A Reminder about Higher Ed

US higher education is made up of far more than just the Ivies and other elite schools.

A piece in The Atlantic was a nice counter-balance to a pet-peeve of mine, which is the tendency of most discussions of American higher education to be constantly written from the perspective of elite institutions, as if that universe was comprised of the Ivies, select privates, and a handful of flagship state institutions.

While I do not have a systematic set of examples of the phenomenon in question, I can illustrate it with a clear example of the genre: the controversial commencement speaker. On balance, a school has to have some level of elite status* to being with to get a speaker anyone has heard of. Most commencement speakers fall into the “who was that, again?” category. In other words, despite the annual concern over whether Condoleeza Rice or Betsy DeVos is being booed, the reality is that the main question asked about 99.99% of commencement speakers each spring is “are they done yet?”

At any rate, the piece in question is focused on the admission scandal, College-Admissions Hysteria Is Not the Norm, although what caught my eye was the sub-title: “A focus on highly selective schools obscures the experience of the vast majority of American undergraduates.”

Every year at this time, headlines reveal once again what everyone already knows: America’s top institutions are selective—very. Harvard took a record-low 4.5 percent of the applicants to its 2023 class. Yale accepted 5.9 percent, the same as the University of Chicago


Yet:

The majority of students—more than 80 percent—attend schools, such as Texas A&MRutgers, and Simmons University, that accept more than half their applicants. In 2017, our analysis shows, roughly 3 percent of the country’s bachelor’s-degree candidates were enrolled at a four-year university that accepts fewer than a quarter of undergraduate applicants; only 0.8 percent of undergraduates were attending one of the handful of universities that accept fewer than one in 10 applicants.

Most schools are not these highly selective institutions, and the application process for millions of students is not the stress-inducing nightmare that gets so much public attention. Excluded from the narrative are the thousands of four-year colleges that serve millions of undergraduates, including many historically black colleges and universities—not to mention the 1,000-plus community colleges.

In descriptive terms:

Various characteristics set these more-typical institutions apart from their brand-name counterparts, such as the fact that the former are more likely to enrollPell grant recipients (read: very low-income individuals), as well as “nontraditional” students (that is, those who are 24 or older and/or have children of their own) and military veterans, according to the New America higher-education policy analyst Iris Palmer. They’re also less likely to be considered research universities—generally those that offer doctoral-degree programs—and more likely to be commuter campuses, according to Georgetown University researchers. Of all the country’s four-year institutions, slightly more than half are private, nonprofit schools, such as Massachusetts’s Endicott College and Texas’s Trinity University. About 29 percent are public—Mississippi’s Alcorn State University, for instance, and the University of California at Merced, near Fresno. The remaining 17 percent are for-profit, such as the College of Westchester in New York, and Oregon’s Pioneer Pacific College.

I have no grandiose point to make, save to point out the reality in question–most schools are not elite (which is, of course, axiomatic). Still, a lot of coverage of higher ed in the US is elite-focused (because, I suppose, if you write for an elite newspaper, it is quite likely you went to a school more on the elite side of the spectrum). And when we talk about things like funding or teaching loads,** the press coverage is more likely than not to talk as if all colleges and universities are R1s with low teaching loads and higher research requirements (and large endowments and significant grant funding) than is the norm across most schools. This matters not just because it isn’t reality, but it matters for political reasons: if the public perception is that all college faculty teach light loads (without even understanding what the overall workload actually is–i.e., it isn’t just time spent in class) then pressures to cut costs by not funding lazy profs are amplified (especially if they are lazy, liberal profs).

As a side note, for a lengthy but well-written essay on the subject of the admissions scandal, I would recommend They Had It Coming (also in The Atlantic).

Of course, what this also demonstrates is that what the parents embroiled in this scandal were buying was a brand name, not an education. Not only are there plenty of just-below-huge-name-recognition-but-still-quite-elite schools to get into, but there are plenty of schools where a student can get a fantastic education without bribes or pretending like one is a coxswain.


*Being near DC increases the chances of getting someone controversial. And there is always the possibility of controversial alumni (although having an alumnus/almuna who is famous enough to be controversial also correlates more with elite schools than not).

