Back in 2009 I wrote a post called “Getting an education in America.” I went through a litany of facts which indicated we as a society were missing the point of education, and wasting a lot of time and money on useless activity. I made reference to a segment with John Stossel, back when he was still a host on ABC’s 20/20, talking about the obsession we have that “everyone must go to college.” One of the people Stossel interviewed was Marty Nemko, who made a few points:
- The bachelor’s degree is the most overvalued product in America today.
- The idea marketed by universities that you will earn a million dollars more over a lifetime with a bachelor’s than with a high school diploma is grossly misleading.
- The “million dollar” figure is based solely on accurate stats of ambitious high achievers, who just so happened to have gone to college, but didn’t require the education to be successful. It’s misattributed to their education, and it’s unethical that universities continue to use it in their sales pitch, saying, “It doesn’t matter what you major in.”
It turns out Nemko has had his own channel on YouTube. I happened to find a video of his from 2011 that really fleshes out the points he made in the 20/20 segment. What he says sounds very practical to me, and I encourage high school students, and their parents, to watch it before proceeding with a decision to go to college.
Nemko talks about what college really is these days: a business. He talks about how this idea that “everyone must go to college” has created a self-defeating proposition: Now that so many more people, in proportion to the general population, are getting bachelors’ degrees, getting one is not a distinction anymore. It doesn’t set you apart as someone who is uniquely skilled. He advises now that if you want the distinction that used to come from a bachelor’s, you should get a master’s degree. He talks about the economics of universities, and where undergraduates fit into their cost structure. This is valuable information to know, since students are going to have to deal with these realities if they go to college.
It’s not an issue of rejecting college, but of assessing whether it’s really worth it for you. He also outlines some other possibilities that could serve you a lot better, if what motivates you is not well suited to a 4-year program.
Nemko lays out his credentials. He’s gotten a few university degrees himself, and he’s worked at high levels within universities. He’s not just some gadfly who badmouths them. I think he knows of what he speaks. Take a listen.