Education and kids these days: A cranky rant

Yeah yeah, it was probably always like this.  But WE weren’t like this.

A few months back, budgeting in the fun stuff had a guest post on Get rich slowly talking about how she worked her way through college and ended up with no loans (after her parents paid off the balance).  In order to do this, she spent some time during the school year working 60 hrs/week at low wage jobs while going to school full-time.

Very few people can work full time and go to school full time and still learn.  Many folks who try end up not getting educated.  Folks who do manage it… one has to wonder what they could have achieved if they’d gone to a more challenging program and worked less.  Maybe they could have rocked MIT or Caltech and come out with a 6 figure starting salary and paid off those loans in a year or two.  Or a high quality state school in 2-3 years and started a high paying job that much earlier.

Many undergrads today are not learning how to think.  I don’t know if undergrads ever did learn how to think, but at the undergrad institutions I attended (both in high school and as a college student myself), a big emphasis was on how different high school and college were from each other.  Calculus was taught to “expand your brain,” that’s why it fulfilled degree requirements. Students had personal responsibility to learn– to do the homework even if it wasn’t graded.  To attend recitation sections and get help from the TA (at the regional state school) or office hours and get help from the professor (at the SLAC).  Today college seems to be just an extension of high school– with huge lecture classes it’s much easier for professors to lecture and then assign work that can easily be tested in a scantron framework.  There isn’t enough support for small discussion sections; budget cuts have resulted in ballooning class sizes with no corresponding increase in resources (TAs, faculty lines, faculty pay, reassigned time, etc.).

Not only that but many undergrads do not want to learn how to think.  They want the certificate as a ticket for a job and don’t care about the learning.  If there’s no value to the education itself, then that makes perfect sense.  You want to get the degree at least cost with minimal effort, so sure, working long hours at a menial job and not wanting to learn makes sense.

Even the undergrads who WANT to learn how to think are often not being taught how.  We get graduate students with high grades from supposedly high-quality schools who are shocked that not everything has an answer that they can memorize and regurgitate on a scantron exam.  They’re smart, and after the initial cognitive dissonance, they succeed, but it is often difficult going before they get there.

What’s the point of school anyway?

We’ve already talked about how people from different educational class backgrounds have different beliefs about the reason for schooling.  We’ve always thought of it as a coming of age experience, something to make you a cultured adult, to teach you different ways to think.  Or as South Park says, There’s a time and a place for everything, and that time and place is college.  But we’ve come to realize that many other folks were brought up believing that college serves as primarily a job credential.  If it isn’t going to help you get a job, or a higher paying job, you shouldn’t go.

Not all education or degrees are equal.  Some are difficult and, as one of our partners knows full well, students who try to work full-time and go to school full-time end up failing and wasting their time and money on the schooling.  Other majors apparently allow shiny grades and full-time work outside of class.  Does your degree matter in the labor market?  The evidence is mixed.  It is true that an engineer will tend to make more than a communications major, and that an ivy league grad will tend to make more than someone from a not-so-good private school or directional regional school.  But is that because of the selection of the students who go into the programs or because of the degrees themselves?  Research hasn’t pinned the answers to these questions down yet.

Crystal from Budgeting the Fun Stuff worked long hours at low wages and got pretty grades in a non-challenging major in school.  She is not making much money from her day job that she dislikes.  Maybe if she’d spent more effort and time in school and worked a bit less in the labor force and found a major that was more challenging, she would have found a better fit in the labor market as well, and perhaps been able to pay the loans off with a higher salary.

Then again, maybe not.

Crystal from BFS is going to be a full-time blogger, and she is very happy with that.  Even if we made choices about work and education it’s never too late to make new choices.

Bottom line:

As your professors we request:

Please do not try to work full-time and also go to school full-time.  That’s why we have low-interest loans for education.  Don’t take out more than the average salary for someone in your major from  your school, but don’t kill yourself either.   School isn’t just a degree– the reason it gets you a job is because of the skills you learn, and a lot of these skills are fuzzy… they’re training your ways of thinking.  How to think like a [insert your major here].  If you’re just repeating things you’ve memorized back, or cranking numbers through an algorithm like a computer could, then you’re not really much more useful to an employer than a high school graduate would have been.

If you do work full-time and go to school full-time, don’t blame us for trying to make you get a solid education even though you don’t have time for it.  Choices = consequences.  As your professors, we realize that you have other things in your life besides our courses.  But if you don’t place a high priority on our courses, your grades will suffer, and if they don’t, you have to wonder about the worth of the degree you’re getting.  More importantly, you won’t be learning anything.  Save yourself the time and money and don’t go to school full-time now if it’s not going to be a priority.

And… regardless of the schooling choices you make, it is never too late to learn and grow and change.

Do you think people should be encouraged to work full time while going to school full time?  What would your advice be?

81 Responses to “Education and kids these days: A cranky rant”

  1. Lane Says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. With a full course load, I would discourage others from obtaining full-time work, too. If they must work, then intern or do part-time work related to their degree. That way they’ll have some work experience right out of college, putting them ahead of their colleagues.

    Being a full-time student is a job in itself!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Data show (which I am too lazy to look up) that working fewer than 10 hours per week is beneficial academically, especially if it’s an on-campus job. Working more than 20 hours per week is progressively detrimental to the likelihood of finishing and to GPA. Yeah.

  2. First Gen American Says:

    I worked on average 32 hours a week and graduated with a 3.2. I went to a top rated engineering school…often ranked #1 in the Northeast in that magazine, I think it’s called US news and world report. I graduated with $25K in loans and got a job at an elite company. My starting salary was only $2.5K less than the top kid in the class. I realized my grades weren’t at the top of the class so I jumped at a chance to do an international co-op assignment for a year, plus I worked in a lab as well (2 relevant things on my resume). That automatically put me to the top of the list as far as top talent. I almost didn’t put my non relevant jobs on my resume, but in the end I put them there. It came up during interviews that I put myself through school and that gave me brownie points too. (ie, I’m hard working if I can maintain a decent gpa and put myself through school). This is the type of person who will kill themselves to get ahead and we want to hire them.

    Once I had my job offer, I quit my various jobs. I didn’t end up being more productive. In fact I totally coasted and slacked my last 1/2 year. Maybe I was burnt out, but maybe it was just like my favorite teacher in high school said “the busier you are, the more you get done.” I’m definitely much more productive when my time is limited. I squeeze things in little pockets of time because I have to. I procrastinate less. When I did my co-op in England I was extremely bored just working 36 hours a week. I ended up going to night school that year too.

    I wouldn’t automatically assume that if you worked less in college you’d study more. I know I didn’t. The thing I craved most was the college experience, hanging with buddies, having snowball fights, going on weekend trips. That’s what I would have liked more time and money for. I left college with a good riddance adios, thank god that box is checked feeling. I think it’s because I squeezed all 32 hours in on Fri-Sun working double shifts so that I had time during the week to study. This meant my weekends were never my own and to this day I HATE when I have to work on a weekend.

    So I don’t totally agree with your theory. There are people who can do it. True, not everyone can hack it, but some people can and it might even be good for them on some level. I would never suggest 30-40 hours/week but 15-20 should be achievable even at a top school. It might even help you land a job in the end.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The number of hours is key, and the maturity of the student. We see some students do it successfully! They always look exhausted but they are very smart and driven. On the other hand, we see FAR MORE students try to do it, and end up unsuccessful. As a general rule, we see them crash and burn during junior year when things get hard. Out of the thousands of students we have taught over the years, for most it’s a bad idea.

  3. Dr. Dad, PhD Says:

    I don’t mean to be a contrarian, but working in college definitely made me work more efficiently. It wasn’t exactly easy, and I didn’t work 60 hours, but having up to 3 jobs (totaling slightly less than 40 hours a week) kept me focused. I didn’t waste much time, and I chose jobs that would allow me study if there was down time.