**That is: the number (and variety) of courses faculty teach per year.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Academia, Education
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Let me be blunt about this: It is indeed possible to get a fantastic education at any number of “non-elite” institutions. What you won’t get from a non-elite institution is the prestige, connections, and networking ability an elite institution confers on its graduates, particularly in the liberal arts. And without those, you’re likely to have spent $250,000 to become a barista.

    This would be fine if you were just going to college to enrich yourself intellectually and aesthetically. But the vast majority of Americans attend college or university as part of their career paths. The prospect of a good job after graduation is the end goal.

  2. steve says:

    I am in broad agreement with you here. There is too much focus on the elite schools. Your point about teaching loads is especially true. Go on nearly any conservative site and you will discover that liberal professors are lazy. They teach a class a week, then spend the rest of their time conspiring to turn kids into socialists. However, the recent scandal included some of those just below great schools. UCLA, USC, Wake Forest and Georgetown are all very good schools, but not up there with a Stanford or MIT or Harvard. I thought it was kind of interesting that parents are willing to cheat and pay many thousands to get into those second tier schools.

    Steve

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  3. CSK says:

    @steve: The scammer they paid to get their kids into Wake Forest might have told them: “Forget the Ivies. Even I won’t be able to pull that off.”

  4. Jay L Gischer says:

    I couldn’t agree more. The brand is the thing. Mind you, these days I know lots of Harvard grads, and I like them. At the same time, I became their peer with a B.S. from the University of Washington, where I got a really solid education, but not the brand, as you say. However, the brand is worth something in the world as we find it.

    One of my pet peeves is that both parties restrict their SCOTUS nominees to graduates of Harvard and Yale. The last justice that wasn’t from one of those was Sandra Day O’Connor from Stanford.

  5. @steve:

    However, the recent scandal included some of those just below great schools. UCLA, USC, Wake Forest and Georgetown are all very good schools, but not up there with a Stanford or MIT or Harvard.

    But they “brand” schools (especially geographically)–even if they aren’t the top of the top.

  6. Teve says:

    One of my pet peeves is that both parties restrict their SCOTUS nominees to graduates of Harvard and Yale. The last justice that wasn’t from one of those was Sandra Day O’Connor from Stanford.

    That is really asinine. And I’ve seen even academics who know better admit that it happens in their fields too. There’s something about celebrity and pedigree that goes deep down in the dark recesses of the brain.

  7. CSK says:

    I’m not altogether sure why none of these parents didn’t target Sarah Lawrence College. It’s certainly socially elite–there appears to be a feeder tube directly from Miss Porter’s School to SLC–and it has never, since the 1960s, accepted fewer than 50% of its applicants.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    People are correctly assessing the true value of a higher education in this country. Prestige = money, just as money = prestige, and neither has anything to do with education. But that’s OK because we aren’t even slightly interested in education, we’re only interested in money. In fact we actively despise education that is not directly tied to money.

    The entire conversation about education in this country, at every level, ends up being about money. How much are we spending per pupil, how much are teachers being paid, how fat are the retirement plans, how much value is added to lifetime earnings versus debt incurred, what will test scores do to local property values?

    Profit is not the purpose of education, or shouldn’t be. Education should be about learning to learn, so that you have the ability to understand and to adapt.

    Ogg says to Gog, “Why did you walk all the way to the top of the hill when you didn’t even bring back a banana? What a waste.”

    To which Gog replies, “True, no banana. I did however notice the herd of buffalo fleeing the raging grass fire, both of which are heading this way.”

    It is cruel and pointless to insist that everyone get a college education. This is a place where Democrats are simply wrong. College is not a panacea, not even free college, it’s just more pressure being piled on kids and on parents and on taxpayers. The truth is that the majority of people have no business in college and would be a lot happier if we’d stop haranguing them and instead had job training and apprenticeships and possibly some version of a UBI.

    I have never seriously regretted getting the hell out of the educational system when I did. I consider the last two years of high school, four years of college, and God only knows what else, to have been an accident avoided.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    Paul Krugman had a column a week or two ago talking about how the real college loan problem isn’t the doctor who graduates with 100K in debt he’ll be able to pay off easily. The problem is the person who graduates, frequently from a for-profit school with a ticket in bookkeeping or auto body or EMT or teaching who, even if they find a job, will struggle to pay off 20 or 30K.

  10. @gVOR08: The for-profits have been a huge problem.

