Alternate College

I read this and it I applaud the breakdown. :slight_smile: … o-college/

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” —Mark Twain

I can’t help but notice that in rallying against the idea of going to college, the guy writing the list instead just went and did a different set of tuition courses, only with less structure and less recruiter recognition.

It is possible to make a ‘better ways to spend your money’ argument (*), but I just don’t think the guy made a very good attempt at it.

(*) You just have to truely understand what you wnat to get out of the course and find a better way…

example 1) I was once sent by my firm on a $2000 2-day course on how to influence people. My feedback on the course was that they could have given me the 2 days off and bought me a copy of Dale Carnegie and a new sofa to sit and read it on and they’d have achieved the same thing, spent less and earnt more goodwill with me.

example 2) If you only want to go to college to get drunk and pick up girls, there are lots more efficent ways you can achieve that if you have $150,000 to blow on the problem.

As a university lecturer both in the UK and here in China, I do appreciate the fact that there are still many people in the profession who are useless — one I know of in the UK, who used to come into the lecture theatre, plonk her notes on the lectern, read out the notes from the beginning to the end, then say “Thank you” and walk out of the theatre. When I worked for a Swiss college in London, one of the teachers had been giving exactly the same classes for over 30 years, and still went in holding his notes on the tattered, yellowed, roughly 3 x 5 bits of paper that he had made when he first started!

And I have many colleagues here who the students tell me sit almost invisibly behind the multimedia console, put the PPT that comes with the coursebook up on the screen for the students, read out what it says on the PPT from the monitor on the console, and that’s it.

But at the same time, I think the system fostered by our governments that says 50% of young people should go to university and get a degree, is also partly to blame. The vast majority of undergraduate students I taught in the UK weren’t interested in their degree, just in the piece of, now virtually worthless, paper. The majority of them came through clearing, meaning that they had applied to do something else that they thought they were interested in, failed to meet the entry requirements and so opted for whatever university and subject would give them a place with what they had. This has reduced BA courses for many students in the UK — especially those going to institutions at the bottom of the league table — to something which can hardly be termed academic.

When I first started teaching at the University of Westminster (ca. 1986), some of the members of my BA final year class came and thanked me for being the only teacher in four years to have forced them to think; the best student in my last BA final year class (1997-8) came to me and told me that my modules were too difficult as they required the students to think!

So what is being presented here is just playing the system to get a piece of paper, or sets of pieces of paper at minimal cost, and with minimal commitment, the example being without any coherence.

But the University of Westminster did have a cross-disciplinary degree, managed by a special department. The first semester’s work consisted of writing a long, properly academic proposal, under supervision, laying out what combination of courses and subjects, from the range available throughout the University, that the student intended to take to make up their degree, with a full explanation and justification of that programme, including aims, outcomes and ultimate purpose. It wasn’t for the faint-hearted, and I had one student who having started off doing a language and Linguistics, but having problems on the language side, I managed to get moved over onto that programme and who graduated with a good degree in Linguistics with Sociology and Psychology, at that time each within different Faculties.

Let battle begin! :smiling_imp:


Edited to remove a couple of mistakes as I hit “Submit” instead of “Preview”! :unamused:

Every semester I get two themes that can be roughly summarised with, “nom doesn’t questions directly” and “I like the way nom answers questions by encouraging us to think and work out how to answer the questions ourselves.” The first from students that want the bit of paper, the second from students that want to learn. My challenge is to move students from the former to the latter.

I also agree with pigfender that the argument was not entirely convincing. If I wanted to learn ceramics I can make at home, then a 4-week ceramics course in Mexico might be better than a 4-year university course. If I want to make a career out of it, the issue not so clear. If I want to be a psychologist (or medical doctor, or lawyer, or nurse, or teacher, or…) then I can do as many 4-week courses as I want, but I’ll never achieve my aim without a university degree. Goal definitely determines process.

I write this as a university dropout who did do non-credit courses internationally before working in non-credentionalled fields before establishing a business before returning to university to retrain in a profession. So I’ve tried both sides of the argument and, for my goals, university wins. Even if I hadn’t decided to retrain as a psychologist, my career path would have been simpler had I finished my initial degree. I could still have done all the other things I subsequently did, but most steps would have been easier.

My answer to the first students was “Thank you very much!”; my answer to the last student — and by the way, I liked her and she was very bright — was “It wouldn’t matter what I was teaching … history, physics, lliterature, whatever, it would be about how to think. I just happen to believe language is one of the most fascinating things about us, and so what I’m doing is trying to teach you how to think about language.”



I thought university was all about doing magazines, newspapers, theatre, politics, drinking and sex. Study, you say? Oh.

Some occupations demand (and ought to) advanced study and qualifying examinations — engineering and medicine, for example. In others, a degree is a passport, a sort of apprentice certification — journalism and teaching, for example. For the two best-paying jobs I ever had — in broadcasting and in advertising — formal education was immaterial; I was hired because of demonstrated skill and was never even asked about college degrees.


