Starting Later


Some interesting comments from reader John Kennedy (no relation, as far as I know) on the recent poll about people’s reasons for going to college. He writes:

There’s another question in this discussion that I didn’t address in previous comment. Apparently, kids going to college with no clear goal is somehow thought stupid (that’s the implication). But I would ask, how many 17- or 18-year-olds have any idea about the real working world or about their own strengths and limitations? How many can think? What about having a chance to grow up a bit? This is also what college provides. OK, expensive? Do the first two years of general education at a community college, not perhaps a fine intellectual atmosphere, but possible to live at home, listen to the instructors, maybe get a clearer idea about personal and vocational possibilities.

First off, I don’t think it’s necessarily “stupid” to go to college with no clear idea what you want to do. But these days it is a very expensive proposition. A lot of folks are taking  a serious second look at college and coming up with some interesting suggestions.

I think John’s point about how young people are when they start college is well-taken. Something I’ve often wondered — why the rush to college? Maybe more people should work for a while after high school and only start college later, in their 20’s, when they’ve had a chance to get a better handle on who they are and want to be.

Personally, I think I was really ready for college at about age 30. But things aren’t set up to support that. Could they be?

Should they?


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  35. 2011-09-24 18:16:24

    After wasting the past 10 years of my life, I finally decided it was time to pursue a college degree. I'm 26 and doing exactly as you suggested, taking my first two years at a community college. Tuition is a fraction of the price and college credit that transfers is frankly easier to attain here, standards are lower and classes are smaller. I still have NO idea what I want to do, and I'm starting to feel the aging pinch. Men my age often have a Bachelors or Masters and are starting families. It's not exactly the most encouraging atmosphere to start fresh at. I could do BA or economics but I'm worried about saturation of the field, and what demand will be when I'm done. If I pursue a science degree to maximize job prospects I'll be at 2 year college another 2 years just earning the credit to transfer to a school with decent standards in their BS programs. If I pursue my interests, geography or global studies, I somehow doubt I'll ever find employment. If you're looking to save money and be a big fish in a small pond, junior college in your adult years is right for you. But I don't consider it to be a desirable position by any stretch. My experience working has provided me with nothing but an appreciation for a good education. Maybe if you're in sales or really personable, or you have your foot in the door somewhere, that isn't the case for you.

  36. 2011-09-16 20:56:26

    I went back to school after owning a business for 10 years at the age of 32. Two others in my class were of the same age(all of us were Vietnam veterans) and we had a good time arguing with teachers about the real world. Some of them enjoyed it. Most didn't. We paid the tuition ourselves and knew why we were in school. We didn't care what the teachers thought.

  37. 2011-09-16 17:43:36

    I was too imature to do well in college when I went, although I was smart enough that I did barely manage to graduate. But at the time, I was also too imature to hold down any kind of job either. What finally got me to grow up a little was joining the military, somethng I would recommend for any young person. I went to college again later in life to update my skills with new technology, and did very well, since I was then mature enough to apply myself in every class.

  38. 2011-09-16 08:18:17

    Scotts_c7: I'm not really sure what your point is, but I'll certainly agree that the relative value of learning the calculus is probably limited for business majors (then again, if you aren't "mathematically literate", shall I say, there's a whole lot in the business world you have no business touching). Me, in the late '70s I was firmly on the scientist track, went to a high school without any AP programs (honors courses had been deemed discriminatory) and had to learn it for real in college at warp speed. Even then, I gather most AP Calculus offerings are the AB sequence and you really want the BC one if you're going to use it for real and go beyond that first taste of it.

  39. 2011-09-16 07:31:13

    I started a math/IT degree as a joke due to a bet (and because it was free in my country) when I was 33, and as a mature student, I didn't have to show qualifications, which I didn't have, because I left school at 13. I certainly was too old at that stage -- whilst I was in the top 10 of the class, I was not as creative as the younger guys (but better organised). IMNSHO, the perfect age to start your university degree is 23ish, after 30 your brain zooms from micro to macro view, and expects to know the details so that the overall concepts can be worked easily. If you're still cramming details at that time in your life, it's not going to be so easy -- one thing that was noticeable with me was that despite a life spent memorizing many things, at 33 this isn't trivial, and whilst I had no problem remembering complex structures, it often were the trivial details that just would not stick in memory, which of course makes working with those concepts that use those details difficult as I ended up looking up trivial things over and over again, because my memory just could not be trusted here. That all said, it was great fun and I'd definitely do it again, just for the entertainment, however, despite completing a degree... I certainly would not hire myself.

