I have seen a few tweets and articles lately about the value of college.  I started to think about all the jobs you could get without a college degree.  You do things similar to starting an airline like Jet Blue, launch Dell Computers, become the head of Microsoft, create American Idol, make movies like Private Ryan and E.T., or maybe even start a website like Facebook.  I know, the people that did those things without a college diploma are just rare exceptions.  Probably just in the right place at the right time.  We all know that getting a college degree grants you more opportunities and ends up netting you 100s of thousands of dollars over the course of your life.  One just has to take a look at the Forbes 400 richest people.  66% of them have college degrees.  Although the other 34% without degrees have a higher net worth than the 66% of those with college degrees combined.

What if you didn’t need a college degree to teach?  In CT you do…after looking at every loop hole it all comes back to needing course work in the area you wish to be certified in from an accredited college.  It would be cool if someone out of high school could hook up with a master teacher for 3?4?5? years, and then take the tests, submit the portfolios for certification and become a teacher. I am pretty sure that if someone could work with me for four years I could cover with them what they would have had to do in college classes, and **bonus** give them actual classroom experience.   Too many student teachers are experiencing teaching for their first time after three-and-a-half years of college.  At the college down the road, that means they would have spent $120,000 to learn “how to teach” before they even had the chance to try (no I am not counting the 20 hour observation class before student teaching).  Lets face it, if we taught mechanics how to fix a blown head gasket and didn’t let them do it until three years later, we would have many more broken cars in our driveways.  That is kind of what we do with pre-service teachers…and I wonder if it results in more broken kids.

I wonder what you would do differently if you knew your kids were not going to spend years and years in school.  As a middle school teacher there really just doesn’t seem any reason to get them ready for “the real world.”  There is still high school, and then college.  Why rush?  I wonder how the system would change if you took one layer off…what if no grad-school…what if no undergraduate college…what if no high school…what if no elementary school…how low could you go.  Can you image the impact to middle school classrooms if we knew we were the last stop before going out into “the real world.”  You have probably heard the expression, what if we taught each kid like they will be the President.   What would happen if we taught each year, or each level like it was their last?

My daughter is starting to talk about college, and my wife and I are starting to talk about how we can’t afford it.  Sure…we could all go into huge debt.  But what if my daughter wanted to do something that did not require a certification and have as its core  a requirement of courses from a college.  I could see letting her get into a company and convincing them to let her work for free, side-by-side with people who could model and share their knowledge and craft–we could pay all her living expenses, much cheaper than college.  Maybe she bounces from job to job because she is just working at for free.  Maybe without the pressure of paying thousands of dollars a year for coursework she will be free to explore options, change course, and not work the rest of her life in a field she doesn’t enjoy just because that is the one her $150,000 college education prepared her for.

I often think of the label we put on people who do things differently–“exceptions.”  It is so easy to look up a list of “successful people without college diplomas” on google.   It is so easy to say that they are simply exceptions to the rule.  Really?  Maybe labeling them “exceptions” is an easy way out for us.  Maybe labeling them “exceptions” allows us to feel better about what we do and the decisions we have made.  Maybe we do it because it is hard to admit that they might just have more “guts” than the rest of us.

I hope that my kids have learned that there are exceptions to the rules.

I hope that they become “exceptions.”

I hope that they will have the “guts,” that I never had.


  1. Hi Paul,

    Your most recent posts have hit home as part of a long thought process for me. As I wait for acceptance into the MEd in Teaching program, I now doubt I will go into it. The barriers to entry of time and money no longer make sense to enter a ‘profession’ which seems to be harming the lives of its employees and clients. I’m no longer sure that entering the system to improve it is actually beneficial for anyone.

    I’m still paying off debt from my first year of private university, before I returned to my state school, and higher education has not helped me to get where I am in my current work. In fact, it may have hindered it. The only thing going through this system seems to be useful for is getting past the many barriers to entry for most jobs in our certificate-happy world. Schools have become the monopoly holders of these golden tickets; the prices are skyrocketing.

    The debt of college has become the biggest hindrance of me pursuing my dreams. To ask a person at 18 to sell at least the next 10 years of his life to get a vaguely promised good job seems immoral at best, especially when no other options are presented as viable.

    I, too, hope the next generation will have the guts, and the foresight, to not fall for this.

    1. “To ask a person at 18 to sell at least the next 10 years of his life to get a vaguely promised good job seems immoral at best, especially when no other options are presented as viable.” Interesting way of putting it. When you become a teacher you have to get your Masters Degree, and then if you want a good raise around here you have to get your 6th Year. This fall my sixth year will be paid off marking possibly the first time since I was 18 that I have not had a tuition loan payment…let me do the math…43-18…I have been paying loans for 24 years. I think maybe there were a couple between my masters and 6th year that were debt free, but geez.

  2. It is certainly the case that some people do well without college degrees, but it isn’t something I would bet someone’s life on.

    In some fields, the college degree is just a social-class filter to ration scarce jobs, but in other fields the education obtained in college is essential.

    You seem to be arguing that teaching is one of the fields in which the college degree is just a meaningless filter—that nothing learned in college is really relevant to the job of teaching. (Or, at least, that it could be learned on the job faster and cheaper.) I wonder how one could test that hypothesis in an ethical experiment.

    1. The big issues I have with the college education a teacher receives is the amount of time between when student learns something, and when they get to put it into practice. So for example, they can take a class on child development, but then not spend time with children for another two years. The courses being taught are relevant, but not when they are taught in an institution that shields students from why they are relevant. I would be willing to bet that in two weeks a student teacher with a decent cooperating teacher could learn everything that would have been taught in a semester long course–learn about it, apply it, and then reflect on it with the cooperating teacher.
      I should add, that this is based only on most of my experiences, and the experiences of the student teachers I get. I do have a 6th year degree that was worth every single penny I paid for it–the classes were incredible, the instructors were phenomenal, it is probably responsible for 40% of who I am as a teacher…although I wonder how different it would have been if I had been taking the same classes before I taught.

  3. This conversation about the value of a college education makes me wonder. I feel like our values of wanting an educated population and our capitalist mindset have collided with one another.

    College for everybody they say. But supply and demand then drives up the cost. Brings more choices out of the woodwork in the form of commercial colleges and community colleges.

    So now the cost is prohibitive for the very people who the “College for all” was meant to encompass. The question is…are the upper orders of society questioning whether or not college is of value? Because if they aren’t, then we are back to square one. Except now…the blame for why more people from different parts of society aren’t placed on the shoulders of the powers that be..because you could go if you wanted to…but you are choosing not to.

    So do we need to address the value of a college education or what that education looks like? I think the same questions can be had for K-12 education.

    I just think it’s a difficult place to put people in. To say don’t go to college while the rules of the game say do…that’s a tough one.

    I understand that college is not for everyone, but until the gatekeeping system has changed, how can we in good conscience not encourage students to get a key.

    1. “…how can we in good conscience not encourage students to get a key?”
      I know…but I keep thinking…there are many doors that do not require that special key. In my life, from when I was born ’till today, I usually only come across individuals who work behind those doors, and have a ring full of keys. But I have also bumped into many people along the way not living and working behind those locked doors. People perfectly happy where they are. Maybe we should spend less money buying our kids a key, and just give them a hammer.

  4. Really, I wish college was promoted for what it was meant to be: education for the sake of education.

    These days, it’s more trade school than education–expensive trade school that many of us find unnecessary.

    Good thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

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