I have been a total slacker on the blogging front! Our last COETAIL Cast (#25!!) was just the motivation I needed to get a post out. Lately I’ve been thinking about this idea of pushing everyone to go to college. I’m not sure I agree with that. I got to thinking… what if I took half the money it would cost to send my child to college and gave it to them to try and build a business. What if I took 1/4 of the cost and let them travel the world. I think about all the opportunities they could encounter along the way… volunteering/working/exploring.

TaxCredits.net Via Flickr
TaxCredits.net Via Flickr

I’ve personally met people who can travel on $12,000USD a year. What would college be giving them that other experiences couldn’t? If we assume that the reason we go to college is to learn… and not just for the diploma… what’s the big benefit of college?  How just justify paying to be a freshman in a class of 250 kids when can probably(dare I say definitely) find the exact content online and learn it from your couch… for free. More specifically what is the cost/benefit ratio for knowledge/experience acquisition for different scenarios.

Don’t get me wrong.. I think colleges and universities are wonderful places. I am currently pursuing my PhD and I work at a university! I just look at some of my friends who are in their 40’s and still have the black cloud of student debt hanging over them. I look at some of my friends who chose to forgo college and they are doing just fine. I also think we may fall into the trap of wanting to equate success with monetary gain. There are many types of success.

One thing I think I hope to see is the proliferation of Nanodegrees. What if we were able to enroll in targeted course sequences that would allow us to demonstrate a discrete set of skills through some sort of project. I have a friend who is interested in computer science. Do they really need to go through almost two years of “core” (stuff that everyone takes no matter what their degree path is) classes before they really get to the meaty stuff. I don’t know if I agree with that.

Am I crazy?

**Shout out to @Phillip_Cowell & @jasongraham99 for getting me going with a twitter convo.

4 Responses

  1. You bring up some interesting points. I think for many people letting go of a brick and mortar institution is hard and could wreck their educational foundation. Also, I think colleges and universities act as a community and a place people can call home. Could someone learn from the comfort of their couch, yes, but they would miss out on the interactions and learning from others. I recently finished my Masters in a blended program–online and face to face. I loved it, and personally would like to see more of blended programs for students. The first courses in my program were online and they were great, but once I met all my cohort face to face the next online courses became more dynamic and I felt more entrenched in my learning.

    That being said, yes I think we have to rethink the traditions and change to what best fits the needs of our society today. I’ve never heard of Nanodegrees, very interesting. Thanks for sharing about them.

    I think your question, “More specifically what is the cost/benefit ratio for knowledge/experience acquisition for different scenarios.” is the core of the debate. Maybe you could do that for your dissertation. 🙂


    1. Hi Megan, thanks for your reply. You bring up some really relevant points! I agree that there is something about physically being in the same place that cannot be replicated. I am so lucky to work with so many awesome people all over the world on various projects. These groups often meet regularly via Google Hangout etc. But it is super special and I relish the time when we actually get together and physically spend time with one another. I think the time we spend virtually hanging out is also important. Without it we wouldn’t be able to work together in the same capacity and wouldn’t get to know each other on so many different levels. I don’t think I could give up either and I’m not sure if I can put the value of one over the other… for me I need both.

      There is a big social element to the way I learn. (I was the kid who never stopped talking in class) Just simply verbalizing my thoughts sometimes helps me to process information. Often I also have a “percentage” of an understanding and when I can engage with someone their thoughts or perspective help to give me a more complete understanding of a concept. Often times this is a formal class setting… and sometimes it’s not… i.e. the Twitter conversation that prompted this post. But I know that just because I learn a specific way doesn’t mean others do as well. I think the important thing is that people recognize and understand “how” they learn and are able to engage in content in a way that compliments this.

      I also agree that the “cost benefit” would be an interesting dissertation topic… I’ll add it to my list… interesting dissertation idea #153. 🙂

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Señor Ben,

    Nice job getting back on the blog train! You have inspired me to do the same. Keep your eyes peeled for a post from me, and if you don’t see one soon call me on it!

    I think about this question a lot. Like you, I have two small kids who will one day be of college age. I was able to travel a lot before eventually going to college (State College in California, so not cripplingly expensive). In my own petri dish of experience, I learned more in my travels than I did in college, many times over.

    I think that the whole college tuition situation in the US is absurd. The debt involved in going to college is crazy. And that crazyness is amplified when you see that there are plenty of countries, not just one or two, but many, who provide free college tuition. They view it as a benefit to their society to have young people with college educations making decisions about their communities.

    I get all fired up about this, because the college tuition thing feels like a scam to me. But whenever I get all fired up at something I try to learn more about it so that I can get beyond my visceral reaction and sound more poised when I talk about it. I am not there yet with the idea of whether going to college is “worth it” or not. So I like that we are in a conversation here. I would love to see a cost/benefit ratio for knowledge/experience acquisition study as well. Bring on the knowledge!

    Regards always,


    1. Marcello! I love how you always take a measured approach to a situation. I’m still mulling this over in my mind. I’ve been thinking a little about the “gap year” idea. Why not take some time to do something else than school for a bit. What’s the rush to go right into college?

      I’m teaching a class of college freshman and many of them have no idea what they want to be doing when they finish(and I think that’s totally ok). They may have a vague idea but it isn’t really anything tangible as they don’t have any real experience to draw from. When you ask them why they chose to come to college you routinely get “you need a college degree to be successful”. And when I ask them “successful at what?”, they say “anything”. These kids are awesome and for the mosts part hard workers. They are really bought into the idea of school in the sense of “tell me what to do and I’ll do it”… so I can get a good grade… then move on. When I scratch the surface and dig deeper and push them to think outside the box and interpret events or situations they struggle a bit. But then I think back to when I was 18 and a freshman in college…. complete spaz! I just wonder if they/we are utilizing their potential in the current model.

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