    I should mention that I only did this in my first two years as an undergrad – I went to a community college and was able to save up enough money by living at home to go off to the state school (where I did not have any extra jobs). At State I found myself learning less and applying myself less. I can’t be sure if larger class size influenced me, but at the time I remember thinking that part of my problem was having too much time on my hands, and that I had an amazing ability to waste most of it when not pressured for time. I would agree that grad school is not really a place to have an extra job – I was already putting in 80+ hours a week doing research…..

    In any case, I think that if done correctly it is possible and beneficial to work while in school (undergrad). But there is a potential of getting into trouble, so it’s critical to keep track of your academic progress. After all, the reason for the job is to help get that piece of paper at the end of your 4 years. As with anything else, if it interferes with your ability to obtain your goals, it needs to be re-evaluated.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think our replies to the previous two comments apply here. Good for you! Most people canNOT manage 3 jobs and an education, based on our experience. Grad school is a whole different beast, too.

  4. Everyday Tips Says:

    I had no choice but to work a lot of hours. I had to pay for every cent of my schooling, and I could only get so much in student loans because parents were expected to contribute ‘x’ amount of money, even if they didn’t. Not only that, but I had to pay for all of my medical and dental bills too. So for me, it was the choice of working a lot and being able to get an education, or staying at home and going to community college.

    There is no ideal situation. I agree with the previous commenter. Being busy with work made me work smarter with the time I did have. I went to a major state school with huge lecture halls and I will admit my goal was to get the degree and not fully ‘learn’ every aspect of the course being taught. Where I attended, there was no class discussion and the TAs spoke very little english. My high school was a terrible learning environment, and if anything, that was the reason I did not ‘respect’ education like professors probably would have liked. It was culture shock to have to actually have to attend classes and carry a book around. I graduated top of my class in high school and NEVER ONCE took home a book, and I wrote a total of one paper in high school. There are a lot of kids like me out there, and they just don’t know any better.

    Do I wish I had spent more time being a perfect student? Sure. I am not totally excusing myself, but you can’t expect to go from one environment to a totally different one seamlessly. College is a huge time of adjustment for everyone.

    I think what Crystal did was admirable. I didn’t get the impression that she chose her ‘easy’ major because she had to work so hard she had no other choice. Most students don’t know what in the hell they want to major in when they go to college. If I had to do it all over again at 43, I would pick a totally different major. However, I didn’t have the kind of foresight to know what my world would be like in the future when I was 18 years old.

    As a professor, have you ever considered looking at the other side of the coin and try to empathize with those that have to work so many hours? My God, if someone had reached out to me as a professor, I would have so appreciated it.

    Choice does have consequences, but some students have more choices than others…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Of COURSE we empathize with them! We’re not monsters. We feel very bad for them. But that doesn’t stop us from giving them the D they earned. Sometimes I try to convince them to drop the class they are going to fail, but it doesn’t always work. With hundreds of students per semester though, there’s a limited amount of reaching out we can do.

      Also, staying home and going to a community college for two years is an excellent choice for many people, so don’t knock it. We recognize that the high school to college transition is difficult, which is exactly why students need to spend more time on school to adjust to it.

      • Everyday Tips Says:

        Where did I ever knock community college? It was not an option for ME for about a million different reasons.

        Sorry, but I saw absolutely no empathy in your post for people that do have to work hard. I saw a lot of almost mocking Crystal and a lot of assumptions about a whole slew of people, but empathy appeared to be the last emotion you were sharing.

        I also find it interesting how in the comments, it transitioned to ‘the people who are busy working want extensions and or grade breaks.’ I didn’t see that point made anywhere in your post, so not sure where that came from. You guys just seemed to be judging (which was your obvious intent) and saying don’t whine about a ‘D’ when I give it to you. Well, I never,ever asked for nor expected a break from any of my professors because I was busy, and I never met a soul who did that.

        My God I hope I am not a target of ‘judgment week’. I have enough going on in my life than thinking that people are sitting there and dissecting the choices I have made in life and then posting it on the internet. Poor Crystal, she did not deserve to be treated the way you guys treated her. Good thing she is tough, and she defended herself very well.

      • Rumpus Says:

        Reading this as a professor, it seems full of empathy to me and I feel the exact same thing every semester when I do my student advising. My heart goes out to those poor students who must work full time jobs while they take classes. Worse yet are the larger number of students who do not need to work full time, but are working full time because they haven’t tried to get any sort of scholarship, have not considered getting an education loan, or are being “forced” by their family to attend a school that they cannot afford (or various other preventable reasons). For most of the students that meet with me each semester I glance at their list of classes and wave them out the door, but for every student that’s doing poorly in their classes they spend half an hour either blaming friends/family or blaming their job(s). But what can you do? It’s like trying to convince teenagers not to hang out with the wrong crowd…many times they don’t believe you and would rather make their own mistakes. So you explain forcefully the usual results, but often times they ignore you, so you just shrug and try to pretend you don’t care that they’re happy to negatively impact their lives.

        I understand why one might read this post as judgmental regarding Crystal, but that’s merely an example. In comparison, a judgment would be saying she or her actions were poor. This post says that they don’t know (i.e., cannot judge) if the choices were good or not, even though they offer an alternative. Which brings me to my beef with students who work jobs and do poorly in my classes…many try to use the jobs as an excuse. Sometimes they use it as the first excuse, sometimes it comes after the excuse about the computer lab being closed, sometimes it comes even after a friend needing them to drive them somewhere far away on a minute’s notice. I’m not claiming that all (or even most) working students make excuses. I’m just saying that the majority of excuses I get are regarding jobs. That’s why they never made it to any office hours. That’s why they skipped the labs. That’s why they didn’t study for the exams or didn’t do a single homework assignment all semester. I think 80% of the excuses (or explanations for those students not trying to get back points) are because of jobs. The other 20% are friends and family. (Granted, they’re probably just avoiding telling me about all the parties.)

        I applaud any student who manages more than 10 hours working while taking classes full time. It certainly isn’t easy. I wish no one was forced into that situation because I think a rigorous education should take up most of your time (I forget the average tally, isn’t it supposed to be like 16+ hours in class plus 48+ outside of class? It’s more for engineering, though they’re trying to reduce it.). Those who work best above 60 hours per week are the minority.

  5. Cloud Says:

    I’m not sure what I think.

    What I most want as a hiring manager (beyond the basic knowledge of the field, which just about any degree in the field would give) is critical thinking skills and communication skills- both written and oral. I’m not sure what impact working during school has on these, possibly because I haven’t thought about it since I was in school roughly 800 years ago.

    I do think that the fancypants private education I got had some definite advantages, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Studying for all of my classes kept me plenty busy. I worked 10, maybe 20 hours a week, and doubt I could have done more and kept my grades up. I don’t know anyone at the school I went to who worked more than about 20 hours per week.

    But I had friends who went to different schools and worked more, and they seem to have gotten a fine education. Maybe they don’t know as much about as many different topics as I do (my institution had really extensive distribution requirements), but they are doing well in life.

    I also have friends who tried to work really long hours and ended up dropping out, and yeah- they would probably have been better off in the long term if they worked less and took out more loans, but as a previous comment says: there are limits to the low cost loans you can get and if your parents won’t pay what the college thinks they should pay, you’re sort of stuck.

    So, I guess until our system for paying for college changes, I think there will always be some people who have to work fulltime to pay for school. I also think that while choices have consequences, there should be a second chance for people who weren’t able to do college “right”, for whatever reason. There has to be a way for people to work their way to a better place- and that will probably mean getting some more education while working. There have to be some programs that do a good job for them.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m sure there are programs for them. Sometimes we even ARE that second-chance program for people who flunked out ten years ago, got their head together, and are now coming back more mature and ready to work. But I agree that the system of paying for college needs to change. See also our first comment about number of hours being key.

