Is college education overrated?

Here’s an interesting blog article by Marty Nemko, a famous career coach in the US. The article is named “America’s Most Overrated Product: Higher Education”. (here). He argues that colleges and universities in the US are not doing a good job educating people. His main points are:

1. Students who are weak in high school become weaker in college.

2. Students who are fully qualified for college education don’t perform better when they graduate.

3. Many colleges and universities are unable to provide value-added education.

Whether college education is overrated based on a set of subjective judgments. The purpose of education comes in the first place. If college education is only designed for students to develop more earning power, it might not be helpful for all because building up one’s job market competence is a comprehensive process which requires individual efforts as well. In my view, college education is more about helping students to understand the world and to understand themselves. The term “value added” should not be limited only to financial terms. It should include a wider perspective, and more insights into one self.

Individual motivation is also important in arguing whether college education is helpful. I agree with Mr. Nemko that if a student knows exactly what she wants to do right after finishing high school, she might be better off taking a year or two to do the business she likes. In this way, she can find out if her dream path is feasible, and learn more in the college since she’d know what she lacks then. Taking a gap year is not uncommon in Europe. High school graduates spend one year travelling around the world, or taking some internship of the area that interests them.

How much you gained from college education also depends on how you utilize it. College is not only about learning new skills. It is about adapting to different environments, constructing personal networks, and seeking new opportunities. I have friends here in HKU who started a website connecting students in Hong Kong universities. This is just an idea they got from the US college evaluation systems. As far as I know, this is the first website of its kind in Hong Kong. By trying out a crude idea, they are essentially developing a further understanding of what they’ve learned in class, while enjoying the happiness of creating something new.

There’s a Chinese saying “You need to do much practice after the master gives you the basic instrucions.” (师父领进门,修行在个人) Blindly blaming college education for dissatisfying personal development is meaningless. Combing personal strength with relatively uniform education is the best way to profit from your four years in college.


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