cousin is working construction, the fashionable one is selling shoes and the really friendly one is working at Trader Joe's. They all found jobs they like and that help them develop skills they care about.

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What about an anti-discrimination measure that prohibits employers from requiring college degrees for jobs that don’t need college degrees? Email jockeys don’t need to be college educated.

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They should be able to give an iq test instead, since the degree is essentially serving as a really expensive and inefficient proxy for intelligence anyway.

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To add on to Thwap's comment it was Grigg's vs Duke Power Company in particular that led to this.

You can perform tests but they can't be general intelligence tests, you must be able to prove that it's directly relevant to the job.

In the tech world this is "fairly" simple to do although wide debate on doing it right and it's worth it due to how few skilled people there are.

For email jobs they have simply defaulted to a degree as it's easier and safer to use that as a proxy for general intelligence.

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Oct 3, 2023·edited Oct 3, 2023

I think this article has really oversold the college experience, and in that way misses a huge reason why college is no longer worth it for a lot of students. I'm sure a lot of people have the "drinking drugging sleeping around" experience, but a whole lot don't. I didn't. Student commuters, students that have to work, students trying to juggle too many classes to minimize debt. All are cut out.

My dad was an electrical contractor who made ok money. There was a job waiting for me if I wanted it, but instead I went to college because I had DREAMS dang it.

My first year I ended up panhandling in front of Carls Jr on many nights. Between tuition and rent all I had left over was $100 for three months. My grades cratered, my hygiene suffered, I felt ill all the time and I eventually dropped out. It was the darkest period of my life and the only time I seriously considered suicide. Nobody sleeps with a guy who has to panhandle. Nobody at college drinks with a guy who shoplifts 40s. The article talks about how impossible it is to do art without parent support, college is no different these days.

This article is treating college as an alternative to the rat race that just doesn't exist any more. College is itself a burden for a great many, not a time of freedom. Students aren't asking if college is "worth it", they're asking if they can even afford it. They aren't weighting college as one of a set of options, they are performing triage and college is a limb that's getting gangrene. College is a predatory lender that relies entirely on its gatekeeping role in a system that has used credentialism to replace outright discrimination. That. is. it.

After I dropped out I crawled back home, and it was easier than I ever imagined it would be. I worked for a few years as an electrician, and I made ok money, and after a few years I decided to go back. And I blew through all my saving, commuted to a local school and don't remember a single name of anyone I met there, got my degree and now make as much as my brother who went into the union. Was it worth it? I don't know, but I wouldn't do it again if I had the option.

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Wow, well I didn’t have that exact experience, but agree that many people don’t have the stereotypical fun college experience. In my case, I just didn’t like the drinking, the parties, the noise, any of it. I got out of the dorm the second I could. If my school had let me commute, I’d have done it in a heartbeat. And I bet there are lots of people who aren’t enamored of campus life.

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The noise, my God, the noise. I can still hear it.

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Man this is a great indictment. I understand what the article’s point is regarding “college experience”, but I think you’re right.

I went for a dual degree in political science and music. I joined a service fraternity so I had socialization, but I didn’t party because I was keeping up with two degree’s coursework, developing a practice ethic, and maintaining a relationship I wasn’t fully satisfied in but didn’t know how to get out of cuz I though my own emotions were wrong (dealt with an alcoholic parent growing up and the partner came from a trad Protestant background). No casual sleeping during that era. No drugs, didn’t care. Coursework covered by academic scholarships and parent’s prepaid fund.

I knew no better than to attend uni because of the narrative I was indoctrinated with in school, I didn’t have a mind for trade work at the time (father was a carpenter but I knew I wanted to be a musician), and I had the academic aptitude but absolutely no guidance or background in navigating music as a working practice or profession. Picked poly sci as a backup cuz I liked social science classes and wanted to possibly resolve big social conflicts (haha), having been told there’s no money in music. Had to figure it all out the hard way on my own, and took on out of state grad school debt for music performance to escape my dead end personal life at the time.

Postgraduate, I still gotta work service sector day jobs cuz the gig scene around town is dry and has a steep entry curve for what’s established. No political internships to leverage. Just freelance writing/gigs and solo projects atm. Kids who get to freewheel for a few years studying some cushy fast-track degree into a stable profession have it lucky, I don’t think it’s the norm even for uni attendees.

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I knew lots of people who were selling their blood plasma, their eggs, dealing drugs, and stripping in college for money. And they even had parental support, but it doesn't cover the costs of rent, gas, repairs on the old crappy car you inevitably drive, $3k for books every year etc etc.

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I think the starting question HAS to be “what sort of work do I want to do, and what further training do I need to do it?”

I know that’s hard to answer at 18. You know what else is hard? Struggling to pay off student debt and raise a family while working a series of low end jobs because you never seriously contemplated that question until after earning a Master’s degree in English. And, I mean, 18 year olds throughout history have muddled through making comparably serious decisions. Unless we’re going to extend universal public schooling through age 25, it just kinda is what it is.

Do I blame the 18 year olds? Not so much (although by the time the 18 year old is 10 years older I think they have some agency) but I do blame their parents and society writ large.

I have a well-compensated job I love that exactly matches my degree, and this is 100% attributable to my parents HAMMERING into me that (next to being an upright person of good moral character) The Most Important Task of my young adulthood was choosing meaningful work for myself, that college choices were subsidiary to that, and that I should take the most straightforward path to achieve that end.

Sometimes this made me really angry. Sometimes their refusal to support me finding myself, or going to a more expensive school when a less expensive school would do, made me feel ~betrayed~ as only an adolescent can. But it was one of the best things they ever did for me, and now I am almost alone among the folks I graduated with in having the job I want with only the exact amount of school I needed in order to get that job.

So is college worth it? Totally backwards unhelpful question. The question is: what remunerative work would I like to pursue? College is worth it if the answer is “I would like to go into medicine” and useless if the answer is “I would like to drive a big rig.”

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Oct 3, 2023·edited Oct 3, 2023

What about simply reducing the costs? Canadian and European colleges are much cheaper. Big classes, scantron tests, and way fewer administrators seem like a good idea. Dorms are a nice thing for freshmen and even sophomores, but the college doesn't need to solve kids' social lives or meals or academic requirements for them -- I believe in the youth's ability to find parties and get laid and even form unproductive clubs on their own time.

I still think going to college and liberal arts education is really good. But, even if we still want most people to go to college, do they have to go to the same college experience that we've built up over the last 50 years?

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Yeah, I don't think the issue is anything more than cost. I also think Freddie missed in his assumption that 18 year olds are getting nondescript, office email jobs right out of high school. Those jobs all now require a degree and most people don't think paying exorbitant tuition to send emails 8 hours a day is worth it.

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