  6. Crystal Says:

    I love how you assumed that I picked an “easy” major so I could work. I picked Marketing because I thought it would be a great fit for me (and it was). I also loved how you assumed that I skated by with the bare minimum after I started working full time. I actually only worked 10 hours a week my first year and studied less and learned less than I did my last 3 years while working 30-60 hours a week. Having a full time work schedule while balancing 12-15 hours forced me to get organized, use my time wisely, and succeed on my own.

    When I think about “kids these days”, I would think that hard working men and women who also want to learn would be the ones that we all should appreciate because they aren’t getting into trouble and they are awesome additions to society. I thought this post was going to be about the ones that waste opportunities, but instead you attacked the ones that are showing that they want it the most. That seems unsupportive and downright judgemental.

    I loved learning and my professors, all of them, could vouch for me. I knew most of them personally and made sure not to let them down. My crappy day job had nothing to to with college – I was just married, we were broke, and it was the first job that offered me a salary that wasn’t commission-based. I then got complacent. But I now am self-employed and am very happy because I worked my butt off for that too. I work for what I love. I loved learning. I would appreciate it if you left me out of all of your future cranky rants.

    PS My parents did forgive the $8000 of loans I took from them. But $8000 was it. I am proud of what I accomplished both in school and for my future finances. Even if my parents had needed me to pay back that $8000, I would have been loan free within a year. I cannot believe that anybody would be anything but proud of that when I also studied and graduated with a 3.35 when I started off at a 2.9 at the end of my first year. I reject the idea that someone cannot achieve two great things at once.

    • Everyday Tips Says:

      I couldn’t agree more with this response Crystal. There are 2 HUGE sides to every story, and not everyone is born into the perfect environment where school is paid for. Plus, the most successful people I know worked hard and didn’t have perfect GPAs, nor were they model students.

      This post really struck a chord with me. I hate that I may have been judged when I was a student when I was killing myself to just get an education and ‘get out’ from where I grew up. Apparently, that isn’t good enough…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The plural of anecdote is not data. You made it work for you and good for you. I have seen the marketing curriculum at our school, so I will refrain from commenting on YOUR curriculum because maybe it wasn’t as creampuff as ours is.

      Based on our experience in the past decade seeing all types of students, working full time is a bad idea. We have taught thousands of students over the past few years. Thousands. For the VAST majority of them, working full time is bad for their grades. For some it does work, and I do admire them. But the rest have to suck up the Cs and Ds they earn from not having enough time and energy to do their best work in class. Nobody’s saying they’re stupid, just way overwhelmed.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Crystal– in the GRS comments, you said that your major was an easy one at your school. And that maybe you could have done something else if you hadn’t been working so much.

      • Crystal Says:

        I was being polite to a bunch of bullies. “Creampuff” or not, I graduated with honors from the Honors College of the University of Houston while working more than full time. I am proud of myself. Shame on you for looking down on it or others.

        I am a pretty laid back person and you two have gone out of your way to alienate me. Do you feel like you’ve done a good thing? More traffic today was worth putting me and other working students down? I am so glad the professors I had never went out of their way to make someone’s day worse.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We do not intend to be putting you down, quite the contrary, as one of us noted in the comments of the original GRS post. We do think you could have graduated school in less time and/or gotten a job you enjoyed more and paid more once you graduated if you hadn’t been working minimum wage jobs so much while in school. Recall when we wrote this post, you were spending a lot of time on your blog complaining about how much you hate your job and how little it pays. The idea that your major was easy (and you got good grades) came directly from your words in the comments on GRS.

        You’re happy now, so what does it matter what you did in school?

      • Everyday Tips Says:

        How can you say you didn’t intend to offend Crystal? You offended me, and my name was never mentioned. However, you could have inserted my name because I did work a lot of hours.

        Of course working full time while attending school may not be ideal, but not everyone is born into ideal circumstances, believe it or not.

        You don’t get it. Nobody wants to be the target of an article like this, happy or not. You had to throw in little digs like ‘even though her parents paid off the loan’ (implying she didn’t fully fund her education. She did graduate debt free, right? I think I read your parents paid for all your schooling. You still graduated debt free right?). Then, ripping on marketing as a degree, which is ludicrous in my opinion. Sure it may not be as hard for some as an engineering degree. Then again, get an engineer to try their hand at marketing might be very difficult too because it might go against their personality type.

        I still don’t get what Crystal has to do with this post anyway. Couldn’t you have just made this a general statement of ”pay attention in class” instead of assuming that everyone that works hard is a bad student? Geez!

    • Rumpus Says:

      I like your story. You’ve taken offense to the way nicoleandmaggie have used it, but it seems to me like it is two people talking past each other. I read their post as a “what if” comment. What if things had turned out differently and you didn’t have to work…would the story have turned out better? From your comment, it seems like you read the post as a personal attack. Speaking for myself (since I can’t speak for anyone else), I don’t judge my students on issues of family or jobs….those two areas are off topic because I can never know the whole story.

    • Rebecca Weinberg Says:

      To be blunt… if the goal is to obtain ‘an interesting career with a high level of autonomy’ (while being able to put food on the table) I think Crystal is the one in the position to be giving advice I’d be interested in taking.

      Based on my experience over the last 13 years seeing all types of professors, TT jobs are a bad idea for the VAST majority. For the VAST majority of professors, TT positions are bad for their creativity and empathy (also pocketbooks).
      Ultimately, I think that comes down to the fact that the jobs are so coveted, people put up with crap because they’ve convinced themselves it must be great to have a TT job and if it’s not, it’s something wrong with THEM (as opposed to something wrong with the nature of the job). And far too many people who end up in academia get really hidebound and conservative, a phenomenon which still doesn’t make sense to me, entirely (maybe it’s just the result of the system selecting for those people who can ‘play the game right’ as long as possible?).

      For some professors, the TT does work, and when the fit between the person and the institution is right, I really admire all they can accomplish without once blaming undedicated students for their ails.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        ” if the goal is to obtain ‘an interesting career with a high level of autonomy’ (while being able to put food on the table) I think Crystal is the one in the position to be giving advice I’d be interested in taking.”

        Which is, in fact, what we said. But you would not have said that during the time period she was complaining about how much she hated her job in customer service. She made a plan to get out, which is good. Like we said, it is never too late to change paths.

      • Rebecca Weinberg Says:

        Of the happy faculty I know, some went through tough times during graduate school. If you looked at them in graduate school you would have said “they just made a terrible life choice”*
        I don’t know that pulling out the judgey on people is ever terribly useful, but it just seems pointlessly petty when you are judging where they have come from rather than what they have made for themselves.

        *Simpsons FTW

  7. Liz Says:

    I largely agree with Everyday Tips and First Gen American. In my experience (with the caveat that I am not in the US), the amount of possible student loans that an undergrad could obtain was largely tied into the assumption of some parental support and factored in parental income, leaving little choice but working a fair number of hours if you came from a reasonably well-off family who did not choose to support your education. There are lots of reasons why a student may need to work during undergrad and I find those that do to be quite admirable. I don’t think they should be cut any slack in terms of assignments or be able to use the fact that they are working as an excuse, but I wouldn’t write it off as necessarily a bad thing that should be avoided.

    I too find I am much more efficient when I am very busy and, at the points during my education when I wasn’t working, I filled the time with extra-curriculars, sports, and going out & drinking, as opposed to putting more energy into my studies. That being said, I was a strong student who could do well without putting in the types of hours studying that some of my classmates needed too. If my degree was suffering, I would have cut something else out. Sure, I cut corners sometimes where I could and, as a result, I may not be able to calculate a heat exchanger temperature as swiftly as someone else (chemical engineer here) but those details are not something that I have ever found myself needing, in grad school or in my career. The big-picture skills of problem solving, communication, design, and teamwork are all things that I learned a lot about during undergrad and I think I would have learned these skills just as well whether I was giving 80% or 110% to my education.

