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Education The Almighty Buck

Eric Schmidt On Why College Is Still Worth It 281

An anonymous reader writes "The wisdom of getting a college degree and saddling yourself with a huge amount of debt has been called into question recently, but not by Eric Schmidt. The Google Chairman says it's still worth it, noting that: 'The economic return to higher education over a lifetime produces significant compound greater earnings.' From the article: 'When asked about the difficulty in paying for college, Schmidt was adamant: "I appreciate it's expensive and we need to fix that," he said, but "figure out a way to do it." One potential problem with Schmidt's statement is that it was an argument for the average student. It may be more advantageous for students at the bottom and top quartiles of the talent distribution to go straight into the workforce (or get vocational training). Case in point, Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college, and I don't think anybody would say he made a mistake.'"
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Eric Schmidt On Why College Is Still Worth It

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  • by Moof123 ( 1292134 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @04:51PM (#46500577)

    With hindsight Zuckerberg made no mistake. But for every Zuckerberg who drops out and makes Billions anyway, there many more with equally good ideas that tried a similar path, and through worse luck ended up going bust. Anecdotes are not data.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 16, 2014 @04:51PM (#46500581)

    And not every drop-out is going to build a Facebook/Apple/Microsoft.
    They are the exception, so for most people, the best advice is to "stay in school".

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @04:55PM (#46500603)

    If you go to the schools we like, major in what we like and are good enough to work for a company like us, it's still worth it. However, if you are John Smith Liberal Arts major at Typical State University, you've just guaranteed that four to five years of partying will result in at least a decade of misery assuming you can even make enough to pay it off.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @04:56PM (#46500611)

    there many more with equally good ideas that tried a similar path, and through worse luck ended up going bust.

    But they at least had the experience of running a business. There are PLENTY more people that finished college, amassed crippling debt, and ALSO went bust - only they ended up with a degree that had no value for getting a job, and debt that is impossible to discharge. At least the dropout who failed had a debt that could be shed in bankruptcy, if they even amassed debt to run a business!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 16, 2014 @04:57PM (#46500615)

    The reason even the top quartile needs to stay in school... is because even the top quartile person writing the lead doesn't understand that top quartile and top whatever Zuckerberg would be aren't the same. And not that Zuckerberg isn't smart, but he got insanely lucky with something that dozens or hundreds of other companies tried, but failed to do.... dropping out after you've already had your low probability event is an easy call. Doing it prior isn't supported by any analysis.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @04:57PM (#46500619)

    Yeah, holding up examples of successful dropouts like Zuckerberg and drawing inferences from that is nothing more than confirmation bias. It's well established that, looking at the overall population, college grads earn more than non-grads. It's probably also true, overall, that college grads are happier with their jobs than non-grads (although I'm too lazy to look that up). I wouldn't be surprised if they live longer as well, given they probably have better health care.

  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @05:04PM (#46500671)

    "With hindsight Zuckerberg made no mistake. But for every Zuckerberg who drops out and makes Billions anyway, there many more with equally good ideas that tried a similar path, and through worse luck ended up going bust. Anecdotes are not data."

    And I'm wondering why OP places Zuckerberg in "the top quartile of talent". He's an unscrupulous guy who got lucky and made a fortune from a website made in PHP, built on an idea he stole from someone else.

    So what?

  • by Alorelith ( 118865 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @05:05PM (#46500673) Homepage

    True, and don't forget, there are still a fair number of affordable schools across the country if one is willing to relocate for it. Not every university in the USA costs $20,000 a year. And I'd imagine that in other countries where higher education is much cheaper or "free" that this whole argument of return on investment is silly.

  • Mod parent up! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Sunday March 16, 2014 @05:06PM (#46500685)

    The entire article is stupid. And the Zuckerberg example was just the worst stupidity in it.

    "I appreciate it's expensive and we need to fix that," he said, but "figure out a way to do it."

    Those two statements have ZERO correlation with each other.

