28 Comments

  1. I wanna be wavy gravy, man.

    Great post! I recall hearing a podcast a while back about a kid who recreated an MIT degree, for free, using free online courses that replicated the MIT curriculumn.

    He was bombed with job offers from all of the “Biggies” (Google was one). We need more creative thinking, and there’s no one better than The Groovies to break the ice!! Well done.

    Or, as those groovy people say…wavy gravy!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Wouldn’t it be great if businesses got together and crafted a 10 or 12 industry-specific class curriculum from local colleges that would substitute for a bachelor’s degree? If a DIY degree is good enough for Google, it should be good enough for most employers. Thanks for stopping by, my wavy gravy friend.

  2. First, thanks for the shoutout. I like the idea of a once a month deep dive on policy. It’s a cool concept and you are always a safe bet to have creative, out-of-the-box ideas to pitch.

    On Part 1, I agree with your pitch, but disagree with the premise. I do think that there is value in the full bachelor’s degree. Yes, the hard skills that are relevant to your career would all be found in the express degree, but there are also soft skills that people learn in college that are important. You learn people skills, you learn about yourself, you learn about different subjects that interest you.

    That said, I agree that you should be able to bypass that portion if you choose to do so. I think that we should be making trade schools and degrees more of an option for people and your express degree plan would go a long way towards doing that. You get the “brand name” stamp on your trade degree, rather than having to go to a no-name trade school which can feel unappealing, both to students and employers.

    Part 2 would be tough. Griggs barred the screening test because it was used as a roundabout way to keep minorities from getting high-paying and powerful positions. To apply that here you would have to start by showing that barring express degree holders would discriminate against minorities.

    That said, Part 2 may not end up being necessary. If I have an express mathematics degree from MIT, employers may not care that I didn’t take the supplemental classes required for a Bachelor’s degree. Like I said above, adding the name brand may be enough to overcome the resistance to trade school degrees.

    I don’t know where I stand on Part 3. I think I would want to see some studies on potential unintended consequences by some economists before signing off.

    I agree completely that the current set up does not work. Colleges keep raising their prices and there is no backlash. The fact that a college degree feels like a necessity in modern society and the wide availability of loans means that demand does not drop off when the prices shoot up in the way that a free market generally does. Because of this, there is no incentive for colleges not to keep driving their prices up.

    At the same time, putting them on the hook for the success of their students seems like it could have some serious unintended consequences. My first thought is that this would give an incentive to high borrowers to declare bankruptcy right out of college to clear the slate and start fresh and just deal with bad credit for the beginning of their career. This risk would in turn incentivize colleges to reject students that would have high loan balances. This would in turn make it harder for low-income students to get a degree of any kind.

    Maybe there are different provisions that can be put in place to protect against these things, but I’d want an in-depth study from some smart folks before deciding one way or another on that part.

    Thanks for a really thoughtful post. I’m excited for this series!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Matt. Thank you for your very thoughtful response. And I do agree that there’s value in the finishing school aspect of a bachelor’s degree. But at what cost? Take the book, Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. It’s a great freakin’ book. And I’m sure I would have gotten more out of it if I went to college and took a behavorial economics class based on it. But what if that class cost a $1,000 to take? Would that class add $990 to the value I derived from reading the book on my own (the Kindle version is $9.99)? I don’t think so. And that’s the problem. College has become so expensive, it makes much more sense to go the DIY route when it comes to cultivating a thoughtful understanding of the world.

  3. Very interesting points you make here – I don’t see anything wrong with your plans but do see some resistance on #3.

    Having been in college not too long ago, I remember a lot of the petty crap that happened. Yes, it was a “good” experience and “got me a job”, but if I was to go back to 18 years old, I don’t think I would go to college.

    The cost is so high these days!

    I really like your thoughts on an “express degree”. How do you think a Master’s degree would work? Could you go into a Master’s without taking the fluff?