    The reality is that you do need a university degree for a large percentage of careers that allow you to live comfortably these days and a lot of students are there to get the degree that they need for their desired career and not for the “love of learning”. I think that is ok. As professors, set your expectations of students to the level that you think is appropriate but don’t be upset if students are doing the bare minimum to meet those expectations. If you think that is not good enough, raise the bar of the expectations and let students adjust.

  8. Linda Says:

    Ooooo! Quite the comment-provoking post, Grumpy Rumblings. Congrats!

    I think this is an area where it’s hard to answer in a definitive way. It depends on the major, it depends on the university, and it depends on the student. I wouldn’t have been able to work full time as a full time student in either undergrad or graduate school. However, I was able to work part time during undergrad and worked full time during grad school, but I was only going to grad school part time. (I hope that made sense.)

    As a hiring manager, it has been impressive to me when people are able to put themselves through undergrad because it reflects well on their work ethic. But I’m not hiring in a profession where one needs to have a specific degree with a specific level of competency in a field. For those on an academic track, or in a major with high academic rigor I can understand why working full time as a student would emphatically not work in any way for anyone.

    I understand the argument about critical thinking skills, too. I took the graduate core courses for my major in undergrad (no, I didn’t complete a dissertation, but I took the core courses required of a grad student because they were more interesting to me). In one of those classes the professor was adament that we had not been taught to think critically and that he was going to do something about that. It was the toughest class I took. I can’t say that I retain everything he taught us twenty years later, but I respect him for taking on the challenge.

    Frankly, there is at least one area where I take exception with the scientific process: my personal health and well-being. I had a discussion with a very academically-oriented friend about this a few months ago. I’m really happy that my doctor doesn’t rigorously stick to the medical literature and standards when treating me. If she did, I’d still have an untreated thyroid condition and be laying in my bed in utter exhaustion right this minute. I may not fit the averages, but when it comes to our personal biology, who does? It’s called and “average” for a reason!

    (Sorry for any typos. For some reason the comments field isn’t working well with my work-issued IE 8 browser so I’ve had to compose in Notepad and cut/paste.)

  9. oilandgarlic Says:

    I also believe that college is a place for learning, period. If you take advantage of that opportunity, whether you go to a state college or Ivy league, you will be better at critical thinking and a better citizen in general. You get what you put in, however, and many people are not meant for college. I knew many smart kids who partied through school or kids who just did not have book-smarts but went to college because that’s what they were expected to do.

    The problem is that tuition is so astronomical nowadays that a good college education is a luxury. Why don’t we address skyrocketing tuition first? Why is tuition increasing year after year without attempts to rein in spending? I’m sure there is a lot of waste.

    I know many people who ended up with crappy jobs right after college. Most had loans. Even a small loan with interest is hard to justify when you never make that money back.

    Anyway, I think it’s really hard to work full-time while pursuing a degree. I did work full-time in the summers and part-time during college. I don’t think I could have managed a full-time courseload plus full-time work. Not only would my studies have suffered but so would my social life, which I also think is important in terms of development.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We agree that the current financial model of universities is kinda b0rked, but we don’t really know how to fix it (actually maybe #1 does — any ideas?).

      Tuition is going up while faculty salaries are going down. The missing piece is state funding being yanked (tuition covers very little of one’s actual college education). Make sure to vote, peeps!

  10. Kellen Says:

    It sounds like this post may be aimed at some students complaining that they don’t have time to do the school work you assign them since they have to work instead?

    Crystal, and Sandy (FirstGen), EverydayTips, and Dr. Dad, it sounds like you were the type of working students who knew it would take hard work to get what you wanted and I doubt any of *you* thought to ask a professor for less work because you had it hard.

    As someone who recently graduated, I think that I have seen the type of students that Nicole and Maggie may be thinking of with this post. The students that are working so hard to buy themselves an education the way you guys did is probably not the student complaining about too much work. People who value education enough to work that hard to pay for it most likely understand that doing the homework is part of what you’re paying for.

    But there are also students out there for whom college was just expected of them, and they just assume that they’ll go and will automatically get better work because of it. And maybe they have to work for spending money, or to pay some bills, but there’s still a sense that they *deserve* college, not that they’ve earned it. Maybe because their parents, brothers, sisters, and friends in high school all went to college. It’s so “normal” that it’s not a special experience that will improve their lives, but just something they take for granted as the next step in their required education, the same way high school was.

    While you guys knew the real value of college, there are plenty of students that I’m sure Nicole and Maggie have run across that just don’t understand how valuable a college education can and should be.

    Of course, I can see how the post would put some hackles up, especially with pointing out Crystal that way. I have other friends I can point to who also took this advice to heart and used student loans to enable themselves to work in lower-paid but better experience-gaining jobs for their future profession. But believe me, even at a cheap Georgia state school with free tuition, those loans exceed the likely first year salary this friend will earn.

    There are a ton of good points in this post, and I totally agree that fewer students today appreciate the benefit and work requirements of a good education, but further discussion definitely needs to be had on WHY this is the case, since we don’t seem to agree that working full time is necessarily a cause ;)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’re not AS much targeting complainers here (well a little) as we are feeling sorry for those poor overwhelmed souls who try to do everything in only 24 hours a day. It does tick us off when students ask for exceptions and extensions, and we do tell them NO and record the grade they earned. We just think they’re doing themselves no favors. Great comment.

  11. Spanish Prof Says:

    Coming from Academia, I can see both points. On one side, I really admire students who get college degrees with good grades while at the same time working 30 hours a week. Probably one of the smartest students I’ve had so far is doing so, while double majoring in accounting and Spanish. I also understand that it is inevitable for many students to do so, because it’s the only way they can pay their way through college.

    But I’ve also seen students that complain of the amount of work you give them, as if professors “don’t understand I have a life outside your class”. I will not lower my requirements because of that. I can be more flexible and try to work things out, but the requirements are the same for everyone. I also hate how, since I teach languages, some of the “educational” training I receive is “how to make your class look like a game”. Well, nothing against games or fun classes, but I am not there to amuse my students. Even if I am teaching Spanish 101. In fact, I usually get most of the students complaints when I teach Spanish 101, which they have to take to fulfill a foreign ed requirement, and they find out that they have to put their asses in the chair and memorize conjugations and vocabulary, otherwise they won’t get more than a C. I don’t take it personally if that is what you decide to do, the bare minimum and get a C, but don’t expect that you will get a B or an A because it’s a stupid requirement you have to fulfill (which I think it is, but that’s another discussion).

    I also would like to think of a college education as something more than a means to get a job, or “skills” education.

    Cloud says: “What I most want as a hiring manager (beyond the basic knowledge of the field, which just about any degree in the field would give) is critical thinking skills and communication skills- both written and oral”. For that, the value of a liberal arts based education is paramount. I am not sure students understand that (or administrators for that matter).

    • Cloud Says:

      Yes, I agree that a liberal arts education is the best way to get critical thinking and communication skills. I think there are other ways, but they are less certain to work.

      I also agree that education is more than training for work- although that wasn’t clear in my first comment. But I’m very sympathetic to people who see it as training for work, since that is the most tangible benefit.

      And I agree with the idea of setting the standards for a particular class/degree, and sticking to them, regardless of the external situations of the students. I just think that there need to be some degrees out there with slightly lower standards, so that they can be accessible to people who do have to work their way through and can’t manage the requirements of the more stringent program. (While acknowledging that some people can manage it all, and agreeing that finding someone who has done that usually means that I have found someone with awesome time-management skills- which are also a huge plus in the workplace.)

      • Kellen Says:

        @Cloud: I think community college tends to fill the gap for education being more available for people who just have not enough time for a traditional 4-year program? They are set up to have flexible hours and there are some very good ones around. Also, many community colleges have a good link with local universities so you can take your core classes over a few years at the community college, and then switch to a 4-year college to finish out the degree and get the name of the college on your resume.