Once upon a time in the days before email, a callow young hack submitted an interview/profile to a national magazine. In the brown envelope, along with the copy, the commissioning sub-editor found a degree certificate (because the hack, up against deadline, had stuffed his copy into what appeared to be the only unused large envelope in his flat).

The sub-editor wrote back, returning the certificate: “Thank you for your copy. Although we are pleased that you have a degree from the university of XXX, we do not insist upon it for a profile of Kylie Minogue.”

As of this week I am officially an “executive”. That in and of itself is of not significance, except that I rose to the level of executive from IT engineering (net/sys admin --> team lead --> system engineering/architecture --> group manager and chief architect --> executive). The reason that I suggest this is significant is that I have no degree. It wasn’t until this last move that it really became an issue for folks and their only request was that I ‘start working for one’. Which I did as most here know.

My point is that while a degree is a path to a career, so is simple hard work and initiative. Sure it may have been harder for me to get where I am than the guy with and MBA or a BS/MS. Then again I did it with no school debt and 5 years ahead of the perfect schedule. I also get a bit more notice within the higher ranks because of the lack of credentials. Yes, I have to prove myself, but it isn’t hard to do since “hard work and initiative” are what got me here.

If I could go back and do it over I don’t know that I would go to school. The path I have chosen provides a unique perspective that is missing in much of the business community. That perspective is what has increased my value to my current employer. Yet I encourage my kids to “go to school” if the field they choose to work in is heavily biased by degrees. Hence the daughditor’s pending departure to University (she going psych which means we may see another nom-ish type).

I think the larger issue is not the college, but the employer. What good is a degree if there is no faithfulness between the employer and the degreed employee? The IT world is particularly bad these days. Since you can’t really be certain of any business or tech jobs these days you are left with service, health care, and “bank industry”. Only one of those actually seems to profit from degreed employees.

Blah blah blah.

Well done Jaysen.

A degree is evidence that you can think - in theory. In practice, as Mark says above, universities don’t necessarily teach students to think. In practice, you can prove you can think in all sorts of other ways. In my case, I don’t believe I really learnt to think until my third job - in the sense of putting forward a hypothesis, collecting or confronting evidence, testing the hypothesis and drawing conclusions.

As far as employers are concerned, I try to never forget: there is no gratitude, let alone loyalty. To think that there is, is to mistake capitalism for something else. Somehow we in the Western world have to find ways of living that create worthwhile, interesting jobs for people that aren’t confined to a handful of occupations, with or without degrees.

For me, this is quite good advice for anyone starting out in the world - albeit coming from someone who by all accounts was very hard to get on with, and had an aversion to showering. :slight_smile:

I had a teacher that told me something along the same lines. The problem is, I’m failing under the believe this is something not just universities, but all schools are trying to get away from. Standardization is the rule of the day. Teach knowledge that doesn’t stick and any useful skills must be discarded, because we be smart and wonts need skills.

I’m glad to see I’m not completely right and we still have hope. Some of it present on this forum. Please, keep people thinking.

Agreed. Typically, the degrees that are worthwhile require the same (well, at least the hard work part).

My wife sends her condolences and hopes your daughter recovers soon. :blush:

Except that you have just demonstrated that, while people believe a degree is a necessary passport to a job in journalism, clearly it is not! :slight_smile: For teachers and doctors, it is, for research scientists, it is … for engineers? I was told by a fellow student at Cambridge, about to graduate in Engineering, that he had been turned down by his No 1 choice of employer because they’d rather take a 16 year-old out of school and teach them the real-life engineering needed by the company, than have to struggle to get university graduates to unlearn all the theoretical stuff they’d been filled with on their engineering degree. But that was longer ago than I care to think!

Your irony is totally apposite. My daughter, while thinking about university, went on an open day to Southampton University. She came home saying with some asperity that she certainly wasn’t going there. It turned out that the student who had been assigned to take them round and answer their questions had talked about nothing all day except drinking, parties, etc., and had not said one single word about studies. That too is longer ago than bears thinking about, but I bet that is one thing that hasn’t changed.

Precisely, Jaysen. My point about our governments and their 50%. The vast majority of people don’t need a degree to do what they do and get where they are in life. For many students in the UK, I’m sure, being a university student is a way of putting off the horror of trying to find a job for a further three or four years — here in China, many do an MA if they can for just that reason, as employment prospects for MAs are hardly better than for BAs — and for government statistics, while those young people are at university, they’re off the unemployment register, making the unemployment figures look better. Hard work and initiative are required for both paths, and that is what is in such short supply these days.

It all has nothing to do with academics, and devalues the concept of a degree to the point of meaninglessness.

Grumpy old man of Xiamen

I think the real reason behind the popularity of college is expressed quite well in this musical documentary on the subject.