  40. 2011-09-16 05:36:10

    The appropriate entry time depends on the person, the family and the area of study. My father started college at 17; I started at 16. My daughter started at 15. We come from an extended family has produced STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) graduates, except for my daughter leaning towards the Classics. Mathematical/logistical capabilities peak for many STEM people in their 30's, so entering university early or immediately after high school is essential.

  41. 2011-09-15 23:03:10

    Germany, destroyed after WW II sent it's policymakers, to the U.S. to CAL in 1946 to study how the system was structured, there were trade schools options in the High Schools and many more types of education tracts than liberal arts high school track and liberal arts, professional or engineering degree college after. Sadly, California not only abandonded what the Germans embraced, but have tried every hair brained experiment while absorbing 1/3 the illegal alien school population. Results are predictable here, California schools went from First ... to worst in the nation. With State finegling of test results they got them selves off the dead last list, but reality is it is still there. I live in the tiny Bubble that is #2 public school district in the state. It's an uppercrust monoculture. 2 miles from here they can't graduate 45% of their students. There's a reason 1/2 your students can't do the work. 1/2 don't belong there. If 100 IQ is a "C" student that's the national "mean" and 100 is the top of that 1/2 of the heap on down to Forest Gump's 80 and below that. (Bear that in mind when you hear pandering politicians -- it' who their aiming the message, or think they are) Tradeschool, Industry, Machine tool & dye maker, or small business used to be an option ... after two years mandatory Draft into to military. Kind of like Germany Austria & Switzerland.

  42. 2011-09-15 22:41:44

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  43. 2011-09-15 22:39:23

    Captain Ned: I met for Coffee last weekend with a young guy who is very smart, but spent 7 of the last 9 years cycling thru San Quentin, Pelican Bay, Corcoran, and Folsum Prison. In Jr. High he was in a garage band my middle son. My middle son went to one of those Legacy schools, non-PC Wheaton, IL, full scholarship & rowed crew, -- his friend went to San Quentin tho both his parents were MD's. I'm actually proud of his friend now however and gave him a check for 3 months rent. He's been clean and sober for 2 1/2 years, off drugs, (the worst,) volunteered the next entire year at his drug treatment house there teaching the Bible classes, still in physical "Prison Shape" built like Brick Sh_thouse, debt free, employed and just finished the apprenticeship school for the Carpenters Union. A friend of mine got him into the Union apprenticeship school and got him a job at $25 plus benefits on a 3 yr construction project on one of the Hospitals. Journeyman Carpenter on a big project here makes $45-$50 and 90% of the Job supers that turn $80 an hour , came up thru the Carpenters Union... the Master Trade. For him it worked ... but a felon has fewer options. Before the economy tanked, Journeyman Bricklayers in Sonoma County, Union or not made $90K. Most of the lawyers I know struggle and hate their life.

  44. 2011-09-15 22:22:35

    I graduated highh school in 1950. In those days one had two choices - college or miltary service. Three of my high school buddies went to college and did not like it enough to stay and avoid military service. All three enlisted after one year of school. After serving their military hitches they all returned to college, knowing what they wanted to do. Two became veterinarians, one a National Park Service ranger. I stayed in school and got my degree in oil exploration geology, but as I was unmarried, the draft was still after me. Rather than be drafted and spend my time as a PFC, I enlisted, went to Navy Officer Candidate School and became a Navy pilot. Thirty eight years later I parked my last airline flight at a gate in San Francisco. Never, in my wildest dreams as a young adult did I ever expect to spend my life as a pilot. One of my high school friends never tried college at all. He did his miltary service, came home to our small town and set up his own garbage hauling service. Twenty years later he sold out to a corporate "waste removal" company and bought a cattle ranch in Wyoming where he raised cattle and hay for twenty years before retiring as a millionaire. Just some anecdotes to show that there are no hard and fast rules about college. There weren't back in the fifties, there aren't any today. The problem today is that college has become way too expensive. IMO, much of that has been caused by government grants and loans, which have injected far too much money into the system. College costs have increased way beyond the rate of inflation. Back in the 50s a college president made a decent salary a bit higher than a full prof. Today they are paid like the CEOs of growth tech companies. Profs are paid too much and have too many sabbaticals. And don't get me started on the increase in administrative staff - mostly to do inane things like diversity compliance or studies, etc. My suggestion, get the easy money (federal grants, loans, etc.) out of education and let the market set the price. Yes, some people may not be able to go to college. It was that way back in the 50s. Many could not afford the price even as low as it was then. What would be wrong with working for few years like my friends did and then have some idea about why they are in school and some money saved up as well as saleable skills to help pay some of the bills?

