College is a good return on investment because it forces you to learn the habits necessary to become an autodidact

College gets a bad rap from my circles of friends and the people I interact with online. Viewing through my different lenses: my economic lens says: “Colleges are institutions that create debt and turn you into a corporate consumer” (which could be good depending on your motives). My productive lens says, “all the skills I apply to my job, hobby, and business I learned on my own. College didn’t teach me those skills.” My conservative value lens says: “Colleges promote liberal politics and force that into the curriculum.” My sexual lens says, “College promotes sexual exploration which leads to the degeneracy of the soul.” Maybe that’s more of my conservative value lens. The lenses overlap.

All of these arguments have merit to them. There’s a strong case that colleges have become politicized and don’t teach practical skills and leave the skill-less graduates in debt that they are unprepared to pay off.

However, there is one skill that colleges still teach in 2018 that is more important now that at any time in history – how to learn. To learn on your own is to be an autodidact. When you can teach yourself any skill, you can, in time, do any job that is given to you. You may face a learning curve and be unproductive initially, but in time you will become more productive for your company and for all the goals that you apply yourself to.

Without going to college and facing the structure those institutions have in place, it would be hard to learn that. It’s hard to pick up how to learn from books or from talking to others. People can communicate the importance of learning. Books and Google can contain all the information required to master any field. But it’s still college that gives a structured approach to learning.

Every college curriculum starts with the 100-level classes that provide a high-level understanding of the material. These familiarize students with the authors and experts in the field and give students an understanding of why the material is important.

The 200 and 300-level courses go into the details of what is important. Students memorize information and learn details that will make them conversational on the subjects in any environment – a job interview, a bar conversation, or a final exam paper. We take tests and write papers to ensure we understand the material. We take labs to see apply what we’re learning in real-world situations.

College curriculum dives deeper until you are in the 400-level courses that get into the expertise of the niches within the field of study. At this point a student is expected to be conversational in not only the why and the what, but also the how to apply the information in the world in order to bring that expertise to the world to hopefully make the world a better place. We take more tests, write more papers, and (hopefully) write a thesis that gives us a chance to structure our thoughts and prove expertise in our field.

This is how we learn skills and information. Even a skill like driving is picked up by having a why (need to get somewhere), learning the what (laws, rules of the road), and the how (how the car works, what the pedals do).

Driving and other “essentials” are picked up by applying this process intuitively. Driving has a tried-and-true method of teaching. It involved classroom instruction, behind-the-wheel driving, practice hours and tests. The structure is very similar to the typical college curriculum described above. College courses are another example of well-defined material. The course education is approved by a committee which means there’s some level of standardization of the material.

Learning skills and information becomes more difficult when there is more ambiguity involved. When a job opens up and there isn’t a formal training for that, or if there is a new technology that must be learned, there often lack the structured education of a college course. It still requires the same process to learn the skill, but many people won’t be disciplined to follow through with the why, the what, and the how.

College makes all these activities – the introduction, the details, and the proven expertise – a requirement. We fail if we don’t do these things.

Even in the least academic fields, take sociological gender studies as an example, we need to go through the rigmarole of tests and papers from 100 to 400-level classes. We become an expert in something – even if it has no application in the workforce, and diminishing credibility in academia. By doing this, we learn something.

Without following this structure, we risk missing something. We risk diving into the details of how to do something without understanding the high-level understanding that would relate our expertise to the world. Or, we risk learning the whats or the whys without learning how to apply it to the real world – like memorizing facts from a book or Wikipedia page.

Without understanding all of this – the why, the what, and the how, we fail to understand information in a way to apply it and make sense of it to others. The information is not useful to the rest of the world, even if we do learn a couple things that we can apply in a game of bar trivia.

Without going to college, we risk never going through this structured approach to mastering a subject. Without that, it is hard to understand the time and discipline it takes to truly master a subject. Learning on the job is hard. It’s much harder when we don’t apply that structured approach to learn a subject in its entirety – a structure college gives us.

Even the gender studies expert, with no real-life skills and decreasing credibility as an academic field, can apply the process of learning to any skill they seek to learn. And that’s why it’s important to be an autodidact, and that’s why college is valuable.

It is not worth going to college for any field outside of STEM or Philosophy.

It is not worth going to college for any field outside of STEM or Philosophy. It made sense until 20 years ago to go to college and get a degree. A degree showed a competence and intelligence that stood out on a resume. By presenting a degree to an employer, the employer knew you had the intelligence to go to college and the independence to make it through years dealing with adults.

