Education, Revisited

Numerous articles over the past couple of years have appeared in the mainstream media questioning the ‘value’ of a college education.

The pundits point to the increase in the costs of tuition, sparse job prospects for college graduates, and innovations in technology that make it possible to learn anything online.

To which I say: not so fast.

First, as I said in Old Money, New Woman: How To Manage Your Money and Your Life, these articles are written by journalists who (most likely) have college degrees and are employed by editors and publishers who (more than most likely) have college degrees.

Yes, times change, but major life experiences do not. One of those major life experiences is Education. Others include Going to War, Becoming a Parent, and Losing a Parent.

All of these major life experiences shape us and create a common understanding of the experience. If you’ve fought in a war, whether it’s the Vietnam War or the war in Iraq, you can sit across from a person who has shared that experience and have a oil tanker full of things in common.

You will have a shared perspective that will transcend socioeconomic background and political ideology. You’ve been there. You’ve done that. And anyone who hasn’t just can’t understand it or relate, no matter how much they want to.

It’s the same with a college education, in my opinion. After four years of (perhaps) being away from home and (very likely) being out of your element on a college campus, you are a very different person. You have crossed a transformational bridge, from a very young and naive 18 year old into a slightly more wise and informed 22 year old.

You have learned more, about your field of study that applies to your future profession, of course. More importantly, you have learned more about yourself and the world around you.

Things won’t appear so black and white, cut and dried, straightforward and simple, if you’ve done your college experience right. People won’t be as easy to label.

Know that I don’t condemn those with a lack of formal education to the depths of hell for all eternity. Nor do I think the college experience is for everybody. My own college experience was a slip-shod, blind-man-with-a-shotgun affair. But I was lucky: I was a white male with resources, a degree of literary talent, and an almost sociopathic drive to succeed.

And I still regret not going to Brown University when I had the chance.

So discount those nay-sayers who cast doubt on the value of an education. Yes, it can be expensive, but as you calculate student debt and potential annual salaries, remember to factor in the Experience, and how it might change you.

And when you can’t find the dollar amount to put in that category, realize that you may have just stumbled across the real value.


  • BGT

34 thoughts on “Education, Revisited

  1. I so enjoy your rhetoric and, once again, could not agree with you more!


    You could handle it the way my family did whenever one of the kids was bemoaning their college studies, tests, lack of free time, etc. etc. –

    The conversation/monologue – inevitably transpired as follows:

    “Do me a favor. Stand Up. Look over your shoulder. See that BUTT? I’ve bought and paid for it. And IT BELONGS TO ME UNTIL IT GRADUATES FROM COLLEGE.

    Now – go make that happen.

    If this has to be revisited; we’ll talk THEN!

    I love you”

    Worked EVERY TIME and the results have been – without exception – ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE!

    Happy Holidays to you and yours (and now go make THAT happen!!!!!!)



  2. p.p.s – and don’t forget the Christmas animated toy; no one will regret it and a new family tradition will be born and repeated by all the generations (including the college graduates) to come ad infinitum

    trust me on this,

  3. Thank you Byron. A relevant topic that unfortunately does not get adequate circulation.

    I might add to your paragraph on journalists that not only are they college graduates, but also professionals in search of content to fuel their career. In addition to the handful of true investigative journalists who’s mission it is to educate and enlighten, there are those merely looking for the story angle that will gain them readership, regardless of content. I’ve encountered both in my career and am now much more discerning of the source.

    Additionally, many college educated professionals are now reentering skilled trades, but with a broader world view. That can only be good.

    Happy Holidays,

  4. A well-educated and spirited generation is needed to steer America away from commercial oligarchy, towards democracy. Merry Christmas!

    1. Had to look it up, but learned a new word thanks to you! And – incidentally – agreed!

      Life (and an enhanced vocabulary) is always a learning experience; isn’t it! Thank you for playing your part!
      Happy 2020!


      1. You’re very welcome. I’m a little confused, since usually it’s me learning from others. I hope the new word wasn’t “democracy” (wink). Happy New Year!

