To What Degree Do You Think A College Degree Matters?

From Mike’s Forum on Discovery:

Q: Mike

I’m curious how you, who attended 6 years of college, came to appreciate and respect the people who do the less glamorous jobs. Did your parents raise you to appreciate every one’s struggle?

Seems like a simple point these days, but it’s shocking how many people still think that schooling has anything to do with wisdom, knowledge or value to society.

What’s your opinion? — M

My opinion is that, in general, a college experience will make you a much richer person. A college degree however, will not. As you suggest, the pursuit of knowledge is very different than the pursuit of accomplishment, and a degree can only speak to the latter.

We tell our kids that a college degree will elevate them above others. It won’t. We tell ourselves that a degree makes us more credible than we were before receiving it. It doesn’t. A sheepskin has no more significance than that which you assign to it, and probably a good deal less. Degrees are trophies, to be hung on the wall and admired, usually by the one who received it. Like the head of a dead deer, they stare back at us from above the mantle, leaving others to wonder about the rest of the animal. Fancy papers and severed heads tell us nothing of real life or real understanding – only about money and ego.

I missed my graduation in favor of a Pink Floyd concert at Madison Square Garden. My actual degree was sent to my parent’s house, and opened by my Dad. I remember the message he left me. “Hey Mike, you got something from the University. It looks like a receipt…”


14 thoughts on “To What Degree Do You Think A College Degree Matters?

  1. Right now, thanks to the federal government, we have a bubble in higher education. We are cranking out college grads and post-grads with staggering debt loads who can’t find jobs. Meanwhile, public schools have gutted their shop classes and trades programs in favor of computer science. The result is that skilled blue collar jobs are the hardest to fill. Being an electrician is going to be more rewarding than being a business major going forward. The big trend now is four year college grads going back to trade schools to get marketable skills they can get a job with. Undoubtedly, serving coffee at Starbucks just isn’t cutting it.

  2. I didn’t attend my university graduation either; I preferred to go on a holiday before attending a summer course at the university close to home.

    My father was in the trades, his two sons and three sons-in-law are also. Da thought it was important to get an education, whether one used it or not, he used to say it was the one thing no one could take from a person. I say if a person is making an honest living whether in their field of study, trade or even if they are working in a coffee shop don’t knock it. The “rewarding” career in the trades puts a lot of wear and tear on the body, I see it every day.

  3. I have recently graduated with a degree and have been looking for a job in the trades. I have a degree in fine arts but have worked in construction for years, as I consider my artistry a skill of craft or skilled work. I invent, design, and build things basically. Sometimes they are useful sometimes not but I learn a lot from my mistakes.

    The degree I have is impressive to employers. It has not gotten me a job and I was a little angry about being unemployed, but I think education is valuable in it’s own right. I had class mates that where not smart and some really smart and hard working. It is really a matter of their character and ethics and virtue….. I had professors I don’t think knew what the hell was going on half the time.

    College was a great experience for me though. I felt that the professors introduced me to all this knowledge and try to trick me over and over until I could not be trick any more. I went to my commencement and was looking for some closure. Something that represented all the hard work I did in college. It really did not come. I went home a graduate and started looking for a job. Lucky I have a lot of experience in construction thanks to my family to land a HVAC apprenticeship. I know it is time for me to get to work.

  4. Personally, I think all you do in college is get the piece of paper required to go out and get a job…where you learn HOW to do the job. There was little I learned in college (6+years, 2 degrees, and a number of certifications) that I didnt’ already know from working hard everyday. One professor did say, “We cannot teach you how to educate kids. We are here to expose you to ideas and point you in the right direction….the rest if up to you!”

  5. What I don’t get is the fact that the government and others (including family) want us to go to college to say that their son/daughter went to college, and people complain about kids not going to college or trying in school yet how are they supposed to go to college when it cost at the minimum (not community) 15K to 20K a YEAR? Outrageous. Half of the middle class’s annual wage

  6. Hey Mike – I once interviewed for a job and the man asked me what I thought of college – I told him honestly I had a great time, made a handfull of friends I will keep for the rest of my life and spent a lot of money for a piece of paper – the man hired me on the spot and put me in a high responsibility decision making position even though I had no experience at all – I didnt know it at the time, but the man was the President of the company and he felt the same way I did about college.