  11. Hal_10000 says:

    @CSK:

    Let me be blunt about this: It is indeed possible to get a fantastic education at any number of “non-elite” institutions.

    Absolutely. I’m at a bit state university and we have tons of employers at our jobs fair. The students I deal with — granted I’m in the sciences — tend to be serious and hard-working; way more than I was at their age. The elite universities confer a status the non-elite don’t; but you can still get a fantastic education if you want to.

    That is really asinine. And I’ve seen even academics who know better admit that it happens in their fields too. There’s something about celebrity and pedigree that goes deep down in the dark recesses of the brain.

    I think the concerns about the SCOTUS Yale/Harvard thing are legit. Because this means they’ve all had the same profs, same environment, same classes. They’ve all come through that pipeline that feeds the Federalist Society list. There’s way too much groupthink on SCOTUS right now and I think the Harvard/Yale is a part of why that is.

  12. CSK says:

    @Hal_10000: Yes; you don’t have to have gone to an elite school if you’re in a STEM field. I don’t think graduates of the University of Massachusetts College of Engineering suffer a high unemployment rate.

    It’s the liberal arts where the advantage of having an elite education versus a non-elite education really shows. When I first started writing and being published, virtually every woman in the business I met, editor or agent, had gone to either Barnard or Bennington. It would have been interesting to meet someone who’d gone to, say, Framingham State College, but that never happened.

    I will make one exception to the “Harvard and Yale are always better” rule. If you intend to live in Georgia and practice law there, you’re probably better off going to the University of Georgia Law School than two hotbeds of Yankee Socialism such as Harvard or Yale.

  13. Dave Schuler says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Honestly and without sarcasm, Michael, you’re a genius. You’re not the target audience for higher education. Your assessment is right—for you. For you higher education would have been a waste of time, money, energy, and, worst of all, a titanic bore.

    The target audience for higher education is people who are from about median intelligence to those who are a couple of standard deviations above. For those above that it’s largely a waste of time.

    If they’re very highly motivated a few people who aren’t in that group can benefit from higher education but it will be a struggle. That leaves just about half the population who can’t benefit from higher education and for whom it merely imposes a opportunity costs. They’ve lost time and income and burdened themselves with debt. That’s really a crying shame but it’s what’s passed for industrial policy in the U. S. for more than a generation.

    We need an economy and society that’s designed for the people we have not some imaginary population.

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  14. Dave Schuler says:

    @CSK:

    My dad (an attorney) used to say that lawyers should attend law school in the community they intend to serve. That’s especially true for Missouri or Louisiana in which the state law has aspects of the Code Napoléon. The exception to that is if you intend to work for the big banks or financial services companies. In that case attending one of the Top 15 law schools is a must.

  15. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It’s true, college isn’t for everyone. One of the reasons I support very cheap higher education (I don’t support “free college” as anything other than a slogan, I think it’s bad policy.) is that I know a handful of people for whom it would have been useful and beneficial, but who couldn’t go because of financial issues. I’m not sure that if I were to do it today that my parents and I could have afforded it. And it was surely a good direction for me.

    You can’t do STEM without going to college. Full stop.

  16. CSK says:

    @Dave Schuler: There’s a lot to that. You would not only know the law, you would know the customs and mores.

    On a slightly different note: Remember the Natalee Holloway case? One of the fascinating side notes of it to me was that of those of her high school classmates who were going to college, about 95% were headed for either Auburn or the University of Alabama. When I asked a southern acquaintance why this was so, she laughed and replied: “Football!” Even the female students, many of whom I’m certain were secretly bored sh!tless by the game itself, but loved the attendant social life. Also, Natalee’s mother had apparently quit her job or taken several months’ leave from it so she could help her daughter plan and shop for her wardrobe for all the sorority functions. I can’t imagine a woman outside of the south doing that. A woman in the northeast would be more likely to hand her daughter a credit card and say, “Here. Get what you need, but don’t overdo it, okay?”

  17. Gustopher says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    You can’t do STEM without going to college. Full stop.

    Oh god, not another “full stop” argument…

    I’ve met a small smattering of software engineers who have little formal education in the field, who just read a few books and opened up their laptops, and taught themselves how.

    There are three things that come to me though.