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Erik. Yeah, #3 definitely needs to be worked on. Perhaps a sliding scale would be appropriate. The closer a bankrupted graduate is from his or her graduation date, the greater the percentage the college is on the hook for. And if a graduate defaults on his or student loan after 20 years after his or her graduation date, the college isn’t subject to a clawback. Something needs to be done to give colleges an incentive to reduce costs. Right now, no such incentives exist. As far as an express degree being the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree? That will be entirely on Congress and the states. If they make such an equivalence dependent on accepting public money, colleges will fold like cheap cameras. If they don’t, colleges will never voluntarily offer such a short cut and make it an acceptable requirement for graduate school. Sigh. Short of government coercion, the express will never happen.

  4. I think if you have a passion for certain fields (engineering or sciences) and you intend to pursue them, then you would definitely need a degree. The degree would give you the basic fundamentals. So I think the college part is important, but only for people who intends to pursue a career in a very SPECIALIZED field!

    However I think the majority of people would definitely benefit from an express degree! Everyone knows that what you learn in school is totally different from what to expect when you start working. The degree is just to let you meet the “requirements” for the job.

    It’s just frustrating the way things work. Carrying a lot of debt, studying all sorts of subjects because you need to be “well rounded” and finally going into your first job and having to learn everything from the start.

    Really a lot of pointless stuff in between, the express option would definitely work wonders.

    • Mr. Groovy

      This is what kills me about a bachelor’s degree. Imagine the following scenario. A guy gets laid off from his factory job and he’s in his mid-40s. All he has is a high school diploma. He wants to go to college and up his skill set; he wants to become a network engineer. And the college-industrial complex says fine. We’ll give you a credential, but in order to get that credential, you have to take 20-25 classes that have nothing to do with computers and networking. Talk about a cruel joke. The college-industrial complex says it cares about the little guy, but its business model says otherwise. Thanks for stopping by, T. I really appreciate your contribution.

  5. Love it! Cut out the fluff, and let’s get to work! Just think of the level of excitement too for the student know that they get the opportunity to tackle their core classes right away, and if you find the career choice isn’t for you, it gives you greater flexibility to study something else if required.

    I’d like to see a sliding scale for degrees, based on number of job and ROI. If you pursuing a sociology degree why are you paying the same as someone pursuing a computer science degree. We know if the real world these careers will never make the same, why in the world do the degrees cost the same?!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Great suggestion about the sliding scale. I never considered that, but it makes sense. Some majors are definitely more resource intensive than others. So why shouldn’t the cost per credit reflect that? And here’s another thing colleges should be compelled to do. Why should students pay the same for a class taught by an adjunct as opposed to a full professor? After all, an adjunct is paid a pittance of what a full professor is paid. Shouldn’t students therefore get a tuition break? Meh. There is much wrong with the college-industrial complex. Thanks for stopping by, Brian. Great contribution as always.

  6. Great post.

    I earned my BS degree in expressway program at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa.

    Classes were one night per week and 5 weeks long. It was intense, but allowed me to work in the day and attend college in the evening.

    The Expressway program cost around $240 per credit while the traditional classes cost over $500.

    • Mr. Groovy

      I love it! Just looked up expressway degrees at Misericordia University. This is what we need more of. Colleges starting to think outside the box. And hopefully someday soon a worthwhile credential that is cheaper and less time-consuming than the age-old bachelor’s degree will appear. Thanks for sharing, Dave, and alerting me to Misericordia U. I really appreciate it.

