Tuesday 6 December 2016

For many children college is a waste of time

Karl Deeter

Published 26/07/2015 | 02:30

The number of third-level students in Ireland is roughly 150,000 so it's a large group to consider - in particular as youth unemployment here is over 20.2pc
The number of third-level students in Ireland is roughly 150,000 so it's a large group to consider - in particular as youth unemployment here is over 20.2pc

Many parents put themselves under extreme pressure to provide for further education for their children. In fact, a recent survey by Laya found it costs €105,000 to raise a child from cradle to 21.

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It all adds up - but one of the biggest spends was college education.

There is a national obsession with attending college straight after school - and for many that is a huge financial error because the parents can't afford it. Then there are the rump of kids who go because they feel compelled to -and yet they don't know what they want to do, or they don't use the education bought and paid for, and some even drop out (I did the latter myself).

This isn't an endorsement of not getting an education, but one of knowing what does and doesn't pay.

A study in the USA (we didn't do one here, so we can't say for sure) showed that half of graduates were unemployed or underemployed and in debt. About 42pc have jobs that don't require a four-year degree.

The number of third-level students in Ireland is roughly 150,000 so it's a large group to consider - in particular as youth unemployment here is over 20.2pc (thankfully it's actually down about a third from a high of over 31pc in 2012).

Not every child is going to be academically gifted or an academic, and even within academia there are frustrations at things like grade inflation, something recently brought up by UCD economist Morgan Kelly.

Outcomes matter, and education for the sake of it is pointless. Take a near 'unemployment proof' profession like accountancy: you don't have to go to university to become qualified in it. Nor perhaps should you have to.

Third-level students are not earning for years at a time; they are also not gaining work experience; and guess what one of the most common reasons for not getting a job at an interview? A lack of experience.

Most of what the world needs to know in practice is not held in universities, it is held in places that do create the actual things we use. Of course education is key to these things because you need educated people to work in a business - but we underestimate the value of more 'apprenticeship-like' paths to success.

There are other trade-offs, do you take years of not earning in return for years of higher earnings (because having a degree does mean you are likely to be higher paid)?

In university it depends on what you do. Maths, engineering and computer science all pay off highly. Art history and sociology, not so much. Some subjects may nourish the soul, but that's subjective. In finance we look at the bottom line - and what it tells us is that for many kids college is a waste of time.

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