1 Skipping College, Two Ways | The Billfold

Skipping College, Two Ways

This NYT Sunday Styles article is basically the opposite of “The Working Poor: A Booming Demographic,” a paper by UMass professor Jeannette Wicks-Lim we linked to last week.

The NYT is all, “Don’t go to college because you can get a high paying tech job or start your sick startup without it! Everyone is doing it!”

While Wicks-Lim is all, “Don’t go to college because it won’t help you get the jobs which are actually available, like elderly care and serving, and also you’ll be in a lot of debt that you’ll never repay no matter what and also like, okay you could maybe also go work at a startup or something but that is WINNING THE LOTTERY and that’s not going to happen because of math.”


15 Comments / Post A Comment

Love the alt-text.

KatNotCat (#766)

Doesn’t elder care work generally require at least some college background? I assume most jobs that fall under that umbrella would require at least a nursing degree.

sea ermine (#122)

@KatNotCat @KatNotCat I’m pretty sure it at least requires an associate or some sort of certificate. I also bet that those with a nursing degree have more opportunities for advancement within elder care (sort of like going to school to become a dentist vs a dental hygienist. One requires less study but maybe also less opportunities or lower pay).

Derbel McDillet (#1,241)

@KatNotCat @KatNotCat If they’re talking home health, then no, it doesn’t require any type of certification. Many of the services are considered “homemaking” services, such as preparing food, cleaning, or providing companionship or respite for other caregivers. A person could become CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) to make a tad more money and be able to provide other services such as wound dressing, but pay is still very low. There are some RNs in home health, mostly in case management as opposed to direct care. Sorry to sound like such a know-it-all! I’ve been working with home health/mental health/hospice in my MSW program.

KatNotCat (#766)

@AconyBelle I appreciate the info! The only people I’ve known who have done elder care worked in convalescent homes in a nursing capacity. What is the average pay for an in-home health care position?

@KatNotCat There’s a horrifying bit in Precious, the novel (shut up, I know, I was in a misery-lit mood) where several poor kids discuss doing elderly carer work for very little reward. Of all the things in that book, that really stood out for me.

@KatNotCat Average hourly pay for non-supervisors in nursing and residential care: $14.26/hr. (everything you want to know)

Home health and personal care aides: median pay $9.70/hr in 2010 (everything you want to know)

WhyHelloThere (#1,398)

@KatNotCat Where I live, to be certified as a CNA you have to be at least 16 years old, take a two-week course, and pass a written exam and a practical exam. I know lots of people who got CNA certification and started working at nursing homes while they were in high school. The average pay for a CNA here is about $11 an hour, and it’s really difficult work.

sea ermine (#122)

The issue is that if everyone suddenly switches and applies for all those jobs that don’t require a college degree then there wont be many of them and there will be tons of people who wont be able to go to any other job because they don’t have the degree or training required for that. It’s also probably not a good idea to imply that it is easier to get a job just because it doesn’t require a college degree, especially if you don’t have prior experience in that field with which to distinguish yourself from all the other people who just graduated high school and are looking for jobs.

Also, not everyone is good at those jobs. I, for example, would be terrible at elder care, or any kind of care giving. For me, it was much more cost effective to go to college, even though I did incur loans, because it gave me a chance at the jobs I would be good at. I think people assume that just because a college degree doesn’t guarantee you a job immediately upon graduation that it is a worthless thing to get. It may not guarantee a job nowadays (and I doubt it ever really did), but it opens up opportunities and gives you a chance at certain jobs that require a degree. A college degree guarantees you just as much as a high school degree does, or an associates degree, the ability to qualify to apply for something that requires that level of education. Nothing more.

Also, one last thing is that we should remember that a college degree should be more than just a way to get a job. It is also an education, and an education that is becoming more and more necessary in the US when you consider how poor our education system is. I was lucky to have a chance to go to school overseas but when I went to college in the US I was amazed at the poor writing kills of some of my classmates (students who were native English speakers raised by native English speakers), as well as math and science skills.