  7. I skipped a U2 concert for a french mid-term…merde!! However did get a degree, still–that’s about all the french I remember…so now, 23 years later, I still haven’t seen U2 , seems Bono broke his back and my husband will now get 2 years of birthday presents since the concert was moved back a year in church (Soldier Field–Chicago) I’m a dental hygienist that could easily apprentice into a dentist by watching my boss and one of the best dentists in the country….so instead I run his office…APPRENTICESHIPS that’s where it’s at, to be a dentist you have to pay for a whole lot of worthless stuff you never use….but the schools are happy!

  8. Ok, I’m one of those weird ones. Lots of degrees (4), but still and always have done dirty jobs. I’ve been a member(and need to re-up my membership) of American Fisheries Society. As it is I occasionally review an article for them, and I’m working on writing one.

    I started as a geologist and hauled a good few rocks out of the Maine woods. Then I went on to work for the USDA Forest Service and cleaned toilets, one heck of a joy, but oil boom went bust and I wasn’t one to be a bank teller. Next I was an archaeologist with buckets and buckets of dirt to sift but cool stuff to find!

    Finally I work in fisheries and study the fishermen and how they work. Now I’m still doing that and trying to make sure the brown/green aspect can stay balanced – so the “green” folks don’t shut down the fisheries without knowing what the fishermen are doing to try to preserve fish, too.

    The degrees let me know what to do faster, but there was a lot of time sitting on my backside which didn’t help build the muscles I needed for the job, so it was a catch-22. Without the knowledge I might not have had as much of a shot at the jobs because I’m female — I started back in the 1970s.

    Oh, my next job is not supposed to be a dirty one – and starts next week. Not sure what to make of this.

  9. Mike I could not agree more, I have nearly 20 years of hands on computer experience, yet I never list all my certs, if I did I would look like alphabet soup, and second they didn’t do me a bit of good other than tell me that I have the minimum understanding of that subject.

    My Degrees are not even in the computer field, and the college I went to I think would shudder that I even notate them however the enthusiasm I still have for computers lingers through out what I do.

    It is those people that have a true passion for what they do, do it well, if you’re in it for the money then don’t do it, you will hate what you do and do it poorly.

    My dad told me the only job you can start at the top is digging a hole, and trust me when I say I can dig better than any man out there 😉

    I have seen some with degrees barley operate a mouse, while others without a degree, rock and roll on day one in my field.

    I believe that in my field you to be successful you need to have a firm basis in knowledge of linier thinking and problem solving. Then you need to round it off with hands on knowledge of mechanics, HVAC, Electrical, and Plumbing.

    Why you ask well it’s this simple, to operate a data center successfully large or small, you have to expect things to fail. You can be taken to the cleaners by other companies that are unscrupulous and will make up bogus things to repair to justify a bill.

    So you need to know what kind of power are you using, is it single or 3 phase,

    Your stages of AC from the Evap to the condenser, and it’s a bad idea to put a liquid in to a vapor pump. How much cooling is too much cooling, where is the expansion and when should you do it?

    Civil engineering, how much load will the floor support before you find that new UPS in the basement of the building when you’re on the 5th floor.

    Electrical Low voltage cabling, of the Ethernet type and sometimes fiber however I have not found any voltage on fiber, yet for some reason they classify it as LV cabling.

    Basic construction, and safety 3rd always are needed to properly handle problems that don’t live just in the computer world

    Plumbing, to drain off water, to supply cooling water, etc.

    And I would like to throw in basic auto mechanics, because today cars are so dependent on the computers that run them, hell my car has 6 and once you figure out that it all runs on 1’s and 0’s its all simple. Just like the engine in a car still works the same way they did 200 years ago, all we did is make them slightly more efficient. However that’s a gripe for a different day.

    I really enjoy your show, you’re an inspiration, a hero, and a gentleman (from what I hear 😉 )


    Hal B

  10. Hi Mike,

    Thank you for all your support to the working folks, my youngest son attends a vocational/technical school here in MA. It’s funny sometimes that he gets labled a kid who must not have been able to make it in regular high school, what a laugh. The academics are tougher than most high schools and they learn a trade that can be put to practical use.

    If you’re ever out in central Massachusetts, give Monty Tech a shout out, those kids deserve the support!

    Thanks for listening,


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