  7. I’m not sure about your proposals but the true cost in education these days is the extra curricular, not the other things. Decouple that and the costs would drop considerably. Every major college competes on amenities. As such their athletic rec centers are nicer then what I get for 100 dollars a month at the Y. Free cable, yeah most dorms have that. New buildings… Same deal. They spend their endowments on these things instead of on funding the actual education. We need to decouple the cost of the degree to the value it brings and start schools competing on that type of value to cost instead of just amenities to costs. I’m not sure how you do that. I don’t necessarily agree with the finishing school proposal though. The twenty percent application of a chosen major indicates those other skills may have been of value when not expected. The world benefits from rounded individuals, one just wishes basic finance was one of those rounding classes. Why not strictly express? Easy, even within your core you are unlikely to use those skills in your job. It’s a proof of ability to learn and at best a foundation. So even express doesn’t really qualify you.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Haha! You are so right, FTF. A big reason why college is so expensive is because of the resort-like amenities and the minor-league sport programs. How did I ever learn anything when I went to Buffalo University? My dorm room was made of cinder blocks, the cafeteria served marginally palatable slop, and we didn’t have a division one football program. I just read in Ric Edelman’s latest book, The Truth About Your Future, that the Clemson University football players have their own miniature golf course, volleyball courts, laser tag arena, movie theater, bowling lanes, and barbershop. To say things are getting a little out of hand on the extracurricular front is a huge understatement. Meh. Thanks for stopping by, FTF. I really appreciate your insights.

  8. “Colleges should have some skin in the game.” AMEN! They rape and pillage and go on their way raping and pillaging some more with no reprimands or consequences. I wish I could say we are encouraging all four of our kids to get a degree. We are not. The budding elementary ed teacher and the budding neurosurgeon have their eyes set toward college; the budding artist/animator and budding children’s book author do not, and honestly, I’m quite relieved for them. As for the other two, we are working fervently on plans for them to graduate debt free. In fact we were just perusing medical school costs today for the 11-year-old who wants to be a surgeon. Why, instead of being proud and puffed up, do I feel a little bit sorry for them that they have to attend college?

    • Mr. Groovy

      If college students really wanted to fight the power, instead of occupying the president’s office whenever someone on campus committed a social faux pas, they would un-occupy all the meaningless classes they are forced to take in order to get their degrees. I’ll never forget one class I took at Buffalo University. It was called Mass Media and Social Roles, and I kid you not, a large part of classroom time was devoted to talking about female orgasms. Yeah, college certainly made me well-rounded. There’s no way I’d be able to function today if I hadn’t gotten the Marxist take on female orgasms when I was 18-years-old. Thanks for stopping by, Laurie. I really appreciate it.

      P.S. I don’t think your kids will have any problems when it comes to higher education. First, the current business model is unsustainable, and the internet will surely disrupt it in due time. Moreover, you’re well aware that college is a scam, and you won’t let the college-industrial complex take advantage of your kids. Would that more Americans had your critical thinking skills.

        • Mr. Groovy

          Haha! Fortunately I took Mass Media and Social Roles back in 1980. It cost less than $100. I took a lot of beauties back then to fulfill the well-roundedness requirements of a bachelor’s degree. One in particular was called Great Mysteries of the Earth. It dealt, I kid you not, with Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, Stonehenge, and astrology. Yep, American higher education at its best.

          • Donna

            Ah, yes, Mr. Groovy, but would you be the great thinker you are today without the likes of these classes? I mean, if you had only taken SQL & Programming classes???

            I love that you don’t just criticize the status quo. You also propose a solution. I think I’m going to enjoy the 2nd Wednesday posts.

  9. This isn’t the first post you have written about colleges. And every time I read one I just wanna punch myself in the face for even going. Was without a doubt the worst decision I’ve ever made.

    Gah! Where’s a time machine when you need one?

    • Mr. Groovy

      You and me both, WAPH. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that my degrees were a huge waste of time and money. My friend who bought a bread route soon after graduating high school was making about $150K annually by the time I left Buffalo University (1984). I did a lot of seasonal and part time work before I got my first full time job in 1986. My salary was $17K. Yep, acquiring those tremendous critical thinking skills really paid off.

  10. I am not a fan at all of the express degree idea coupled with suing employers for using the bachelor’s cut-off. I enjoy free market forces, which are circumvented there in a big way by that idea!

