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America! Why Are You So Ashamed of Not Going to College?

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Take two roommates in Manhattan, Dan and Chuck. Dan has a Harvard PolySci degree and makes $33,000 a year writing copy for a daily deal site. Chuck is a master electrician who went to trade school and makes $128,000 a year.

When they go to the swanky cocktail joint, guess which roommate gets looked down upon? I don't even have to tell you, do I?

Well, I say that's bullcrap, and I would use stronger language if permitted.

However, instead going into a diatribe, I'd prefer to make my point through the poignant commentary from my good Australian buddy Nicole on how Americans feel about going to college.

Nicole Writes:

In Florida, I was living with my uncle, and also my cousin who had just graduated from high school. She was preparing for college life and I was able to experience the journey through both her eyes and her father's eyes. It was an exciting time for both of them with the overall feeling of growing up and taking responsibility for herself; to live away from her father, childhood home and school friends and start living somewhat independently. This focus was an interesting contrast to what I had experienced in Australia where the attitude towards choosing a "tertiary study" path was more about exploring the learning and career opportunities available to you than having the opportunity to set your own curfew.

My cousin and her friends spoke exclusively about social options and football teams when it came to comparing universities. They talked about how their sister had married her college sweetheart. They talked about fraternities and sororities. It was a life changing experience, but not because of what career options this study provided them with, but rather that this was their time to grow up. When we would compare universities in Australia we would spend the majority of our time talking about the school's reputation for excellence in that particular area of study rather than the reputed social life of that campus.

It was a life changing experience, but not because of what career options this study provided them with; but rather that this was their time to grow up.

While living in California, not having completed any semesters of university presented some unexpected challenges. Looking for work I found almost all advertised positions, even basic administrative positions, had a mandatory requirement of some college. Potential employers did not acknowledge previous experience gained in another country from many years in a similar role. It was preferable to hire a candidate who had dropped out after one semester of university than a candidate who had many years relevant employment experience and life experiences demonstrating skills not learnable at university. Similar positions advertised in Australia will generally note that a relevant tertiary qualification will be regarded favorably. The difference is that in Australia, life experience and relevant work history are not disregarded and are not held less valuable than poor performance in university or incomplete university studies.

In Australia, learning a trade after high school is a respectable alternative and not a choice one makes due to money, but desire to learn. In the States I felt as though those who went to trade school were of a lesser class, and that high school graduates were ashamed to go to trade school.
Finally, it's just plain ridiculous when you look at what it costs to get a four-year degree.

Those were Nicole's thoughts and while I have never been to Australia, I can't say that I disagree. In the States the conversation is "Where do you go to school?" In Australia it's "What are you studying?"

Now let's be clear, I love my country more than anything in the world, and I would not cheat on America for any other, no matter how sexy that country is. But I do think we have, on average, a terribly unrealistic take on the reasons why it is important to get a four year degree.

Finally, I leave you with this thought. Before leaving my last company to start my latest one, I saw computer engineering graduates from a bootcamp university who took a few month-long, non-accredited crash courses in computer programming getting better offers than their four-year-degree-having friends.

Why? Because they are better.

No case studies are present yet to say what to pay them -- but the hirer still has to make them an offer and good engineers are damn hard to find -- so they naturally think, "Hey, let's pay them an amount that is equal to how good they are at the thing we want them to do."

So, although it will be slow, change is coming.