Thursday, July 29, 2010


Did you pursue an education only for a future return, i.e., was it merely an investment and nothing beyond that?


Demosthenes of America said...

No, future salary had nothing to do with my decision.

Anonymous said...

I pursued an education because I thought it was the right thing to do. I graduated with a masters in 1974, but I was lucky. My bachelors was paid for with a teacher's scholarship & my parents paid for my masters, which took one year. My daughters (I'm Mrs. Q) wanted to go to the 2nd best business school (DePaul) in the country. They went to a community college for 2 years (thank goodness) & then to DePaul for 2 years. They went because it was something important to them...they wanted careers in business. Two years later & further from their degree, lots of debt, but no business prospects, either working for someone or their own businesses. Like so many of their friends, they are bright, full of ideas, in debt & no money to finance anything...the answer to your question is NO! The education was something they are still proud of, but so disappointed in the outcome.

Anonymous said...

Not at all. If I was in it for the money, I easily would've chosen something else in business.

While I am confident I could make a lot of money in business, I was more interested in contributing to the worlds knowledge and humanity. I was also interested in pursuing a passion, a love of people, and satiating my curiosity.

I've never had dreams of living an Mtv Cribs life, but I also never dreamed of having to give up my dreams of research to get a corporate job to pay off my student loans.

I don't mind paying for student loans. I don't mind paying interest on student loans. I DO mind paying compounding interest on student loans.

Now that a college education is seen to be a necessity like a car or home, student loan interest should be like getting a car loan or mortgage - one big number that can only be paid down.

My suggestion to "fix" or "help" the student loan situation is to recalculate everyone's student loans with simple interest and then give credits for all past payments.

Even if everyone is charged 20%, one knows that at some point they will make that last student loan payment.

Right now, many, like myself, are making regular payments and still seeing the bottom line get bigger and bigger.
It's discouraging and seems hopeless.
I bet less people would default under this plan as well.

gail said...

I pursued an education for myself. I have always had a thirst for knowledge and yearned for a degree. I was married and divorced young and raised a family alone. When I reached my 50's I felt it was time for me at last. I was finally able to reach for my dream. The only 'future return' I was looking for was to work in a field I had spent my life dreaming about, to jump out of bed and head for work with a smile on my face and joy in my heart instead of dragging myself in, crying daily and dreading every day. Unfortunately my dream became my worst nightmare. Thanks to fulfilling my dream I am now in debt until death, broke, unemployed and more miserable now than when I cried myself to work every morning. Thank you America, you urge us to get an education only to pull the rug out! No invetment, no future return. So sad...

Anonymous said...

If you pursued education for yourself, then pay for it! Take responsibility for your "selfish" desire to become educated. You knew the costs of your degree program. Why did you not consider the outcome?

BL1Y said...

Here's what you never hear in the "education as investment" discussion: it's not a passive investment. Your education does not generate money. At best, all it does is give you different work opportunities. You don't get a lump sum upon graduation reflecting your increased earning power, and you can't call JG Wentworth and get cash now.

Education isn't like buying a rental property, it's like buying a toolset. You still have to go bust your ass to get a return on your "investment."

Robert Paulsen said...

My undergraduate degree was about desire to work in the field, aptitude, and interest. It wasn't per se about the paycheck, but when I decided on my major, I didn't know how anybody outside of engineering got a job.

Law school was about the investment. Starting salary for a patent attorney was supposed to be 40k more than I could expect working in engineering, if you went to a boutique. Big Law was supposed to be more.

Cryn Johannsen said...

I'm sorry. Did anyone here say they weren't taking responsibility for their education? No. Nobody said that. I encourage you to tone down your outrage and read through this blog carefully. Moreover, the problem is a systemic one. That's my point. It saddens me that a person like you doesn't understand that.

Anonymous said...

I sympathize with people who incurred debt by going to top schools for engineering/science degrees, instead spending money on "degrees" in social sciences and humanities.

You knew that your prospects of paying down this debt were grim with your humanities majors. Why did you pursue them?

Ken said...