        I guess my point is that one particular college shouldn’t have to relax it’s standards on any degrees, but that there are many colleges and community colleges out there than by nature have easier requirements, which would make it easier for a working person to attend them. The name might not be quite as prestigious, but that goes along with having lower standards to give out degrees.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        You want degrees with lower standards? They are out there, certainly. The authors of this blog sure don’t teach in them, however. The clash of expectations is where the angst comes in.

        The other one of us notes: CC college classes for gen eds are often better than the state school version– smaller classes, more teacher attention. A lot of this varies by state and region within the state, however. CC definitely has a use outside of just vocational education. But it cannot fully replace a 4 year degree at a solid school.

      • Spanish Prof Says:

        I work at a teaching intensive liberal arts college, so part of my work is to be available for students. I accomodate as much as I can to student’s requirements, and I’ve been known to give review sessions on the weekends. I am also flexible as far as attendance go, and you can certainly approach me to extend a deadline (within reasonable dates). That is, I think, the best situation for both me and my students. However, I hold my students to the same standard as far as expectations go. And as Kellen says, community college are great to fulfill requirements and be flexible to students needs.

      • Cloud Says:

        Well, I think they do have to be out there, otherwise we get stuck in a bit of an elitist trap in which only the relatively well off can go to college, and that is only partially alleviated by student loans as they are set up in this country. I would prefer that the lower standards places not all be the for profit places that really are just job training- and expensive job training at that. @Kellen- yes, community colleges are supposed to fill that gap. I think that is actually a great solution- the problem is, they are hugely oversubscribed, which pushes people to either the for profit institutions or their state school, which may have standards they will struggle to meet.

        I agree that the clash of expectations is where the problem comes. I wonder if the feeling that it is getting worse these days comes from the fact that the community colleges are unable to absorb all of the people who would logically fit there? I don’t know. I work far from education these days.

      • Spanish Prof Says:

        Response to your post below:

        Regarding clash of expectations: in my individual experience, students who come from CC and then transfer to my institution are the most grateful of the time I devote to them. I have to tell them they don’t have to ask permission to come to my office hours, that’s what they are there for. I think there is a problem with middle class kids who, on one side, have been raised sheltered and, sometimes, entitled. But on the other hand, they need to work because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to pay for college. They don’t ask, they demand. I think the economic situation is getting to them and they were not prepared.

        I started my job on August 2007, so most of the students I see are the consequence of the economic recession. I wonder what would be the case in more normal economic times

  12. Kevin Says:

    It would have been nice if I could have afforded to not work when I was in college. I also did not have an easy major (dual engineering degree although I did change majors after). My grades were generally high but more importantly, I learned. Actually, looking back, I am amazed at it. I took 15-18 credit hours every semester, worked 20-30 hours during the year (and 40-60 hours during the summers), and I partied like a frat boy (which I was) all the time. Not the best example but it’s the truth.

    Now, I actually hated engineering and was in it because I was good at it and wanted to make lots of money. Once I realized that this wasn’t a good plan to find happiness in life, I did change majors. I was 3 years into my degree though and had managed to maintain a solid GPA and even be in the top of the students in my major. I even changed schools after this time. I left me very expensive private school to go to a cheap in-state school. I changed my degree to one I enjoyed more but which was many, many times easier. And I stopped working except for on the weekends (double shifts though so I got 32 hours a week). I didn’t need to kill myself to afford that school and worked mainly to have spending money because grants and scholarships covered almost all the costs.

    I still left school with loans (over $30k in them thanks to the private school) and am working hard to repay them. But I find it insulting to assume that I was a worse student because of how much I worked in college. I may have been a worse student because of my partying but not because of the jobs.

    So anyway, working while in college has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you’re going to learn while you’re there or remain ignorant. I know many kids who never worked a day while in college and were unable to get jobs when they graduated because they never learned a thing while in school. They just went through the motions to get the diploma. It had nothing to do with who worked (a job)and who didn’t.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Once again, please see our earlier comment replies. We ALL have students loans, probably more than you do. But we made school, not partying, our very top priority. Even working jobs came after school on the priority list. We were ready for college when we went, which many students aren’t yet. We don’t think working is necessarily bad. Working full time and going to school full time CAN be bad.

  13. MutantSupermodel Says:

    You so weren’t kidding about a fun judgmental week, were you?

    Here’s one little argument against your theory– life rarely provides you with a situation where you are able to pour all of your energy into one thing and one thing alone. Why should college be any different?

    Honestly, II have a very different theory where the answer lies more in the realm of NOT being a full-time student, rather being a part-time student who takes longer to get their degree. Personally, my experience was that I got far more out of my higher education when it was a part-time thing than a full-time thing. I actually think it’s a huge shame there isn’t more flexibility in funding and admissions for part-time students.

    I don’t know if it’s the case for you, but my professors often admitted to me their favorite, and most dedicated, students were usually the part-timers and I always found the students who gave the best answers and talking points were the part-timers as well. My nighttime classes were always more interesting than the classes in the mornings and early afternoons mostly attended by the full-timers looking for the “certificate” as you put it.

    I think this whole four-year crunch program thing is not healthy. Universities have become way more like certificate factories than places of higher learning. It’s something I’m dealing with at the moment. I am interested in getting my master’s degree but 1) some of the programs I’m interested in only want students who are committed to going all the way through to a Ph.D. and 2) many of the programs simply are not interested in part-time students.

    I find this sort of attitude completely baffling. Let’s face it, I’m pretty sure I can bring a much more well-rounded view of the world being a thirty year old mother of three who’s been working since the age of 17 than 23 year old child who’s been coddled away in Mommy and Daddy’s house and has racked up little life experience (crap, your judgmental attitude is contagious).

    • Kellen Says:

      Judgemental, but possibly true. I think I fit the stereotype of 23 year old coddled away in the house with little life experience, but I still agree with you :)

      I took some MBA classes as part of my masters degree, and the older MBA students had much more to contribute to class discussions than us accounting masters did (it’s a degree typically done immediately after your undergrad, with no gap for work, whereas MBA programs typically prefer students with work experience.) I mean, all of us got good grades in the MBA classes (our program was harder to get into) but we just didn’t have anything to contribute to discussions, and lively classroom discussion is part of a good education.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We worked during college. We did not work full-time during college. Some work good, especially if it relates to your college experience (ex. research assisting, TAing, interning). 60hrs/week during the school year… no. Especially entry-level minimum wage jobs. Take out loans or don’t go to college full-time if that’s what you’re going to be doing. Don’t waste your time with classes.

        We are definitely down with full-time workers taking part-time classes. That is usually manageable! Just like part-time work and full-time classes.

        Tomorrow’s post is even worse… if you’re not looking for debatable and deliberately controversial, then maybe come back in a couple of weeks…

  14. Louise Says:

    well said!! I spend my days telling students the same thing. unfortunately our economy is making it more and more difficult to just focus on education and our tertiary education system is now being aimed and funded as a place for job preparation instead of ‘education’. At least down under thats the way our funding and policies are going and it’s a real loss. I attended a meeting on this topic only a few weeks ago, it left me fuming at how shortsighted these policies are! I think we are seeing the ‘dumbing down’ of our society. Those critical thinking skills, the ability to research, debate, reflect on the bigger issues, examine theories and explore ideas that are different,is being downplayed in favour of being able to spit out facts. I won’t even get started on education that doesn’t acknowledge the basic facts of science! at least that is not as big a problem here, but it’s sad seeing these changes. yes we need education for jobs, but not at the expense of these other skills.

  15. prodigal academic Says:

    I agree with this post, In my experience, most full time students who also have full time jobs do not have time to really excel in their studies. The ones who do are exceptions, and would likely excel no matter what. I had a part time job when I was an undergrad, but it definitely came second to my studies. I worked full time over the summers, but never during the academic year.