Basically I think the focus should be less on “don’t get a college degree because people wont hand you a job afterwards” or “do get a college degree because without it you’ll flip burgers forever” but more on figuring out if getting that extra education will be beneficial to you (both for your brain as well as your future jobs) and then figuring out how to do that without incurring to many loans. It may involve not going to your dream school, or working for a few years first, or not going at all but I think setting one strict rule of “don’t go to college” or “do go to college” doesn’t really help anyone.

sea ermine (#122)

@seaermine I should point out that my opinion is colored by 4 things:

1. I originally went to college to study a major that leads to a very specific career track at a school that is better for its pre professional programs than its liberal arts or humanities degrees. Then, after 3 years of hating that program I switched my major to Spanish Literature, and I really wish I had studied something less techinical and pre-professional (such as History or Biology or really anything in an Arts and Sciences department). And switching my major didn’t negatively impact my career prospects, all of the jobs I applied to required 4 year college degrees, none required a specific degree.

2. A huge part of why I chose the colleges I applied to and why chose to attend the college I went to is because they would let me graduate with a manageable amount of loans (~$16,000). Had I chosen a different major (my major was only offered at 5 or so schools on the east coast), had I had more options I probably would have graduated with less loans. But, I graduated high school in 2008 so I was already aware of what was happening with the economy so, in that respect, I had more knowledge to make my decision than people were already in school at that time did.

3. I started applying for jobs 1 month after graduation and was hired 4 months later. I believe a huge part of this is because I did a lot of research as to which cities I would have the best chance of being hired in (for me that was DC and NYC), and focused a lot on what jobs it would be realistic for me to get and then work up from there, rather than on what was my dream job. I also had a ton of administrative work experience from age 16 on, which is useful because most jobs have some admin type tasks in them and also because if you find a company that is known for promoting admins it is a good place to start (I know a number of college graduates who were administrative assistants for 2 years after college and who have recently been promoted to higher positions in the fields they are interested in). So you can make it work for you in a way that is a bit harder to do if your experience is in fast food, or stocking shelves (however, I think retail can work in a similar way to admin/clerical jobs because of the customer service aspect..working with people, etc.)

EM (#1,012)

To paraphrase the moral of the Mindy Project episode quoted in the article, the most impressive college drop-outs are those that got into a pretty impressive college to begin with (Ivy League usually) and so are already displaying pretty prodigious talents and privilege. If 44% of college students are dropping out without finishing their degree within six years (yikes), then it’s not because all of them are killing it in the tech startup industry.

I think it’s great if people question whether a four-year degree is right for their interests and skills, or if they should consider gap years or working out of high school or interning first before they accrue lots of debt. But it’s silly to pretend your options are (1) debt forever, useless degree and (2) BIG $$$ FROM UR GENIUS APP!

@Michelle Yeah there is a debate among economists that basically the purpose of college is to select desirable candidates. If you got into Harvard, you must be pretty smart — doesn’t much matter what you do AT Harvard. That’s why employers want to hire you, not because Harvard offers a better education than Mid Ranked State. Thus Ivy League dropouts do well because A) Ivy Leagues are highly selective and only accept the smartest people, and/or B) because simply having gotten into an Ivy is worth more to many people than having graduated from a mediocre school.

Markham (#1,862)

Quick thoughts:

I’m a college drop-out who got the high paying job in the tech industry….


I went to a really good school, I had an intense Engineering program with 19-21 credits a semester.

When I got my first Mgt. Consulting job they picked me over a guy with a degree from a state school whilst snearing at his state school and big uping mine.

I’ve been in the tech world for over ten years now.

I work on the business and management side of things, I haven’t met anyone else between Seattle and Silicon Valley without a degree who works at my level. In fact people just assume I MUST have a MBA.

I do meet people without degrees who work in lower level and/or technology focused roles, QA, Support, Hardware, some programmers.

But for the most part, nearly everyone has a degree.

The fact that there people without degrees belies the fact that they’re rare.

In the end most start-ups fail so much so that there are people who just seem to make a career of going from failed start-up to failed start-up, and most tech people are just working jobs like everyone else.

I’d say the ratio of degreed folks to non degreed is 80/20 at BEST and probably closer to 90/10.

sony_b (#225)

@Markham Yep. I have a masters and am comfortable with my career in tech, and get random targeted emails from headhunters every few weeks. My boyfriend is also in tech but without a degree. He knows his stuff and has gotten an offer after every interview he’s had – but he never would have gotten an interview without a personal network of friends in the business, and he starts the negotiation on pay from a weaker position because of that as well. There are some big names that just plain won’t hire you without the degree, no matter how much they like you, as well.

darklingplain (#938)

Why would anyone ever take anything from the NYT’s Style sections seriously?

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