    Going into debt for college is EASY. There's no need to "figure out a way to do it". You sign the loan papers and take the classes.

    The problem is paying off that loan AFTER you leave college. Whether via graduation or because you cannot get anyone to give you any more debt to finish.

    It may be more advantageous for students at the bottom and top quartiles of the talent distribution to go straight into the workforce (or get vocational training).

    Again, wrong. Talent only applies to the top percentage. And even then it is VERY risky.

    If you don't have the talent then you don't have the talent. That has nothing to do with skipping college.

    FUNDING is the reason to skip college and hit votech. If your family cannot afford to pay for college then votech might be your best option. Why start this generation with massive debt that you might not be able to pay off? Start saving for your child's education.

  • Let them eat cake (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @05:08PM (#46500703)

    Billionaire says "figure out a way to" pay for it. Meanwhile, he will be figuring out ways to collude with other companies to keep your salary low [] and to bring in thousands of people from Asia [] to compete with you for jobs [].

  • by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @05:10PM (#46500713) Journal

    Even though I am in a technical position I decided to major in business. I now know the mindset of accountants, finance, and management. I can speak and understand the language. If I want to progress my small business I know what an asset and a liability is and how to setup books.

    For my electives in computer science I learned what object oriented programming truly is outside what I read on slashdot and books. I know what algorithms are and real time means. I may not even have that much as a real computer science major but I recieved an education.

    When the economy tanked after I graduated no one would hire me except for one temp contract job. It required a degree and that is how I got it. Without that I would be substitute teaching and working fast food at night to make up for my crappy wages.

    Those who argue I DO NOT NEED A DEGREE got in in 1999 when you didn't need one. If you are one of these try being born 15 years later and getting a job today? ... no degree? How does $12/hr aka 20,000 a year sound? Great! Here is a set of headphones and go read this script at the techexpo call center etc. Make sure you mommy reminds you not to be late since we do not pay you enough to move out etc. That my friends is what the economic reality is today regardless of skillsets if you have no experience or education. Programming wont mean shit as HR will throw out your resume if it is not work related somehow.

    Point is the degree is required in 2014 to get your foot in the door unless you feel working at techexpo call center can get a you a programming job as that and GeekSquad is all you are going to get.

  • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @05:20PM (#46500779)

    All genuine degrees have value in getting a job. Some more than others, for sure. But put a candidate who has a degree up against an otherwise similar one who doesn't and the one with a degree has the advantage.

    Not only the advantage of a line on their CV. But the practical advantage of the skills they've gained, and the character that has been built. These will help them with the job search and interview.

    Of course if they are applying for a job very much below their level, the degree candidate may be rejected as "over qualified". But that just means they are applying for inappropriate jobs. Or perhaps more likely that they simply didn't interview well and it was an easy excuse for the employer.

    Experience running and business and going bankrupt is going to count for far less, when subsequently seeking employment. And may even be a negative.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 16, 2014 @05:22PM (#46500787)

    An Ivy League education's greatest value is partying with well-connected rich people who are obviously going to spend their entire lives well-connected and rich. Earning the friendship of these people makes you well-connected, and eventually rich.

    Beyond that, the advantage-creating quality of higher education has dissipated as it has become ubiquitous. It has ceased to be a differentiator in the market, meaning ever-increasing numbers of graduates are failing to land those high-paying awesome jobs that higher education used to guarantee. Instead, either the salaries and perks of those jobs has been reduced in response to high labor supply, or the graduates get run over by droves of competitors, and wind up leaving their industry (for mediocre pay, of course).

    The high expense of education does not prevent any of this, since student loans just cover it. It actually makes things better for employers all-around, because the labor market winds up saturated with well-educated workers who are desperate to get out of a life-crushing debt that survives bankruptcy.

  • by epyT-R ( 613989 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @05:49PM (#46500907)

    All of this is only because employers might be assigning worth to degrees that may not actually be there.

  • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @05:49PM (#46500913)

    There are people smarter than myself without degrees.