    I tell my students what I was told as a student–a rule of thumb for mastering the material is that you should spend 2-3 times the number of credit hours on homework, projects, and studying per class. At Prodigal U, a full load is 15 credits, so that means 30-45 hours per week on school outside of class. On top of a full time job, that leaves little time for anything else (like sleeping!). I will readily admit that I didn’t always spend this much time on my classes, but then again, I cheerfully took my C’s when that is what I earned.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yes, we do tell them about the rule of 2-3 hours outside of class for every hour in class. At first they don’t believe us, and then the first exam comes and they are shocked at the grade they earn. Sigh. Why do they not listen?

      We also worked full-time during the summers to fund working less during the school year (along with subsidized loans and lots of ’em).

  16. Crystal Says:

    Comparably to Engineering or becoming a doctor, Marketing was an easy major. But that’s not why I picked it and it was still a lot of work. I was being kind at GRS because I was a guest. But I will defend myself here. I think you attacked me because of lazy kids you have had, and that is wrong. I never asked for special assignments and I never blew off my classes. And just in case I did not make this clear, you two offended me today despite the fact that I have been a supporter for a year or more. I worked very hard to get through college and I enjoyed learning. I worked very hard to get out of the job I hated and I now love working at home. I work very hard to make my blog succeed and you just lost my support.

  17. Rebecca Weinberg Says:

    Anyone who doesn’t understand that a full course load at university (or sometimes, even a “part time” load, particularly if you happen to be under-prepared) should* be undertaken as a major responsibility that is easily equivalent to a full time job, should go jump in a lake.

    *”should” here being not an absolute or moral guideline, but in the sense of “ideally, for purposes of maximal benefit to all involved”

    On the other hand, anyone who doesn’t understand that taking care of a child, or an elder, or sometimes just complicated personal life issues (not excluding your own health/wellbeing), can require serious commitments that are easily equivalent to a full time job, should go jump in a lake. And I’d hate to tell everyone who has such commitments that they do not deserve a chance at a college education.

    Moreover, anyone who doesn’t understand that it’s pure, unadulterated class-privilege to assume that the problem with college students struggling to work to put food on the table, is a problem with STUDENTS as opposed to the morally questionable, exorbitantly expensive and class-inequity perpetuating system of higher education, can go jump in a lake, stat.
    I sincerely hope none at GR would qualify for the last, but given the tone of your post, it’s a little hard to tell…

    So here’s my background (this will hopefully explain why I am so antagonistic toward people looking down on students who are less than 100% dedicated to only college)…
    I started at a community college, so students who worked full time were probably the default.
    Furthermore, I was a biology student who took evening classes, so a disproportionate number of my classmates were single moms going back to school to become nurses. On the whole, they were radically more motivated than the classmates I encountered at the flagship R1 I finished undergrad at (or for that matter, the grad students and certainly the med students I knew during my PhD work at an academic medical center). Granted, they were motivated to get the credentials they needed to get jobs to improve their families lives, and to actually learn enough biology that they could be superb nurses… which is distinct from being motivated to Learn Biology for the Sake of Understanding The Awesome Power of Living Systems, or the like.

    For me there were two huge culture shocks of pure disappointment when I entered university- first, the racial/ethnic self-sorting type of segregation (which may have been a ‘feature’ relating to suburban midwestern traditional college student age population, but was definitely different from my CC!), and secondly the fact that none of the professors were inclined to treat us as adults with complicated lives, who have a variety of motivations for being in college (the vast majority of which are worthy of respect, even if they aren’t always the PhD-I-luv-my-subject type obsession favored by professors). I suspect the later issue was probably a *result* of the lack of motivation in the students (at least, from the perspective of my TAs/professors). I bet it’s much harder to be sympathetic to students reminding you ‘but I have a life outside class’ when that ‘life’ consists of drinking and football rather than a small child and a career taking care of people. Nonetheless, the comparative lack of respect for students was palpable, and distinctly disagreeable.

    Also, for those of you talking about how nice it is CCs can provide an easier (albeit lower-prestige) education for ‘those other people’? My CC managed to have *both* professors with compassionate, student-centered attitudes *and* much better quality education than comparable classes at the flagship public uni (part of that is sheer mathematics- a chemistry class is better with 7 people than 300… shocking, right?!).

    Which leads me to wonder… maybe the problem isn’t with your students, OR your different expectations resulting in angst, but the fact that you can’t support your students to meet your high standards in the context of your overcrowded classrooms?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Loans. Our solid state school is affordable enough that anybody should be able to get a college education and come out with reasonable loans. Especially if they work part-time and during the summer. Even if their parents refuse to fill out the FAFSA and they are on the hook for the entire tuition. If they are lower income and their students fill out the FAFSA, then they will be paying next to nothing for schooling because the income-based grants at my state school are very generous, especially for first-generation (as in first in the family to get a degree) students (for whom there are additional scholarships, and they may even get a small stipend). Even if they don’t do the CC route for the first two years (which in some majors ends up being more expensive because there’s not 2 years of transfer credit for that major).

      But when they work full-time they often end up both flunking out of school and being on the hook for tuition for the classes they failed. It breaks the heart of one of our partners, who actually does not teach in over-crowded classrooms, but that doesn’t matter if the students don’t show up or sleep through class.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We seriously don’t care about your personal life. If you are caring for a sick family member, kids, etc., then OF COURSE that should be your top priority! Of course family comes first! But you might have to take a hit on your grades that semester, which is probably the right choice, but we can’t pass you if you haven’t learned the material. I don’t care if you didn’t study because you were drinking or because you had important family responsibilities. The outcome is the same.

    • Rebecca Weinberg Says:

      I have met precious few students who were pathologically afraid of loans, to the point where they would work full time rather than take any out. I knew a goodly number of students who, for a variety of reasons, couldn’t get enough loans to cover things, or were (wisely) avoiding taking on six figure debt (in career fields that did not offer six figure salaries).
      If you know a LOT of students who work instead of taking out loans, I’ve gotta wonder what’s weird about the place you teach at. It’s almost like it’s seen as UNAMERICAN to NOT take out massive debt these days. Frankly, I admire people who don’t.
      Hmm. I wonder if this is like a mommywars topic- where people are super inclined to take their personal decisions and justify them as if they are the Only Reasonable Choice for everyone? I wonder if some people in the personal finance blogosphere get judgey about people who take out student loans? If so, this post makes sense as a reaction to that. But as a general prescription? It just comes across to me as utterly complicit in an exploitative system of class privilege and myths about what roles higher ed can play in social mobility and achieving the American Dream.

      And I think it’s fine to say you don’t care about people’s personal lives- as long as you don’t expect anyone to care about yours. If you get breast cancer, no tenure for you! Of course your health comes first! But we can’t invest tax dollar funded salaries for tenured profs if they are not a good lifetime investment for productivity. Actually, we probably shouldn’t have female professors at all…

  18. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    We get graduate students with high grades from supposedly high-quality schools who are shocked that not everything has an answer that they can memorize and regurgitate on a scantron exam. They’re smart, and after the initial cognitive dissonance, they succeed, but it is often difficult going before they get there.

    So do we. I teach seminars to first-year PhD students in the biomedical sciences, and they always complain viciously about the use of socratic dialogue. “Comrade PhysioProf is extremely rude and condescending! He never gives us answers to our questions! He just asks us more questions!” AHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We used to get that too, but now all first year professors spend time talking about what to expect, and after hearing it 4 times from 4 different people over the course of a week they tend to believe it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      #2 says, my students hate hate HATE it when I won’t tell them the one true right answer. I hate hate HATE when they ding me on student evals because of it. I wish they could think at a higher level and I struggle to get them there, but some days it’s just not worth chewing through the ropes. I long for tenure.

  19. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    Unfortunately, many of my colleagues are too in love with the sounds of their own voices to employ socratic method. I am somewhat of a lone voice in the wilderness. But f*cke itte. I really don’t give a flying f*cke whether students in my seminars “enjoy” it. One of the most effective Socratic practitioners I ever learned from told me once over beers that if the students aren’t intellectually uncomfortable and annoyed, you aren’t doing it right.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It is harder to do in larger classes. I do like the back and forth because it gives a good idea of if students are getting it, and it helps them expand their minds and feel better about asking questions. But it also has some aspects that can lead to more difficulties, for example, if students in the class are at wildly different levels. (Then discussion goes over the heads of the folks who aren’t getting it… a problem when the folks who are *should have waived*– so we encourage waiving when applicable.)