People do things for a reason, namely positive gain for themselves. Even people that provide charity derive psychological gain for themselves.
Not so far back in history there was no such thing as currency, so people did not do things for "money", they did things to maintain survival and sustainability, like cutting wood to trade with a farmer for food. Money itself may not be a motivator to attend college, but there is some sort of trade off. In the case of school it is to gain more ideas, more thoughts and perhaps more insights. That is an exchange of time for knowledge. The difference today is that we do not have to exchange chickens and carrots with the school master for hours of study, we just use money instead.
But if you are going to give educators a truck load of money for your time in school, shouldn't they be able to teach you how to sustain yourself for your life? You know the whole "Give a man a fish, eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and they eat for a lifetime" idea?
It began when we bought hook line and sinker into the "knowledge for knowledge sake" idea. If that were really true, then colleges would be giving their services away for free. But it just doesn't work that way. Combine that with the “everyone should go to college” idea and we have ourselves a mess of an economy.
Organized learning institutions are far more expensive than the value of knowledge being provided. "Knowledge" today is shockingly cheap because of the advent of the internet.
However we still have record numbers of students attending higher education today looking for something better because they think it is the right thing to do. Many are paying a dear price for looking in the wrong place.
This country has been on the path of an unsustainable standard of living for years. It has finally caught up, and landed on this current young generation. They have borrowed thousands of chickens to exchange with the schoolmaster for a few bean sprouts, but they just don't have the fertilizer to grow their own sustainable farm from it.
What a shock it is for so many college grads to realize all of their work adds up to nothing because the only skill other people can derive from them is the ability to pour lattes at Starbucks. And I bet many of them chided that kid in shop class who ended up becoming a carpenter making good money for a skill he can provide to others. Somewhere along the line we all lost our way on the path to things that are meaningful. Actually working hard for something went out of style years ago. People wanted to “outsmart” each other with fancy degrees. Colleges turned more into country clubs than learning institutions . It was more desirable to go to school, get a good job and live the norm. Nothing stings more than great expectations unfulfilled.
And to answer the question, in college I wanted to learn more, so that I could serve more, so that I could earn more, so that I could save more, so that I could give more. To me, it is all connected.
Here is a further blog post about higher ed costs:

Laid-off Lawyer said...

Interesting question because nearly all of a post I wrote the other day was dedicated to this topic.

I went to college because it just seemed like what I was supposed to do. I ended up studying literature because I veered away from acting. But I love learning so I enjoyed it. Law school too was a way to learn more. I was looking for a means of putting philosophy into action.

So no, I didn't go to college, law school, or graduate school for future return.

And thank you, Cryn, for trying to steer the conversation away from outrage and back onto the systemic problem. Guiding our youth and getting them thinking critically about translating their majors into jobs wasn't a focus when I was in college. I don't view college deans as Cruella DeVilles just eager to skin fresh young pups.

Anonymous said...

I did it for the chance of a "career." It's more than just money. It was to have a decent career and a decent life. I think that was the case for most people.

Cryn Johannsen said...

Thanks for your post, Laid-Off Lawyer. I absolutely agree with your remark about why we cannot view deans as being these Cruella DeVilles types. If only it were that easy, right? But that's far too simplistic. Focusing on the institutional problems will lead to far more success than attacking specific types within those operations (at least when it comes to the college/universities and their associations). I've reposted your own piece on my FB and Tweeted it!

Cryn Johannsen said...

Anonymous - I have a response to your remark about the purported "uselessness" of degrees obtained in the humanities and social sciences. It's a question I answer often. Since it's a lengthy response, I will actually post your remark in a forthcoming piece. Stay tuned for an answer on why those degrees matter.

Artemis said...

What Anonymous has said has really hit a soft spot for me. I got a masters degree in Music! How useless must that be to you, Anonymous? But what the world be like without educated musicians?Think about what you would be hearing on the radio if not for some of us who went on to master this art. Every degree is important to the person who chose to pursue it. I would have been a very unhappy adult if I had pursued anything other than what I did. It was never about an investment in myself I just always knew what I wanted to do and be and felt the school I chose would offer me the best opportunities. I'm happy as ever, despite a lot less money in my pocket thanks to the student loan payments...but I would rather have less money than go to a job I hate everyday. I think the pursuit of happiness should still apply even though it may look like we should all go to school only to make more money. What has happened to my country? You may think that would cause an imbalance, but there are people out there who would rather work jobs they hate and have a ton of money because money is more important to them...but not all of us.

Anonymous said...

I can't say a future return wasn't a factor in some of my education, notably law and MBA, but certainly my undergrad in English and Creative Writing (and even great parts of law and business) were pursued for the knowledge and to become what I perceived as an educated person.

Anonymous said...

I went to college b/c it was the answer I was raised with. It was all anyone talked about when school was mentioned. "Do good so you can go to college some day!" My parents said college was the only option. Employers want degrees; colleges give out degrees. My teachers all said that college was the way to go. "Keep going after education, it's your best shot! Being educated is what gets you places in the world."

I was very late in choosing a college b/c I didn't actually want to go and I was ridiculed for it. By everyone. My school guidance counselor told me I'd end up working at a gas station and my parents said they refused to let me be a free loader in the basement. "Go to school, get the degree you want and then a teaching degree to fall back on." That's all I ever heard. "Get a teaching degree to fall back on."

Look where it all got me. Hated by the people of my own country. Stuck back at home being a freeloader anyways b/c all that advice pushed in my face didn't work this time around. Thousands and thousands of dollars in debt that I have to worry about b/c it's not just mine. Because my parents wanted what was best and co-signed. So now I work what ever job I can get to keep their precious credit scores afloat.