      2. You are not only gracious but funny as well! The ‘new word’ starts with an O. Thank you again! I look forward to ‘reading more from you in the future’. Best Regards, Jan

  5. The world is changing. I went the prep school route with my son only to take him out due to an extremely poor curriculum. A lot of private schools will brag about having an international baccalaureate curriculum, but due to lack of interest it is usually done away with.

    I remember in the late 80’s and early 90’s on parent weekend and seeing everyone with their parents at the Co-op and Mom and Dad would always buy books for themselves. Nowadays I see news outlets report on parents that cheat their child into competitive schools while their kid makes Youtube fashion videos. (My last visit to campus I heard the children use the word “like” in every sentence. This was an Ivy.)

    In short I don’t want my child around families that would deport themselves in such a manner. I’m taking a very cautious route with my child, by developing a solid reading habit, utilizing a good public school where he takes French and Violin five days a week, after he graduates high-school with mandatory good grades, I want him to take a gap year and I will send him to spend some time in the countries that changed me OR he can work. Then I will ask how he wants to proceed. I also realize that he is his own person and the best I can hope for is that my wife and I provided a foundation.

    I emphasized French in my post. Why? Secretly I would love it, if he decided to join the US Foreign Service by attempting the Foreign Service exam. French is still a diplomatic language and I would love it if he experienced Francophone culture as I did when I was just starting out. As for the violin, I have a liberal arts degree and the Music Professors gave us extensive listening lists of what they called serious music which turned into habit. Steaming BBC Radio 3 with Alexa seems to be a constant in my house. Finally I want to foster a spirit of being self taught and ingesting good sources of information regarding whatever he wants to learn. Hedy Lamar and Frank Zappa are two autodidacts that I can think of.

    1. Sounds like a great philosophy you’ve put into practice. I’m sure the rewards, for you and your son, will be many. Looking forward to hearing how the journey goes forward… Thanks, BGT

  6. Great post. I just spent Christmas talking with family about this very topic. I heard college educated people with decent jobs discussing how they didn’t learn anything “practical” in school. As an educator I can tell you the importance in “impractical” subject matter in your acquisition of “practical” information. As far as the price tag, you get what you pay for. I regret not going to Cornell when I had the chance. My young frugal side missed the big picture. At the time I thought I had the big picture, now I know otherwise. Expensive, “impractical” education is the best money ever spent.

    1. Dario, my sentiments exactly. I don’t regret any dollar spent on education. Where you attend absolutely matters in the big picture. I prioritized avoiding student loans and opted for a local college for my degree (my parents believed it was important for us to pay for our own education, and therefore, value it more). If I could go back in time, I would have paid for the best school I could get into. Loans were easily paid off, and the education paid for itself much faster than expected. There are immeasurable gains in a university such as connections created and being exposed to broader minds and bigger opportunities. I would like to see what I could have achieved if I had challenged myself more. You do get what you pay for. The regrets I hear from some educated people is WHAT they studied, as universities are creating “useless” degrees with no career outlook, which may have inspired the recent negative articles. I’m advising my children to select a field that results in an income and is valued by society.

      With regards to curriculum being insufficient as mentioned by Bob above (and I agree), our teachers are facing a modern problem of how to teach this newer generation due to the advancing technology. For example, my 12 year old son has a phone app that allows him to take a picture of a math problem, and the app will give him the solution with steps. It is difficult to keep the curriculum of the past and its relevance. I’m not sure of what the future holds for them.

  7. Well said. Those who deride a university education and the various personal as well as (later) professional advantages it affords are shortsighted to say the least.

    A Belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,


  8. Most intriguing post. You are right, Byron. Higher education is one of the most life changing experiences you can have. However, the adage ‘college isn’t for everyone’ does not talk about ALL colleges/universities. Taken in its original context, the saying talked about RESIDENTIAL 4 year colleges and, truthfully, those are not for everyone. The experience and value of your education, as my family can attest, depends not on where you attend (Ivy, private or public), how long you attend (2 years, 4 years, 8 years) or how you attend (residential, commuter or online), but what you want to get out of it and what you plan to put into it.