  20. Zee Says:

    There is also the problem of the other extreme, where students take out HUGE loans to attend colleges that do not have HUGE names and to major in things that do not come with HUGE incomes. They do this not realizing the life-long burden of massive $100,000+ debt can be. Some careers can handle that kind of debt (medical school and law school for example) but I have seen too many undergraduates go off to fancy small liberal arts school, accumulate massive debts, and then scrape by for years and years afterwards as a result. I am not saying to not go to college, or to not take out loans, but I think we have to be careful when recommending loans to 18/19 year olds who often have no idea the vast detrimental effects that debt can have. Sometimes the smarter, but less fun, thing is to attend community college and transfer, or to go to a state school.

    NPR did a great story on this (… “I’d be the last person to tell a student not to follow their dreams,” he says. “You just need to enter into it with a dose of reality, so that rather than trying to figure out how you repay your loans after you graduate, you have that conversation before you incur the debt.”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      YES. That is also a problem. I had a grad student who already had 250K in school debt from her regional SLAC. And was not getting a degree that pays 6 figures at the get-go. If she was that much underwater on a mortgage, I might suggest walking away from it. But you can’t walk away from education loans.

      My SIL also has that problem (though not so large in magnitude!), and she could have gone to the much better state school with the much better program in her major for much less money (actually the same program the other half of the blog went to). Since her husband (then boyfriend) was going there and she spent all her time at the state school anyway, she should have just transferred after a year when she realized she wasn’t going to spend time at the school anyway.

      Some private schools end up costing less than the public school if your parents are low income or you’re a super special snowflake. The top private school I went to was less expensive for me than the state school would have been for me. (Though the regional school in my home town would have paid me to go.) We had a friend who went to a really good SLAC on a volleyball scholarship– the state school didn’t value her skills as much. It is a good idea for a college-going student to explore all their options and see where the chips fall. Many ivies are completely free for kids of parents making less than 75K/year.

      We’re both at solid state schools that are “good values” (with low costs of living!) so unless you party it up, or fail a lot of classes that you have to retake (which happens and is heartbreaking), you shouldn’t come out with debt that isn’t manageable. I like Liz Pulliam Weston’s advice to take in loans no more than the average first year salary in your major.

  21. FrauTech Says:

    Going to have to chime in on your side here for the most part Nicole&Maggie!

    Okay I disagree on one tiny little part. A little background: I worked full time in a professional office job while taking two engineering (or STEM pre-reqs) at a time for my engineering degree. I went “back to school” after I started working full time. I got a humanities degree prior to that while only working about 20 hours a week, graduated in three years with a very high GPA. When I went back to school for engineering my GPA certainly suffered. But I paid the whole way and paid my cost of living AND got good experience in my industry. Looking back I don’t regret it. I did get a crappy GPA, but I’m happy I was able to do things (buy a house, start a 401k) I would not have been able to do had I quit my job or only worked part time. Also unintentionally I ended up being much better prepared to get a job in this ridiculous recession which is even hitting engineers hard.

    That being said, I don’t think I would’ve done much better without working. Two engineering classes took up my max brainload. Had I not worked, I would have tried to take more classes at a time. I’m also (like some previous commenters) sort of lazy and not sure how much extra effort I would’ve put in. Maybe I could’ve bumped my C average to a C+ or B-, maybe a B, but not a whole lot better. I’m also the kind of person who places a lot of emphasis on her job and I let my professional life define a lot of who I am. I don’t recommend that for a lot of people. A lot of my fellow engineering students were able to take fascinating internships and really enjoy college life in a way I wasn’t. So I disagree that I’m “so smart” I would have been able to go to MIT (I went to a good state R1, but it’s no MIT). But I do agree that when possible people shouldn’t HAVE to work. Because those that don’t have to take the crappy jobs someone like Crystal took, could have had time to take unpaid internships in their field and it would’ve led to better jobs later. I don’t know how Crystal’s doing, but the marketing industry is also hurt badly by this recession and a college degree is no longer a guarantee to a good job.

    Also I never asked professors for extensions, exceptions, or anything. I failed a few classes I had to retake, and once or twice in small classes I had a professor corner me about my borderline grades. I never mentioned that I worked full time. I always felt these brilliant, research-oriented professors would consider me “less dedicated” than the other students and chastise me on that point. But more importantly, I’m just not the kind of person to argue my grade.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We have nothing against working full-time and taking classes part-time if you are able to handle your commitments. Perhaps one class at a time would have been more efficient in your case– paying for and spending all that time on a class that you end up failing because you don’t have the time to spend to pass the first time seems pretty inefficient.

  22. frugalscholar Says:

    Don’t have time to read all comments, so forgive me if I’m repeating something said by many. I teach average students, many of whom work those 40 hour jobs. I think assignments and expectations have changed over the years to accommodate this reality–we can’t fail everyone! Some of the commentors above are/were superstudents and were able to do it all. The average student cannot and school is the first to go. Since teachers are pressured to aid in the graduation rates–and since teachers are tenured in part on student evaluations–well, you see where this is going.

  23. Cloud Says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile, and I want to add something, even though everyone else has already moved on. I’m silly that way.

    Anyway, it felt to me like a bit of a reaction to the advice I see in some places to avoid going into debt to pay for school at all costs. That is unfair of me, since (1) I don’t actually know if that’s what you guys were reacting to and (2) I don’t know if Crystal or any of the other offended parties have actually given that advice.

    Still, I think that advice deserves to be slapped down. Sure, as Zee points out, there are people who take the school debt to an extreme that doesn’t make a lot of financial sense (although it may actually still be justified from a larger perspective- only the person with the debt can say if it was worth it). But it is possible to go to the opposite extreme, too. And again, we can only look at what makes financial sense, it is hard to judge the larger issues like whether or not the debt will just make a person unhappy no matter what.

    For instance, when I was choosing colleges many, many years ago, someone tried to give me that advice- don’t go to the private school, because you don’t want to get any debt. Well, taking that advice would have been incredibly stupid for me. First of all, I firmly believe that the particular environment of the particular school I went to was very, very good for me- it gave me confidence that I don’t think I would have gotten from my state school, even though I also believe I could have gotten a roughly equivalent education at the state school if I’d tried to do so. I’m just not sure that I would have known enough to try, and I’m not sure I would have had the classroom experiences that ended up giving me the confidence.

    Second of all, taking that advice would have meant turning down a full tuition scholarship just to avoid taking out what in the end turned out to be about $2000 in loans to help cover living expenses. That would have been insane. I paid off that loan in my first year out from graduate school, without breaking a sweat.

    Of course, I also got asked if I was going to that fancy school to catch myself a rich husband, so perhaps I was just surrounded by weirdos at that time

    I guess this is a long and rambling way of saying that I agree with your point that educational loans are not a bad thing.

    • Crystal Says:

      I never gave that advice (just confirming, not implying that you thought I did). I don’t think any one way to do anything works for everybody. That is why this post offended me. College debt isn’t necessary for everybody either. Working full time doesn’t work for everybody. I thought it was rude to write a post that referred to me as a bad example for students everywhere.

      My degree wasn’t what led me to a job that I ended up hating. My need for stability did. And once I figured out I wasn’t happy, I worked to change that. Now I am happy and self-employed and would not change anything about my past. It led me to where I am today and it didn’t suck much along the way either. In general, my life has kicked butt and working through college was a temporary pain but taught me a lot about myself while I was learning in school too.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The plural of anecdote is STILL not data. We have taught more students than you have. Our advice stands.