So now, when ever I hear someone say "Education is the only thing that's going to get you somewhere" I interrupt and clarify. "Yes, education will get you places, but education does not have to come from a school. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money. And it doesn't have to be for just work." I wish that's what I had been told when I was younger. Maybe then the trade crafts would still be around. And we wouldn't be so money oriented.

Anonymous said...

To those of you who have an uncharitable view of the student loan/ unemployment crisis:

I agree that education is supposed to prepare you for life - public school education.

Public school is supposed to be the great leveler that supplements your parents’ ignorance.

However, public school focuses on humanities rather than finance.

Many smart people (including myself if I maybe so bold) made bad choices about student loans because of ignorance.

I did not, until after I finished a Masters in a humanitarian field, know the difference between compounding and simple interest. No one in my family taught or talked about money. I didn't know or think to ask. I presumed that no bank would lend me the money if I wouldn't be able to pay it back (which I do. I am not behind at all with great difficulty).

No one talked to me about having a job to pay the bills. I was supposed to "follow my heart". I did, but I also pursued what I was prepared for: the humanities. While I believe there is an intrinsic value to the humanities, I wish someone had talked to me about money. I likely would have become an electrician who reads a lot. ;)

In order to pay it back, I work 60-80 hrs a week which wouldn't be a problem for me if I wasn't a single mom (my divorce came of an infidelity). I open myself to criticism from the school that my daughter doesn't get enough attention at home. Damned if I do; damned if I don't.

While I accept and pay literally for my choices, I can easily find empathy for those who are in a harder spot because many if not most of us have been indoctrinated to believe that the cost of college is unimportant. Just go to college and the money will follow.

Additionally, life is not a straight line or a recipe that if followed leads to a flawless life. Things don't work out the way you intended. You have to take risks that sometimes don't pan out and you have to trust people and sometime get betrayed. This is true for all of us - including you. There are so many details and factors involved in the paths of our lives, it is unreasonable and UNEDUCATED of you to pass judgment on people or circumstances that you know nothing about – on people who recognize they made mistakes but were also clearly mislead if not victimized.

I don't think anyone who has posted is content to sit back and give up on life or wait around for a “bail out”. However, it is disillusioning in the least to find that all the “supposed to’s” don't get you where society has strongly intimated, implied or directly stated they would.

I think you are right to be angry, but I suggest that you direct your anger at a useless public school system and a culture of capitalism that inherently seeks to profit without ethics.

Better yet, you could channel your anger into something positive. If you can be so critical, than you must have done everything right in your life without mistake. You must know something we don’t – so educate us. Help people like me and Cryn who are seeking to educate people about the truth and reality of this system. Contribute positively or keep your negativity to yourself.


Member of the Indentured Educated Class

Anonymous said...

I am that anonymous that does not like Humanities majors.
I agree with Ken's post. It was spot on...
I never understood why anyone needs to go to college to learn humanities and social sciences...
Go to your local public library and read all the philosophy that you want. You want some writing experience, enroll in an evening seminar course and save yourself a bundle.

Cryn Johannsen said...

That type of response speaks volumes about how little you know about the humanities and their significance in this world.

Anonymous said...

Humanities have a recreational significance in our lives. I think it is obvious to everyone.

That is why non-fiction books outsell fiction texts by many orders of magnitude. The market speaks about people's needs...

Cryn Johannsen said...

No, it's not obvious to everyone. You're completely wrong. You assert the difference between non-fiction book and fiction texts? Are you kidding me? Do you know what sorts of degrees you obtain in the humanities and the social sciences? A large degree of them are books DEDICATED to non-fiction. I also think fiction texts are incredibly important. But that's another point.

Tim Lacy said...

Sadly, when I first went to college as an ignorant, misinformed teenager, I chose my degree program (engineering) because of an anticipated/hoped for salary. It was the worst, most expensive decision of my life. I had to earn corrective degrees to change my career. The whole project put me about 8-10 years behind in the profession I really wanted (history/humanities). - TL

Anonymous said...

BTW, Cryn.
We just had an unprecedented financial crisis b/c of bad statistical modeling that originated not from statisticians but from University of Chicago social scientists (aka e"con"omists).

Anonymous said...


You are basically making the statement that uninformed 18-year old teenagers should not be allowed a credit line of $100K, even with a co-signer. I AGREE COMPLETELY!

In fact, explain this schizophrenia to me:
Obama forbid teenagers up to the age of 21 to have credit cards, but he allows them to take out $100K plus credit for education...

So a few thousand dollars of credit card debt that can be paid back leisurely within a year is not acceptable for Obama, but a back-breaking $100K credit debt is...

Spekkio said...