    Rather, reduce the cost of a bachelor’s degree. The best way to do that is remarkably simple in theory, but tough to put into practice without an incredibly unfair 3-4 year rough patch: Remove easy access to free student loan money from government that comes with the promise of easy pay-off methods (which actually covertly increase your payoff costs and are in no way a favor).

    Inject free money into any system and you’ve devalued that money compared to that product. Colleges begin doing more garbage to compete with the others for all the free money floating out there, like building fancy new buildings to house multiple gyms on one block.

    This is the biggest problem, and it will not be solved by having express degrees or by forcing employers to accept alternative education as a credential.

    • Mr. Groovy

      “Whatever you subsidize you get more of.”

      Leave it to you my friend to cut through all the nonsense and get to the heart of the problem. Government has been throwing oodles of money at post-secondary schooling for decades, and that’s what we’re getting. A lot of people with more years of schooling and very little real education to show for it. What a scam! So you are absolutely right. Ending student loans would stop all this nonsense in its track. Absent student loans, there’s no way colleges could charge students $500 a credit to hear some adjunct prattle on about some subject that is marginally connected to the real world. Absent student loans, there’s no way colleges could get away with making students take 20-25 classes that have nothing to do with their majors. But here’s the thing. How do you get rid of student loans in a society that has been marinated in socialism and taught to believe that education is a right? My express degree is a way to break through that cultural roadblock. Thanks for stopping by, TV. As usual, you made some very salient points and counter-arguments. Bravo, my friend.

  11. Actually, they have your express degree…it’s called an associate’s, though it’s rarely put on the same terms as a bachelor’s. Maybe it should be.

    But I also think that there are some merits to making sure your students can write coherently, speak in public, and understand a balance sheet and income statement no matter what field they go into. Unfortunately, those aren’t always the academic requirements students have to fulfill. (the writing they usually get, but the rest?)

    I do think schools should have some “skin in the game” when it comes to defaulted loans. If the school is going to charge thousands of dollars, then that degree better be worth more than the paper it’s printed on. And if holding the schools partially accountable for the defaults helps keep those degrees valuable, good.

    • Mr. Groovy

      LOL! I love it, Emily. How could I forget the redheaded stepchild of education–community college. I just looked up the degree requirements for database development at Central Piedmont Community College and I was pleasantly surprised. It consisted of 22 classes and 16 of them were about computers and databases. My only problem with associate degrees is that they lack rigor. And this isn’t a put down. I just don’t know how taxing the curriculum can be when the only requirement for enrollment appears to be a high school diploma. So, yes, if community colleges had much tougher entry requirements, and we had some schools vying to be the Harvard of community colleges, then my express degree would be rather redundant.

  12. I think the express degree is a great idea. I don’t make donations to my alma mater for several reasons: tuition has gone up 66% in the 9 years since I graduated, they pour money into athletics where our football literally has had a losing record every season since 1985ish, & they have built lots of new “recreation” buildings like a new Olympic-size swimming pool & awesome lacrosse field to attract prospective athletes.

    I’m 9 years out of undergraduate this year and majored in Political Science because I simply needed a 4-year degree to get a job I wanted. It cost me $50 grand.

    As others have said, STEM type degrees may require the entire 4-year period, but, the whole professional world is a boondoggle.

    Once you graduate, you have to deal with licensing, etc. that can be just as expensive as the college degree & (in my opinion) has turned into job security for the already employed to suppress competition.

    Too much to say in one comment, but, I love your insight into politics while still being non-partisan!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Thank you, Josh. I really appreciate your comments. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who sees the waste and nonsense built into the bachelor’s degree. I too refuse to donate to my alma maters. And I will continue to withhold my charity as long as higher education is hostile to freedom, hostile to diversity of thought, and hostile to the financial well-being of students, parents, and taxpayers.

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