    1) Software Engineering isn’t really engineering. It’s like building furniture more than building bridges, more often than not.

    2) Computer Science degrees have a huge amount of stuff that isn’t used on the job, and vast amounts of things that are part of the job you have to pick up on the job. The first few years of someone’s career is where they learn.

    3) These people stumble a lot to get their first few jobs, and even after that they keep getting filtered out by HR.

  18. steve says:

    “The target audience for higher education is people who are from about median intelligence to those who are a couple of standard deviations above. For those above that it’s largely a waste of time.”

    Link to the list of Nobel winners for physics. How many have no higher education?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nobel_laureates_in_Physics

    List of Abel prize winners, N we see the same thing, as you will with the chemists.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abel_Prize

    Steve

  19. Dave Schuler says:

    steve:

    I’m trying to figure out the relevance of that other than to point out that universities are in the education business and when getting awards it helps to have institutional support. Are you seriously arguing that the experience of a sample of .001% should be normative?

    College is pre-professional and pre-managerial training. Those represent a relatively small number of jobs. Otherwise it’s just a screening mechanism and a darned expensive one.

    I’m not arguing that no one should go to college. I’m arguing that a college education is the right path for at most 30% of the population. For the rest it’s a waste of resources—both theirs and ours.

    Rather than a policy of “everyone should go to college” we need a policy of “it should be possible to have a decent life without college”.

  20. CSK says:

    @Dave Schuler: As long as “going to college” is seen as the gateway to some elite pantheon by people like Lori Loughlin–whom I confess to having never heard of before this incident–the situation isn’t going to change.

  21. Sleeping Dog says:

    @gVOR08:
    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Far too many “for profit” degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

    @Gustopher:

    I once had a woman working for me who was the best coder in the company, she had an MA in Music and the coding was mostly self taught. Go figure.

  22. Slugger says:

    If you have a net worth of around fifty million i.e. rich but not really rich, how can you give your kids an entry into the world of the elite? We don’t have patents of nobility and can’t pass on some title. In many lines of business, your kid better have real skill; otherwise it is “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves” in three generations. A diploma from a Harvard is a boost.

  23. Kari Q says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    I don’t support “free college” as anything other than a slogan, I think it’s bad policy.

    When people say “free college” they think it means free 4-year degree schools. It doesn’t, or at least it shouldn’t. Tennessee has a program where every high school senior can qualify for two free years of college including state universities or community colleges that offer training in fields such as EMT, pharmacy technician, automotive repair, nursing assistant, cosmetology etc. It’s a great program for people who want to get training in a non-academic field.

    Two years of free career training sounds like a great idea, if you ask me.

  24. JKB says:

    They are not so much “elite” as they are Status universities. As such they like so many of the awards that are passed around and continue after college in places like DC, such as the Nobel Peace Prize, are about the resume than the quality of the individual. They are also networking schools. I read one professor’s lament that the students at one of the schools were only concerned with the networking not the knowledge being presented. Although, in STEM, there is the effect as I saw commenter at I believe Quora arrived at that places like MIT, it wasn’t the material but the pace that separated MIT from other programs.

    But we could also point out that most of the toddlers out there screaming are the Liberal Arts, social science, arts majors who make up a very small percentage of students nationwide. We have seen non status universities, such as the University of Missouri, that try to emulate a Status university kindergarten culture does not go unpunished by prospective students as demonstrated by UofM’s years of dorm closings as the classes get smaller.

    Thomas Sowell remarked “The principle value of holding a Harvard degree is never again having to be being impressed by a Harvard degree”. With college so ubiquitous similar could be said about college degrees in general.

  25. DrDaveT says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    College is pre-professional and pre-managerial training. Those represent a relatively small number of jobs. Otherwise it’s just a screening mechanism and a darned expensive one.

    This is entirely true for some fields, partly true for others, and hopelessly naively wrong for the rest. There are no accurate generalizations across fields.

    There are no preeminent physicists or mathematicians who did not have any postsecondary education. This is not because of some conspiracy against people who don’t have the right resumé; it’s because you simply cannot become expert in those fields without studying at that level.

