Just wondering … about college 🤔

It’s pretty much a given that the more formal education one has the more they will earn and the data support that.

However, there are many examples of individuals without a degree earning substantial sums and likewise those with degrees, even advanced degrees earning very average incomes.

So, I have a question, is it the degree obtained or the motivation, drive, initiative and other individual qualities of the individual that makes the difference? Once the first post college job is obtained, that degree matters less and less.

Then there is the fact that many job descriptions include a requirement for a degree when truth be told, that is not the case. That can drive up the earnings based on the job, but not necessarily the result of a degree.


  1. A great book on this subject, written by Bryan Caplan, an economics professor:

    “The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money.”

    It’s a devastating critique of virtually all college education except for the so-called STEM subjects. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.)


  2. “So, I have a question, is it the degree obtained or the motivation, drive, initiative and other individual qualities of the individual that makes the difference?”

    I have a professional degree and worked in my field for 35 years. When I look back at my colleagues, most had some god given talent, some more than others. However, the most important factor was their drive and motivation. I would contend that without those qualities, most would never be able to achieve the advanced degree.


  3. For the non-technical / engineering degrees, the college degree is a symbol that the person can read and write (maybe) and is a way of limiting the pool of applicants.

    From my unscientific viewpoint, here is what I saw. In the late 1970’s, the State of New Jersey started requiring NJ colleges to have entrance tests for reading and math because of push-through and grade inflation nationally at the high school level. I know, because I had to take the test to attend Gloucester County College in 1981 at night.

    New Jersey also required that starting in 1980, in order to graduate a NJ high school, you had to pass an exit exam. I know, I was in the class of 1980.

    Affirmative action was all the rage from the mid-1970s until about mid-1990s. Everything was ending up in court. Civil service could claim that this person is more qualified than that person because they a 4-year degree over someone who had a 2-yr or a certification. The courts couldn’t argue with that. It didn’t matter that it was in basket weaving. The New Jersey State Police basically stopped all the affirmative action lawsuits by requiring 4-yr criminal justice degrees (again from personal knowledge). This took the 10,000 people applying to only a few hundred. They pointed to all the free minority scholarships that colleges offered and said that it is not our problem that these minorities are not choosing the criminal justice field. So, colleges became the first step in the HR hiring process.

    Some county fire schools were run by local county fire associations. They were taken over by the county vocational schools who gave them up to the county community colleges. The same thing happened to the other police and EMS programs. The state kept adding more and more requirements. There was now big money to be made by the colleges and the costs went up with each takeover.

    Back in high school, we had shop classes. In the 1970s, Gloucester County build a Vo-Tech school. By the 1980’s state money dried up for the local school’s vo-tech courses because there was a county school. The local schools didn’t care because they need more resources to teach the state graduation tests. Government kept pushing everybody to college so high schools started offering AP classes instead. Jump to the early 2000’s when my son was in high school, there were no shop classes and the vo-tech could only handle a few hundred kids for the whole county so, it basically became charter school for the elite.

    During the 1980’s when companies started downsizing, one of the first things they got rid of was training. When the economy really got bad companies were able to get picky. When things got better, companies wanted fully experienced and trained employees. Many falsely assumed that if a person had a college degree they were fully trained in that field. But by the late 2000’s there were so many unemployed college graduates that companies could once again use a college degree as a way to limit applicants to a manageable level now that the Internet made it easy to mass apply for jobs.

    I got my college degree after 29 years of starting and stopping. I had a file folder 3-inches thick of all my technical training and certifications, often in very limited areas. I need one piece of paper that said that I could read and write and that I was trainable just incase I needed to find another job in my 50’s. I was a 5% wage earner on a high school diploma but today you cannot get your foot into the door without that college degree because there are too many of college graduates. Why not hire a college graduate over a high school graduate? It shows that this person was willing to work to get a degree or were they lucky with financial aid?

    To me, the non-technical degrees have no meaning. I rather take any veteran E-4 and above over a newly minted college graduate with a master degree. A vet knows how to follow orders, give orders, train those below, learn from above, and if they made E-4 or above, they pay attention to little details and can plan ahead. Today’s college SJW cannot do critical thinking and some write like they are on Facebook or Twitter. I wouldn’t want them.

    But to answer your question, it doesn’t take having a master degree to figure out that in order to be successful you must make learning a lifelong thing. But on a computer screen how do you prove that you are doing lifelong learning without another piece of paper to back it up? To me, degrees are overrated, even mine that I never used.


  4. You may (or may not) want to incorporate the following into this discussion:

    Click to access ED536488.pdf



    In terms of your chicken or egg question, is it the degree itself or the characteristics of the individual who attained the degree?, I think it will vary – results may be as diverse as the population itself. I’ve met many who have succeeded without a degree and just as many who obtained a degree that never seemed to have much value in their work, or life.

    I am glad that you used median numbers (instead of averages); yet I suspect that the distribution is not a “normal” bell curve, but may in fact be bipolar or some other shape.


    1. Very interest read on the Grigg vs Duke. It gave a good history of credential inflation. To think that prior 1964, supervisors could be promoted without a high school education, but I bet they knew their jobs being a lineman or plant operator. My grandfather was stock boy in a cigar factory. The owner had a disagreement with his foreman and said that a stock boy could do his job and fired the foreman and gave my grandfather the job. My grandfather retired as the foreman decades later. He was a self educated man, never went to high school. Today, I am sure you would need a college degree just to apply for the job of foreman.


  5. Let’s disconnect college from
    Money. Every time I talk to someone without a degree it’s painful. College is a sign of character. Not money.


    1. Can you define character when you expand on this. I think of character as something taught at home, in church, or on the battlefield, not in school.


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