College only cost hundreds of dollars, and degrees, whether STEM or humanities, led to almost guaranteed employment. This was during a time when the management professions and the “value-add” industries like advertising and marketing were added to businesses. These value-adds came from the humanities. Marketing and advertising appeal to the psychology of people. Management is applied sociology.

These were the booming jobs of the time, and a humanity degree not only checked the college box – it was preferred. These degrees added the value that organizations were looking for.

The labor market has changed in the last 20 years. Universities changed too, but they did not change to keep up with the changes in the labor market. The changes in universities ran counter-productive to the changes in the labor market.

Where humanities were the value-adding jobs from the 50s through the 80s, the internet has changed the requisite jobs and, because of that, the requisite skills needed. The internet runs on math and technology. STEM degrees are the degrees that are employable. The management and marketing jobs of the 50s are being replaced by technology just like the labor-intensive jobs were replaced 40 years before. The reduction in management and marketing jobs means fewer degrees in humanities are needed.

STEM is the humanity degree and the management job of the 60s. These are the employable degrees and the driver of technology, which is the driver of the current economy. Instead of management and sales adding value like 50 years ago, technology is able to add value by cutting out the managers and the salespeople. Technology connects buyers and sellers where the humanity-pedigreed salesmen did until recently.

Humanities degrees are being produced like money in a collapsed economy. Except, unlike money in a collapsed economy, the degrees being produced cost tens- to hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, we have more people graduating college than ever, which has debased the degree so that not all graduates are guaranteed a job. Humanity degrees add little value in this technology-driven world where life is managed with code.

The majority of students are still choosing to major in the humanities. There are a majority of college graduates leaving university unprepared for the job market, which is technology-driven and requires technical degrees. Also, they have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans that must be paid back.

These debt-ridden graduates have to find employment to pay back debt. Those that are lucky find themselves a management or marketing job, which are decreasing in number as technology improves and reduces the need for these functions. Those that are unlucky pick up a low-paying service job. This has become a stereotype – the barista with a humanities degree. A well-read barista is attractive – there’s nothing wrong with serving coffee. A barista who has to be there because they owe the bank $200,000 is not attractive. That person is enslaved with no way out in sight. They must work for a company until the debt is paid off. There is a legal and ethical commitment to pay off the debt.

Why are there so many humanity degrees? Because of those blasted humanity degree students from 50 years ago. The universities and banks are profit centers that make money with each enrolled student paying tuition. There are advertising channels that promote more students going to college and getting degrees. The banks and universities don’t care what degree is studied. They care about $200,000. Which, if that’s the price of tuition and the person is working at Starbucks to pay it off, she will end up paying far more than double that.

College is a scam for everyone that is not majoring in a STEM degree. Students are sold a lie that they “need to go to college” to get a job or to find a good relationship. This is all just branding by the universities and loan banks. Any skill can be learned online these days, and banks and universities are sweating hoping the masses don’t drop out to develop skills online. The advertisers are working hard to keep the college brand attractive. They are heavily incentivized to make college attractive.

“It’s an important phase of life.” “It’s where you develop the social skills.” These are all jargon statements sold by the loan banks. You know what else is an important phase of life and a place you develop social skills and have fun? Timeshares in retirement. Rent a timeshare to signify your new phase in life. Meet other travelers and party. You can do this for a lot less than a college degree.

The exception to all this is the philosophy degree. The philosopher learns that none of this is really necessary. You can get a degree in STEM, get a high-paying job, create a technology that makes businesses better, but if at the end of the day you still aren’t satisfied because of an insecurity or relationship drama, then what’s it all for? To better humanity? That’s great, as long as it doesn’t cost your suffering. You can make money and then face your insecurities and internal demons, or you can face your demons from the start. Many people face a demon called consumerism. The philosopher recognizes this demon and stays away.

You can become a philosopher by reading books, through experiencing all the hells of consumerism and life, or through an expensive degree. Being philosophical is worth it. The philosopher finds meaning in life itself, and knows not to become enslaved to debt, or anything else. Hopefully, he didn’t buy an expensive degree to learn that lesson.

It is not worth going to college for any field outside of STEM or Philosophy. This is because:

  • The price of tuition is increasing.
  • Skills needed for jobs are becoming more technical.
  • Philosophers understand you don’t need jobs and can find meaning without the 9-to-5.