    Sure. And in most cases they'd do better than they do with a degree.

    There are morons who have master degrees who I had to let go because they are book smarts but can't do shit in the real world without the deer in the headlights look when independent analysis and goals are needed.

    Sure, but they wouldn't be better had they not got a degree.

    But in a down economy it means you get that internship or entry level job with the foot in that door. While HR ignores you unless you have many years of experience and letters of recommendation even for the most basic entry level jobs today.

    Right, there comes a point at which your work experience becomes more important than the degree. But the point is you are at an advantage in getting that necessary experience if you start out with a degree. For people too young to have an outstanding working history, that HR door is solidly closed.

    If it's hard right now for young people with degrees to get a worthwhile job, it's massively harder for young people without a degree.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Sunday March 16, 2014 @06:11PM (#46501071)

    I seem to recall some numbers that the differential value of a college degree is actually highest outside of STEM. Can't seem to find them again, but would be interesting to look at.

    It makes sense if you think of it from the "negative" side: how do you fare looking for a job without a degree? If you are looking for tech jobs, a degree is valuable but you can still get a good job without one: CS degrees are not required for all tech jobs, not even all six-figure tech jobs. The incremental value of being a programmer vs. being a programmer with a degree is positive but modest.

    But if you are looking for non-tech jobs without even having a liberal-arts degree, then you are effectively hosed. All those mid-five-figure white-collar administrative jobs in a typical Fortune 500 company are filled by people with liberal-arts degrees. Why? Because companies find it a useful filter. Not perfect, but better than nothing: if you want to select for "likely to be a decent employee, show up on time, follow directions, write English sentences coherently", and you have 50 applicants with degrees and 50 without, you just pick someone out of the 50 who have a degree.

  • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @06:14PM (#46501091) Homepage Journal []
    Germany Backtracks on Tuition
    Published: August 25, 2013

    (German colleges are now free again, like the Scandinavian countries. Under the German constitution, the 16 state governments control finance and education. A 2005 federal court decision allowed them to charge tuition. 8 states, in former West Germany, did, but it was unpopular and they reversed their policy. Lower Saxony charged €1,000 ($1,300)/year. An economist estimated that tuition caused 20,000 potential students (6.8% of all students) to forgo enrollment in 2007. Denmark, Norway and Sweden have free tuition, although Germany, with 2.5 million students, is the largest. Britain raised its tuition caps to £9,000 ($14,000). In France, most public universities charge a few hundred euros per year, though the grandes écoles are more expensive.)

  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @06:36PM (#46501251) Journal
    There are people smarter than myself without degrees. There are morons who have master degrees who I had to let go because they are book smarts but can't do shit in the real world without the deer in the headlights look when independent analysis and goals are needed.

    You can always find people both better and worse than you at everything, both from the pool of "amateurs" and from supposed experts. Just a fact of life.

    I'll take a bold stance and say right up front that you get out of college what you put into it - If you want, you really can get a solid education even from a crap college; and on the flip side of that, you can sleep your way through quite a few majors and still end up with a degree. That said - On average, I would say a college degree proves one, and only one, thing about you - That you had the ability to learn enough, and follow directions enough, to complete the basic requirements of that degree... And that already puts you in the top third of applicants, even if you smoked your way through a humanities major.

    Now, as watered down as that may sound, I don't mean it as quite that weak of a stance - In practice, the real world will never require 90% of what you learned in college, and college didn't teach you 90% of what you need for a real job. College does not, and should not, equal vocational training. It (can) give you the foundation you need to excel, and demonstrates to employers that you at least don't count as a complete waste of flesh. Anything more than that - Pure cake.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 16, 2014 @06:56PM (#46501381)

    I agree. And did he dropout before or after he had a successful enterprise going? And did he utilize any of the resources/education available at Harvard to begin said enterprise? The answer to those questions is "yes", so I really don't see how he is an example of successful-but-didnt-go-to-college... because he did.