    My son thought about attending a well known out-of-state school but in the end felt the University of New England, a local university where his schooling would be paid for by scholarships and grants, and being allowed to do research in his freshman year in his chosen field, was the better deal. Though he is a commuter, he and his residential friends attend classes together, are taught by the same professors on how to think critically, eat together when he is on campus, and are involved in the same clubs and campus life. Granted he lives at home, but he does his own laundry, makes his own meals, and pays for his own expenses. Ironically, seeing how his friends have to cope with dorm life (most especially communal showers) has given him a greater appreciation for our allowing him to live at home.

    Also, I agree with Bob’s comments about taking a gap year. For some students who are not ready for independence of being away at college for the first time, taking a year to mature by traveling or working before going to college is one of the best gifts that one can give to oneself.

  9. There’s a growing lack of (and perhaps more urgent need for) local craftsmen and technical professions. But who wants them in their family? The stigma against non-intellectual work is unfortunate.

    However, in the British royal family there’s a woodworker, and in the (defunct) Portuguese royal family there’s a trained firefighter. Talking of setting an example. There’s possibly more to be admired in their work, than in the careers of many over-educated policy wonks.

    1. I agree, to me it’s a matter of intellectual self-cultivation. Let me tell another story to contrast the one about the visit to a college where I kept hearing “like”. Two Winters ago when it was very cold out my boiler broke down and the temperature of the house dropped big time. The repair person who came was a very kind gentleman. He methodically set his tools up, played some music out of his phone and speaker (Mozart), put on his half glasses and worked. After the repair he methodically cleaned all parts and then presented me with a 1100.00 bill for 45 minutes of work. It was very evident that he enjoyed his chosen field.

      Its concerning when I hear politicians emphasis college for all without seeing the bigger picture. We want the kids to have an intellectual hunger but at the same time have the self awareness to know how she/he wants to earn a living. I know a gentleman who is well into his 60’s and works everyday, and I can tell he is tired. He told me two of his kids went to Ivy schools. I said Wow thats great. He said no it isn’t. He was on cloud nine until he got the first tuition bill. The kids are graduated and not working, BUT his oldest one went trade school for two years and is working and has her own house.

      1. Thanks for sharing this, Bob. It seems that you have indeed a great handyman. Not without humour: Next time, why not start a casual conversation to find out whether he truly appreciates classical music?
        You don’t want him to use a supraliminal trick to increase your bill. If he had played “Born to be wild”, would your impression of his service have been the same?

        Granted, university is not the right path for all. But doesn’t everyone, at least, deserve equal opportunity? The answer ultimately depends on one’s values. The European spirit in which I was educated puts strong emphasis on solidarity. “En todo amar y servir”. But in America, things sometimes seem to come down to crude survival of the fittest.

        Now, back to the live broadcast of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Happy New Year.

  10. “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.

    “My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

    ~ John Adams (1735-1826)

  11. I think most of the “college isn’t for everyone” talk is because college tuition is outrageously expensive (it has risen exponentially faster than inflation and people’s wages) and millions of people are going into ruinous debt to pay for it. Most people are not independently wealthy, so they’re taking a hard look at whether being in six-figure debt for decades is worth it.

  12. I was reading recently about Virginia Woolf who didn’t go to university but grew up in a house with a large library, I would much rather have a conversation with someone who was self taught in the humanities rather than someone who went to university because that was the socially acceptable and economically advantageous thing to do. The former I would have some hope of speaking with about Jane Austen while the latter might make me discuss house prices. I remember meeting a woman at my university who told me candidly that in her four years spent obtaining a business degree (with solid marks) the she had not once taken a book out of the very excellent university library.

    None of this is to imply that I begrudge people trudging through university degrees to obtain a good job and social standing. I think that can be an honourable thing to do, but I can’t help thinking that getting a university degree and getting an education are not the same thing.

    1. Thank you for the insights, MGB. Yes, quite a few great writers grow up in literate environments, sans formal education. A formidable combination. – BGT

  13. A good high quality education will get people far in life. The problem is how education is paid for. We pay for public schools with our tax dollars and we have college being paid for with tuition fees. People who want free college should come out of their Kool-Aid induced stupor.

    1. Thanks, ragnarsbhut. It’s a difficult issue to address: how and when to provide education. It’s true that you get what you pay for, and that you appreciate things more if you pay for them. How we address inequality in access to education is part of this. Hopefully we can have brilliant minds find workable solutions. – BGT

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