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The Value Of Education
Wisdom Letter #48 | License to a Good Life, or Is it?
“Its an insurance policy?”
“Its a long term investment?"
“Its a 4 year frat party?“
No, its our higher-ed system!
In the popular board-game “Game of Life” the very first choice you must make is whether you want to go to college or get on with your career right away!
Choosing to go to college entails a large debt right at the top of the game, but it also opens up the player to “college careers” with higher base salaries and possibly unlimited max salaries. (Not going to college means picking a “blue collar career” card with low base salaries and capped max salaries.)
Getting the right career card will almost ensure your victory in the game. You know, cards like “lawyer”, “accountant” and “doctor”. And you get access to these right careers only if you pick college and a load of debt at the beginning.
Isn’t that how we view education in reality as well?
Just as a spring board to an “easy” life? A simple way to win the game at the very beginning?
But is that the sole purpose of education? Does it just boil down to an ROI calculation?
Can the future income an educational degree promises, service the present debt that it entails?
And Is that all we should even care about?
Or does education mean something more? Something more valuable than money or status?
Does education help society in churning out well rounded individuals who take the world forward?
What role did your education play in your life?
And what was your relationship with your alma-mater?
Did your college provide you with a service in the education that you got? Or did it deliver to you a product in the form of a completion degree?
Do you see your education as a solution to all your life’s problems by equipping you with the skills required to lead a full life?
Or is it about being able to get the job that you always dreamed about?
And how do you think of all of this in the middle of a pandemic? Where we know most of education is going to be remote and online.
Does the physical campus of an institute provide any value over and above the promised education and degree?
What about the hostels and the dorms, the canteens and the mess?
What about the numerous serendipitous encounters with fellow students and faculty?
Perhaps the real question we must ask is, what is the value of a college without its campus?
And if they are not able to provide the same campus experience then should colleges make a few exemptions in the fees that they charge?
Your expectation from your college is what helps you decide which college to get into, how much debt to take for it. And it also decides if years later, you look back to regret or be thankful for taking the plunge.
Today on The Wisdom Project, we try to see the value of a college.
We examine if we are living in a higher-ed bubble. We see how already existing cracks in our ed-systems are exposed and accentuated by this pandemic. We also learn how we can use our education to go into uncharted territories in these uncertain times.
The Three Choices
The decision to pick between continuing their education or jumping into the workforce is a dilemma that almost every youth faces at some point in their life. Be it after their school, their under-grad or sometimes even after their post-grad.
It is one of the most important decisions of their life.
And our education system doesn’t really prepare us to make that decision rationally.
Our decision is often driven by the belief system of the people around us. We look for examples in the people we know very little about. We often correlate all the successes and failures of anyone’s life to this one decision.
And the kind of impact we perceive this decision to have on the rest of our life just makes it so much more overwhelming.
Ad genius David Ogilvy’s nephew was facing a similar dilemma back in 1984. He asked his uncle for advice on whether he should pursue college after school or get straight to work. And Mr Ogilvy obliged him with not one but three answers.
Checkout this post from Farnam Street where they discuss Mr Ogilvy’s answer and the three choices he lays out. And guess what, we love the third one—
The Higher Ed Bubble
Our view of education has been shaped by how more or less those before us have benefited from it. If you see success, money and stature coming to the highly educated ones, you will see this as a ticket to secured life.
Peter Thiel puts this very appropriately when he says that for many of us higher education is an insurance policy to a better life. And the premium for this insurance has risen disproportionately over last couple of decades, while the fundamental value that it delivers has not really improved as much.
He even argues that for some of us its an investment, and for many of us its just a 4 year long party.
More importantly, we need to ask ourselves if we are overpaying for education? Is it delivering on the value that it promises? The exorbitant fess that our premier institutes charge, is it really worth it?
Or are we in a higher-ed bubble?
Checkout this video where he talks about various problems across the board, including the higher education system and the bubble it seems to have created.
Education during a pandemic
Like any other investment, the returns from education are also getting shaky as we get deeper into this pandemic.