    Want to be a writer, or a plumber, or a software developer? College has little to offer you. Want to be a lawyer? A sufficiently intelligent and motivated individual can do that without law school, but the career options are limited. Doing it without even a bachelor’s degree would be extraordinary. Want to be a civil (or any other kind of ) engineer? The bachelor’s degree is mandatory. Feel free to denigrate that as “pre-professional training”, but it doesn’t change the fact that the only way to know enough to be a civil engineer is to study civil engineering in college.

  26. DrDaveT says:

    The Atlantic:

    They’re also less likely to be considered research universities—generally those that offer doctoral-degree programs

    Wow. Is The Atlantic really that ignorant about what “research university” means?

    Research universities are those that conduct sponsored research, in addition to teaching. People give them money to do research. This is not a difficult concept. Yes, it is often associated with having a graduate program, because sponsored research is what pays for most of those grad student stipends, and it’s what many of those grad students work on. But it’s not about the grad students — it’s about the money.

  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Rather than a policy of “everyone should go to college” we need a policy of “it should be possible to have a decent life without college”.

    This!

  28. Kari Q says:

    @DrDaveT:

    software developer? College has little to offer you

    My husband, who is in the field, strongly disagrees with this. It’s possible to get into software development without a some college, but it’s not easy. Especially with the present trend to hiring senior developers, a college degree not only makes it easier to get a job, it means you will make significantly more if you have one.

    His is only one point of view, of course, but he has been involved in interviewing and hiring software engineers.

  29. Grewgills says:

    @CSK:
    She went to Mountain Brooke High School. My sister was a few years behind her. There is no way 95% were going to Alabama or Auburn. Mountain Brooke is among the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest suburbs in the state. People move their for the school. It isn’t quite Mountain View or Sunnyvale CA, but they are sending a fair few of their grads to ivies and other elite schools, and a fair few more to upper tier out of state schools. Most of her friends ended up out of state at places like Chicago, Vandy, Ga Tech, etc.
    It is true that football is huge and can be a draw for some to one or the other, but the majority of the fan base for both never went to college.

  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:
    That’s generous of you, Dave. But I have two kids, one high IQ, one artistic. Kid #1 was like me – she made it through high school because we bribed her and the school had seen her IQ scores and weren’t going to fail her. Kid #2 is struggling to finish 12th grade in part because of the unceasing pressure about college. As I write this she’s working on an ‘English’ project which is an utter time-waste and has fuck-all to do with English. Why?

    The only thing she’ll take from four years of high school is ceramics. (She’s a star in AP ceramics, very Marin County.) Pottery and a low opinion of herself. Great. Meanwhile she’s held down a job as a grocery store cashier, making $15 an hour, and they love her. So what was the last four years of her life about? Why not just let her throw pots? God knows it’d be a lot cheaper.

    The last six years (the two kids are two years apart) have been absolutely miserable because we’ve had to bully the school system and the kids into getting through a system that had pretty close to nothing to offer either of them. We are four for four in my house for having hated school.

    I just think there’s a better way, more individuation, more targeted motivation. I think it works better for STEMies but it’s just deadly to everyone else. And I don’t see the point in pumping more and more money into a system that’s only useful to a minority of kids.

  31. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I’m just going to link the comment I wrote on James’s thread about higher ed from last week, rather than write it all out again: https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/41-states-higher-education-funding-down-since-2008/#comment-2399981

  32. Blue Galangal says:

    @Kari Q: I just returned from an engineering symposium, and the starting salaries in Silicon Valley for PhDs in AI/network security are ~$1 million. (Talk about ROI…)

  33. Kathy says:

    I wonder what the situation is like in other countries.

    In Mexico you can attend any private university, including elite ones, if you qualify academically (graduated high school, pretty much), can pay the inscription fee and tuition, and pass the entrance exam. For some fields, namely STEM, there is a placement exam for math and physics. You’ll still be admitted if your math level is atrocious, but you’ll have to take additional math classes to catch up.

    Public universities have different rules, and I’m not acquainted with them. I do know the National autonomous University (UNAM) grants automatic admission to all graduates of public high schools, meaning they don’t require an entrance exam.

    Me, I dropped out of an elite school, namely the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, better known as El Tec de Monterrey, or simply as El Tec (pronounced Tech). But I had an automatic pass because I studied high school there.