  • by asmkm22 ( 1902712 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @07:34PM (#46501597)

    The world is basically starting to overflow with way more people than positions. As a result, it's dividing into societies with vast gaps between the very few people who control the money, and everyone else just looking for a chance to serve (or be employed). Some societies are further down this line than others, but you can look at China as an example of what the end-game will be like for the rest of the world within the next 100 years. All the nice things in life will become scarce enough that only the wealthiest can afford them. The rest of us will simply work to make them happy. Upward mobility will become as unlikely as jumping across the Grand Canyon, without the middle-class as a bridge.

    These weird educational issues are just symptoms of it happening here in America. We're pushing everyone to "go to college" while the businesses here continue to eliminate employment opportunities due to outsourcing and automation. Even the outsourcing strategy is starting to backfire, due to companies realizing that when they aren't employing people in America, then they can't sell stuff to the people in America. It's why most companies right now are looking at China as the next (and final) phase. The "1%" in China is still a huge number of people, so that will work for a while.

    I'd be surprised if we don't have an "Arab Spring" or "French Revolution" happening in this country within the next 20 years. The average white conservative male has been able to blame the misfortunes of minorities on rap music, or skin color, or laziness, or whatever, but now that they are starting to share demographics with such "undesirables" shit is going to hit the fan.

  • by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Sunday March 16, 2014 @08:43PM (#46501923) Journal

    This article needs to distinguish between education and college.

    Education is worthwhile. But is college still the best way to get an education? I'm not too sure, not with the ever greater swing in thinking towards profiteering and monetizing. Was bad enough being vicitmized by the occasional parking ticket over a cheap technicality (your front bumper was hanging 1 cm over the line of the deliberately too short parking spot, etc.), taken for hundreds by textbook publishers, and finally, if you graduate, hounded for donations to help out your poor, poor alma mater. But now I hear tuition has rocketed up far faster than inflation, and many professors are the new victims of the relentless push to turn every job into a temporary position with no benefits and no security, and their research is being patented and locked behind paywalls more than ever.

    College should be free, just like high school. Students pay for room and board, but not tuition or books. I'm hopeful that copylefted MOOCs and ebooks will break 2 of these rackets. For those who think students should pay tuition, should all things of value be paid for? Sunlight and air are quite valuable, should people pay for that?

  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @10:26PM (#46502371) Journal

    I've experienced the same frustration. There are certain technical circles in which I am well known, yet when I decided to get an 8-5 I had a heck of a time because I left college to run my business. I eventually took a job making half as much as someone with my experience would normally make.*

    Not long ago, my boss ask me to look over some resumes for an opening we have. Most of the resumes looked pretty similar. It's one page, after all, and they are all applying for the same position. Those that were different had positives and negatives, so they all "scored" about the same. How to decide who to call first? It felt like forensic science, trying to find some clue of who might be better among the pile of nearly identical resumes. A typo MIGHT hint that the person isn't as careful with their work. That seems silly, but those were the kind of clues we had to go on.

    We interviewed a couple of people and it was similarly "tied" - both seemed like they would be a decent fit. Without actually knowing either of the candidates, we had to choose one based on the tiny bits of information we had. Compared to the tiny clues we were looking for, a degree vs. no degree would have been huge. It's not a great indicator, but it sure is better than any of the other differences between two otherwise good resumes.

    To look at it another way, suppose you have ten resumes that look okay, ten that made it past the "obviously no" filter. You have to find some way to narrow it down by eliminating nine of the ten candidates. Four years of study and carrying a four year project to successful completion obviously helps narrow it down.

    It's now time for me to get off Slashdot and get back to my studies. With 17 years of experience I don't want to be narrowed down for lack of a degree, so I'm getting my degree from WGU. The "final exam" for most courses is an industry-recognized certification exam, so I'll end up with a degree and about a dozen certifications.

    * The "low paying" job turned out to be a blessing, due to working with wonderful people.

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