Now that the promised salaries and careers are nowhere in sight, students are forced to question what else did they pay their college for?
This excerpt from The New Yorker’s article captures the gist—
“…force a conversation about what the colleges are actually selling. Although the service they provide is education, the product for which they charge is the college degree—the piece of paper that promises a student will earn eighty-four per cent more in their lifetime than if they had only a high-school diploma. This and similar statistics are what allow so many college students to think of their loans not as astronomical debts but as investments in their future. Now that future is changing in ways none of us can really apprehend.”
One gains a lot on a college campus that an online education can just not provide.
For starters, a campus introduces students to equality.
All students irrespective of their backgrounds, get access to the same faculty, dorms, food and environment. Something which is hard to replicate remotely.
Forced remote learning may magnify the difference in availability of resources among students.
Varying internet speeds, family responsibilities, a safe place to live and eat, are just some factors that will create a differentiation in the students’ ability to get a quality education remotely.
These variations in access may actually cement the students in the boxes they intended to escape in the first place by pursuing a college degree.
Premier colleges like Harvard have chosen not to reduce their fee at all while forcing a remote education onto at least 60% of their students.
If you take the physical building out of the equation, then what exactly are the students paying for? Is it the lectures(easily available online anyway), or the Harvard brand? And what about the strong fraternity and alumni network? Do they still hold the same value now?
Problems faced by students in this pandemic are unique and complex. This article from The NewYorker covers good ground.
Check it out—
An Honest Commencement Address
They say never waste a good crisis.
And this commencement speech from David Brooks in The Atlantic is about how fresh graduates can use this emergency best.
How they can use it as an opportunity to rethink their life in contrast to their expectations before any of this happened.
Its a good exercise to contemplate of what college taught them and what it did not. And how to make up for it.
Brooks urges students to be careful of the kind of information diet they consume. He talks about the “theory of maximum taste.” The highlight of the article for me was this passage—
This theory is based on the idea that exposure to genius has the power to expand your consciousness. If you spend a lot of time with genius, your mind will end up bigger and broader than if you spend your time only with run-of-the-mill stuff.
The theory of maximum taste says that each person’s mind is defined by its upper limit—the best that it habitually consumes and is capable of consuming.
This newsletter is our humble attempt to keep pushing the upper limit of the quality of our and our reader’s information consumption. It is our attempt to spend a lot of time with genius. It is an attempt to stretch our ‘maximum taste’.
Check out the complete article—
And here’s a quote worth pondering—
Education is an admirable thing.
But it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
Amidst all this conversation of importance of an institute, its crucial to realize that ultimately, what we learn from college depends entirely on our own abilities, efforts and interest.
True wisdom emerges outwards from within, it cannot be thrust inwards from without.
It comes from engaging with a piece of information, turning it into knowledge, reflecting upon it, playing with it and coming up with our own original insights from it.
Think about it.
Signing off for the weekend, here’s an interesting question to reflect and think about, to delve deeper and bring out your own insights around education—
If money was no bar, and you were entrusted to fund the education of one 18 year old student, how would you go about it?
What criteria would you choose to select a child for the scholarship? Will it be based on their financial condition? or merit? or a mix?
What subjects would you encourage him/her to study further? Would some subjects be out of bounds?
What outcomes would you expect from the student? How would you measure his/her efforts? and lastly how would you know that your scholarship actually made an impact to the individual, as well as to the world?
And whatever answer you come up with, think deeply about the “why” of it.
Answering why’s is the fastest way to thinking clearly.
Think about, why did you pick one criterion over another, one subject over another, so on and so forth.
We are thinking deeply about this question. We will try to come up with our answer in a couple of days and will share it on WhatsApp. Be sure to check it out, and share your answer with us. We would love to have a longer discussion about this idea.
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This was Wisdom Letter #48. In case you want to revisit any of the previous 47 letters, checkout our entire archive.
If you are wondering what this project is all about, checkout this intro post we wrote a while back.
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Aditi & Ayush
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