    Still, the entrance process for the high school was the same as for the college. The exam was called “Examen de Aptitud Académica,” or “Academic Aptitude Test.” I’m told it’s very similar to the much dreaded SAT (if it is, it’s the easiest exam I’ve ever taken, except for a multiple choice math test where it was all equations, and my sole perfect score in a math exam). There was a placement test for English, not math or physics. Depending on your score, you could be exempted from taking any or all of the required 4 semesters of English. I was fluent in English at the time, and aced it.

    In the end, had I not dropped out, I pretty much think I’d have wound up in the same job I hold now. Most people who take humanities degrees end up working at an office job, far removed from their field.

    If I could go back in time and do it over again, I’d defy my parents’ expectations and take a degree in history, and I mean all the way to a PhD. either in Egyptology or Greco-Roman History.

    I probably would have wound up working an office job far removed from my field, but I’d have graduated college and enjoyed it more.

  34. wr says:

    @JKB: “Thomas Sowell remarked “The principle value of holding a Harvard degree is never again having to be being impressed by a Harvard degree”.”

    And as everyone who ever read this blowhard remarked, “The principle value of reading a quote by Thomas Sowell is never again having to read another one.” Why do conservatives routinely fall for such obviously phony “intellectuals” who are actually incapable of a single honest thought?

    Oh, right, because the Sowell’s of the world spend all their column inches pretending the JKBs of the world are the real intellectuals.

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  35. bookdragon says:

    @Gustopher: Wrt programmers this can vary a lot. Yes, you can get a training certificate from an online school like Lambda and a decent job with that. However, to advance beyond that entry level, investing in night courses to earn a 2-year or 4-year degree would be highly recommended.

    For other STEM careers, especially in engineering, a 4-year degree at an accredited university really is necessary. Not necessarily at an elite though. In fact, a lot of non-top tier universities will give you a better engineering education because they have more emphasis on teaching. Overall, if you can get into an honors program at a state or mid-level private university where you have opportunities to work with professors and grad students on research projects, that will serve you better than getting into high-name-recognition university.

  36. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Slugger:
    Saw this from an interview with Dan Fenn, the long time director of the Kennedy Library.

    …Jackie (Kennedy Onasis) interrupts me and I can see her now, she leans forward in the back seat and she says—never mind that wispy voice—with great firmness, Teddy (Sen Edward Kennedy), there are three stages of maturity if you’re Irish. The first is when you get off the boat you want to go to Harvard. The second is when you go to Harvard. The third is when you say poo on Harvard.

    @DrDaveT:

    Want to be a lawyer? A sufficiently intelligent and motivated individual can do that without law school, but the career options are limited. Doing it without even a bachelor’s degree would be extraordinary. Want to be a civil (or any other kind of ) engineer? The bachelor’s degree is mandatory.

    Don’t know if it is still an option, but in Massachusetts one can (could) “read” for the bar exam without law school or attend law school w/o having a BA or BS. After WWII, my father who had dropped out of high school during his sophomore year took his GED and proceeded to go to Suffolk Law on the GI bill. Both options required the sponsorship of a judge.

  37. DrDaveT says:

    @Kari Q:

    It’s possible to get into software development without a some college, but it’s not easy.

    It’s a lot easier now than it was even five years ago, thanks to the rapid rise of coding bootcamps and other non-college sources of training and experience.

    Also, I really just meant coding — to me, a software engineer is something beyond just a software developer, and does require formal training at a higher level. And I’ll walk back my original statement and agree that knowing some computer science can’t hurt, and that college is the place to learn that.

  38. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    This reminded me of something that happened in the last year of junior high school. we were on a field trip, I forget where, and I sat next to the biology teacher, the chaperone for that trip, at the front of the bus.

    I asked her, “Why do cells die when the heart stops? Why don’t they go on?”

    She answered, “We know cells die, it’s a fact. Why do you think that happens?” and we got to talking about cell metabolism, blood circulation, respiration, cellular organelles, and more.

    This was a kind of epiphany for me. I learned you could find out things you weren’t taught and didn’t know about, by thinking about a question and using the knowledge you did have.

    One could ask, why aren’t all teachers like that?

    Well, the biology teacher wasn’t like that, either, except this once. She was good, no question. and she answered questions in class. But that was not the first time I’d asked a question of that kind, only the first time she took time to help me answer it. a similar type of question I recall asking, in class, was “what are organelles made of?” I think she answered “molecules.”