  45. 2011-09-15 22:22:30

    Lina Inverse : If you didn't do AP Calculus in high school, aren't going to be designing structural engineering, or calculating volumes and Nuclear fallout rates with Dr. Strangelove on a Circular sliderule ... ... you don't need Calculus now. It's a great intellectual pursuit, and like learning to play the Pathetique Sonata by Beethoven, by doing Calculus problems on volumes in cones you can think Newton's thoughts after him and marvel at the Genius. You don't need it for Business now, only a PhD in economics. They don't teach calculus at the Business Schools because of the Cost to benefit of those course slots in the limited time of the curriculum. They'd rather be teaching marketing or International Business with those Course hours. You can take it if you want to blow an extra $25,000-35,000 a semester, or just circle back and take it with the AP High school students for over the summers at your local Jr. College for $5/semester hour.

  46. 2011-09-15 21:45:26

    My daughter is 13 and 5 years away from the "college decision". If she applied to my alma mater she'd be a given as she'd be 4th generation and this school states in its catalog that legacy preferences exist. That said, I don't want her anywhere near that campus. First, it's $55K/year. More importantly, it's PC-infested and no longer educates but coddles self-indulgent navel-gazing in the guise of education (but what Ivy or Ivy-pretender doesn't these days?). I've already told her that if she finds joy and benefit in working with her hands I will back her in her journey through the trades ladder. After all, gender studies PHds are pouring coffee while tradesmen/women are pulling down big $$ because the gender studies crowd doesn't even know how to change the leaky gasket on a faucet. If she chooses the college route and shows the zeal and direction needed, then I'll stake her to a 4-year slot at a good place. If she wants to amble into college, it'll be 2 years at the local community college to ensure she has the desire and direction. If she does, the sheepskin at the end of the process still has the brand-name college title on it.

  47. 2011-09-15 21:44:36

    I teach in a state university [and have taught and adjuncted at 3 other state unis]. We now have about 20-25% non-traditional students. I teach in the humanities but in a practical curriculum [mostly] and I teach stats. Our non-trads are, on average, *much* better students. They're not smarter than our best traditional students, but they are better prepared, work harder and smarter, ask better questions, interact with professors better, and in general get more out of their courses. They typically make the most of their opportunity. They practically never whine or ask for special treatment. The very 'brightest' of our trads are very good indeed, and to the extent that they *do* know what they want, do very well both in class and in their careers later. The rest of our trads [probably at least 50%] struggle, the dropout rate is high, the ones that do graduate take 5 years, on average [most piling up debt], and manage to achieve a C average in areas notorious for easy grading. I agree that those who come in to do the 'hard' sciences are probably prepared *if* they can do the work at the college level. The rest [including, now, the business majors] probably should not start college until they have several years experience in the real world. They, mostly, are simply not prepared for the rigors of real college level academic work. They don't pay attention, they are sloppy in their work, their writing skills are abysmal, they miss too much class, they attempt to spend class time on their cells and ipads, etc, they whine, and so on. I wish there was some way to sort them out. I totally believe that there should be, for most HS graduates, some years of work in the real world before they enter college. It seems to be mostly a matter of intention on their part, and most of them don't seem to intend to work very hard or very well.

  48. 2011-09-15 21:33:32

    I went to college at 18 and failed miserably. I was immature, undisciplined and had no understanding of the opportunity I was wasting. At 47, I decided to go back to school. I will graduate next May at age 51 with a degree in economics and plan on starting on my PhD next fall. Going to college before I was mature enough for it, didn't just waste a huge amount of money. It also burdened me with the emotional scars of that failure for nearly 30 years. Sending a kid to college before he's ready isn't just wasteful, it can be destructive.