Echoing earlier comments - there is definitely a "Cult of College" - the idea that the sure path to success, financial stability, and happiness is through post-secondary education. In my case, that was the only consideration - nothing about enlightenment. A not-so-brief telling of my story may prove helpful.

My parents were especially set on the idea that I would obtain a bachelor's degree in Computer Science - I would be the first in my family with a four-year degree and I would end up making tons of money. My father was especially enamored with that idea - he dropped out of high school and has worked in a hot, miserable job in a factory for over thirty years now. (He wound up with severe cases of carpal tunnel in both wrists and had to have surgery.) And when I was first getting ready to attend college, the Internet bubble had not yet burst. He had co-workers whose kids or acquaintances had been recruited by so-called headhunters - people paid by big corporations to seek out programmers.

I actually wasn't set on studying computer science, per se - I wanted to be in website design / programming / administration, but at the time, nobody actually taught that. (I had taught myself HTML and worked with Perl and JavaScript.) The chair of the Mathematics and CS department convinced us that a CS degree was the way to go - that it would give me the education needed to move up into management. (Oh, my parents loved that. And yeah, I was swayed too.)

Of course, it wasn't long after I began my studies that the Internet bubble burst. Then the country went into recession, which was exacerbated by 9/11. Meanwhile, I found that I enjoyed my History courses a lot more than I did my CS courses. I often found CS frustrating as hell. Programming can be damned hard - you don't get anywhere near the glamorous and pretty stuff (programming for GUIs, games, etc) for a long time. And it's easy to get angry when the computer won't do what you tell it to do. I had a lot of CS courses under my belt, though, and I had a grant from the state ($3K per year, grand total $9K, I think) that would turn into a loan if I did not 'stay the course.'

My history professors had me convinced that there is value to studying their field, though - that there were Fortune 500 CEOs who had BAs in History and that I was smart enough to become a History professor. And despite my low self-esteem, I guess I internalized some of that 'I can do it' nonsense. But I didn't drop CS - I did both. BS in Applied Computer Science, BA in History, completed Honors Program, graduated magna cum laude with membership in two honors societies.

Now, you might think that all of this academic attainment is a good thing. I don't think so. My father warned me that the additional BA might make me 'overqualified.' I couldn't get a computer science internship, which was one of the requirements for the aforementioned grant program. (Said program required that the internship be in the state and that you work in the state in a tech job for X number of years after graduation.) So I ended up pursuing graduate school in History instead...and dropping out when my mental health soured.

When I decided to get back 'on track,' my History advisor suggested Library Science. She was under the impression that there were jobs to be had, particularly for people with both liberal arts and tech skills. Only later did I learn that she was mistaken. (There is a pervasive myth that a librarian shortage is coming, but the numbers don't bear that out.) So, fairly soon I will have a useless Master's degree to go along with my useless BA and BS. And all of it was because I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do and 'investing in my future.'

Anonymous said...

I am that anonymous.
You have my most deepest sympathies, b/c of your ambition and pragmatism.
One should never take advice from a "tenured" (i.e. unionized) professor who has no clue about any job market, except the one in academia.
One of the worst things a student can do is listen to a "teacher" about career prospects in this country.

Spekkio, I hope G-d smiles upon you. You deserve it. Thumbs up.
It is difficult to tailor a profitable career path for yourself when you are the first one to go to college in this country.

Since college does not yield higher-earning potential for graduates anymore, then tuition should fall in line with the entry-level salaries of the graduates.

Anonymous said...

I pursued a college education because everyone everywhere was telling me that without a degree I would never be able to move on beyond minimum wage jobs. I owe only 18K in federal student loans, but I cannot find a job because of this economy. Looking back, I should have pursued a trade rather spend thousands of dollars on an education that has thus far not moved me any further economically.

Spekkio said...

@Anonymous 31 July:

I appreciate that you're trying to be kind, but your backhanded insult towards my former advisor is not appreciated. She was advising me based on the best information that she had available to her. And the troubles in the library sector - and the pervasive myths about an impending librarian shortage - are long-standing.

And FWIW, the Flying Spaghetti Monster has touched me with His noodly appendage.

Cryn Johannsen said...

Spekkio - people can troll and be pretty rude via the Internet. That's why I am who I am here and in person. That way, my words are held accountable.

DobraDavid said...

All anyone has to do is enlist for 3 years and their college education is paid for - not to mention future hiring preferences. Anyone not availing themselves of this option should live with their decision.

Spekkio said...

@DobraDavid: Not everyone can enlist...people who are physically unfit, or people with disabilities, or people who happen to be LGBTQ....

gail said...

To anonymous of July 29, 10:17
I would love to pay for my education. Do you know where I can get a job? I would also like to inform you that I was lied to by the school and financial aid people. I believed the lies and based my education on them. I would also like to know why you feel wanting an education is selfish?