      • bogart Says:

        I’ve been away and missed this post when it happened, don’t know Crystal from Adam, and haven’t even worked my way yet through the various comments. Those caveats aside, the plural of anecdoteS — plural — is not data, either. Absent a probability sample, there’s no reason to imagine that the students who are complaining to you about that proverbial D in connection with their work schedules aren’t part of a larger population of working students all of whom have the same experiences but only some of whom are complaining that their work-for-pay responsibilities prevent them from doing the class work (and that you should therefore cut them some slack).

        I respect the effort to make college a sheltered time when students can focus on learning and not earning. But I am not the least bit convinced that the Grumpies’ students’ behaviors offer compelling data for why this should be valued — we know naught of the non-complainers (and really not much about the complainers, I’d argue, except that they are complainers and earn low grades). And the widespread practice of claiming that because one has large quantities of information one can generalize drives me batty.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        (The other one of us cringed at those two sentences together too… but she teaches stats.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yes, public school would also have been more expensive for one of us (the one who went private). My total loan load was something like 4K and my parents paid it off after I graduated– they only took out subsidized loans which have 0% interest, so my parents enjoyed the interest-free loan. (My partner’s parents took out 10K in subsidized loans for him which was ridiculous. But still less than the public flagship would have cost.)

      Yes, the post was a reaction to the common advice on PF blogs to take out no loans at any cost. The usual argument against that is that you don’t get to enjoy college, but as professors, that is not our perspective (we don’t think of students as people who party, but as people who come to class). Our perspective is the kids we see losing money and losing knowledge because they’re not getting as much learning as they could be. Additionally, if you are able to handle long hours of work and school simultaneously, there are other choices you can make that will likely help you more in the long-run if your goal is saving money. Such as graduating in fewer years. Getting top grades so you can get more scholarships and seeking out those scholarships (my entire senior year was free). Exploring your academic choices so you can get a better match for your interests (or, if money is your primary focus, a higher salary). Many students can handle getting the full academic experience and a part-time job. But the full-time minimum wage jobs often lose money in the long-run. (Why kill yourself to make minimum wage now, when if you studied harder you’d be making many times that? Or you wouldn’t have to pay for classes you failed.)

      If the point of going to school is just getting a certificate, then yes, it makes no sense to attend any more class or study more than it takes to pass. But we hope that people are actually there to learn and they’re actually getting more out of school than just the signal that they got in.

  24. The cost of college « Accountant by Day Says:

    […] brought up quite a controversial issue with their post "Education and kids these days: a cranky rant." Notwithstanding their opinions on working or not during college, it made me think about how much […]

  25. Crystal Says:

    “The plural of anecdote is STILL not data. We have taught more students than you have. Our advice stands.”

    MEOW. I never said I was a data set. I said you shouldn’t have used me as a warning example. Your advice did not have to include an attack.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Good thing it didn’t. So that’s ok.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Still having a hard time seeing how saying that you could have saved money by graduating in fewer years, gotten scholarships with higher grades (often one needs close to a 4.0), or made more money after you graduated (thus paying off loans quicker) by spending more time at school and less time at minimum wage jobs is an attack. Especially since we specifically say these are possibilities. And that you’re doing fine now.

        And as we said in the original GRS comments, you were able to pull off reasonably good grades because you’re, I believe the quote was, “Smarter than the average bear.” Many many kids who try end up failing and having to pay for a class they got no credit for, which is definitely a false economy. Again, not sure how we are attacking you here.

        We don’t know if you made the best choice or not– YOU don’t know if you made the best choice or not unless you are in contact with alternate reality versions of yourself. But suggesting that there are other choices you could have made, that OMG, might have had better outcomes, should not be viewed as an attack. Hell, the BEST outcome would have been for your parents to fill out the FAFSA so that you would have gotten financial aid like most kids get, and then you could have gotten out debt free with a more reasonable work-load. But that wasn’t the point of this post.

        Honest to God, I’m sorry you feel attacked, but I’m not sure how many times we have to say that was not our intention in order for you to feel better. Actually, given how we were slammed the first time we said it, there’s no point in saying it again.

        To quote someone on the internet, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission.”

      • Everyday Tips Says:

        Well, I am a pretty sensitive person. So, I had several people I know read this post without stating why I was asking, and asked for what they thought. They all thought that it made Crystal look very poorly, and they know nothing about the whole situation. Even though you know the intent in your hearts, perhaps the wording came across differently than you hoped? Intention doesn’t necessarily matter. If I am out driving and I run somebody over without intending to, the damage is still done, even though I didn’t intend to run anybody over.

      • Everyday Tips Says:

        As a side note, being offended is much different from feeling inferior. Someone can write on the internet that I am the dumbest person on earth. I know I am not, so I would not actually feel like I am stupid. However, it can definitely make me feel mad and offended…

  26. Crystal Says:

    “Maybe if she’d spent more effort and time in school”
    That was the part that felt like an attack. I put a lot of effort and time in school. And I do not feel inferior, I feel back-stabbed. There is a big difference.

    You used me as an example of something you were going to be VERY negative about – how do you not get how that would be a bad thing? I honestly don’t know if you two are being stubborn or just can never see when you were wrong to do something? This post didn’t need to bring up anybody specific. You could have just written your opinion about working in college. But you chose to use me. I don’t understand why that was necessary or even helpful.

    • FrauTech Says:

      I didn’t see the original post as a personal attack. When you post your own personal experiences online, it can become a point of discussion. I felt like N&M just used your post as a springboard to have their own discussion about the pros and cons of working during college. I didn’t see any insults or excessive negativity. In fact it sounded like they had a great amount of respect for your drive because they implied that students who are capable of working might also be capable of much greater things academically if they didn’t work. You can disagree with that certainly (I do a little on that specific point) but maybe you are looking for a personal attack. From some of your previous comments it sounds like you just got out of a situation with an ungratifying job. I have totally been there and it can really color the way you see everything else. wish you all the best.

  27. lapenn Says:

    I don’t care if my students work or not, but I do have a few issues with students these days, some related to working:

    1. when we publish exam dates at the beginning of the semester, it is your responsibility to make sure you are not scheduled for a shift during exams. And it is also your responsibility to not schedule work during any of my class periods (or meetings with other professors, which has also happened)

    2. The “job mill” idea of college really bugs me. I teach a non-majors class, and I can’t tell you how many times I get students who say “well, biology just isn’t my *thing*” Just because it’s not your thing doesn’t mean you can’t come, learn, and be a more educated individual.

    3. Office hours are there for a reason. I’m sorry other TAs and professors aren’t always there during their office hours — leave a note, schedule a meeting, and go to the department chair if they blow you off multiple times. I am always there in office hours, and I will schedule more. Use them. I really dislike the “oh, your class is so hard and I don’t know how to study.” If you’d come to office hours, I would show you multiple methods for effectively studying, reading your textbook, and preparing for exams and lab practicals.

    I’ve had some students who worked full time jobs and did well because they were diligent and motivated. Yes, even at the R1 where I used to work — some students were “non-traditional” but wanted to go to med school, and they had to refresh their bio curriculum. I’ve had other students who didn’t work but were just plain lazy. I’m not convinced the working is the issue. I truly think the issue is the students’ mindset and expectations.

    On the other hand, I do agree that working minimum wage jobs and going to a lower tier school can *potentially* be a problem, depending on the field. There are definitely fields where one should seek out higher paying jobs related to the field or where a brand name school helps. But, again, if a student is willing to work their tail off and do lots of things to compensate, I don’t see the problem. Like everything in life, you’ve got to know the right folks, network effectively, and be a good worker.

  28. Mutant SuperMeme « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured Says:

    […] Our Most Controversial Post: Judging by number of comments and ire aroused, it’s probably this one: Education and Kids These Days: A cranky rant. […]

  29. Welcome Simple Dollar Readers! « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured Says:

    […] This post got us removed from a lot of blog-rolls.  We still think if you’re going to school full-time and working full-time, chances are you’re not getting the education you could be getting. […]

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