  49. 2011-09-15 20:21:16

    I started at community college and ended up with a law degree. I paid cash the first 2 years and learned a lot. In fact, I had a better time socially (I.e. Scoring with hot girls) than I did at my 4-year school, and I went to Arizona State!

  50. 2011-09-15 19:17:35

    Going to college IS delaying adulthood for most of today's high school graduates, especially those going on their parents' dime. I'm sure that not going to college will result in some HS grads simply sitting in their parent's basement playing XBox, but for that group, going to college and sitting in a dorm room playing XBox is not really a step towards adulthood anyway.

  51. 2011-09-15 19:02:12

    When a lot of us older people "rushed" to college, we actually had a goal in mind. Now? Not so much.

  52. 2011-09-15 18:49:23

    One very big reason is that if you let your math get cold it's going to be very hard to restart/relearn and then learn what you need, the calculus or beyond. Oh, you're not doing a major that requires serious math ... well, that brings up other questions, like how many graduates of that sort do we need? (One answer is that with the high school diploma being a sick joke for a long time and almost all forms of testing forbidden in hiring, the signal of a college diploma is one of the few things employers have left.)

  53. 2011-09-15 18:42:33

    The rush to put everybody into college is part of the effort to have the same result for everybody. I like the analogy that government should be like an umpire; not allocating runs but making sure all play by the same rules. Sure, the "right" parents, money and ethnicity determine one's admittance to certain institutions. So what? Should there be any other criteria? Test results? All others are, like the alternatives to a democratic republic, tried but found wanting. No, a college education is something that parents work for. "Work", aka jobs, is something we recognize as a major societal goal. So let us all pursue that as a multi-generational goal, not as an entitlement. This reduces the market for such an objetive to approximate the supply for same; a goal of every economist. It will produce a balance between demand, the "elite" who want to go, plus the extraordinary who trabscend their status, and the "supply", available space in colleges without a bubble in pricing.

  54. 2011-09-15 18:36:55

    The son started college, quit in the DotCom boom as he and his best friend from sports were both good salesmen pulling down $10,000-$12,000 a month. Of course what do two 19 year olds do with that kind of money ? They both moved out, got a batchelor pad, muscle cars and a (used) Mercedes, picked up Bad Girlfriends & trips to Vegas, and started a couple of companies along the way. Is any of all that money left ? Sadly no, but they both eventually went back to good schools on the residuals of one of the businesses they started and got a lot of experience in sales and managing a small enterprise, and working for larger companies, (Son, at 30, is finishing one more class and he gets his diploma from CAL and he's working for a small firm with little debt, a great salary and lots of upside potential including buying out the owners a decade hence). Not what you would advise any kid to do, every step was a lot of risk, including being engaged twice to the same smoking hot older woman from Western Europe ... but he wised up and cut his losses... and is thus still single at a time he needs to be relaunching a new career and business life. We got tired of worrying as parents and just learned to accept it, and him. His friend fared well too. Got a Masters from a reputable state school and married his High School Sweet heart, they have a son, and both are disliking their jobs and want a change but what 30 year olds don't ? They do well and when the economy turns, will be doing very well. They're now "thrifty" and have no college debt ... or any debt. Learned their lessons early when the dot com economy collapsed and the "end of the Lifestyle" commenced. They enjoyed it while it lasted. Didn't hurt any women with children thankfully and didn't land in jail with the lifestyle. Timing is everything I guess.

  55. 2011-09-15 18:34:30

    Young people know that the purpose of youth is to drink until you puke, f**k until you can't stand, and party away $150,000 of other people's money. Where else but a 4-year college can a man/boy find 1000 females gathered together for his foraging?

  56. 2011-09-15 18:29:13

    Let's not encourage the trend of delayed adulthood any more, please.

  57. 2011-09-15 18:06:58

    One of the most successful groups ever to go through higher education was the ex-servicemen who mustered out after World War II and went to college on the GI Bill. They were a little older than the typical college students and they certainly had been through an experience that matured them. Compared to combat, college was a stroll in the park.

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