Overinvestment in College Lending

by WCE

College Loan Glut Worries Policy Makers

I was intrigued by this article, because both of my babysitters hoped to “go to college to improve themselves” but in my opinion, would have been more suited for a vocational program or apprenticeship.

I think that government continues to loan money to people who are poor risks (housing followed by education) because government is unwilling or unable to discern who is a worthy borrower without appearing racist or classist. Lending laws affecting banks and private lenders may or may not have similar effects, depending on how they are written and enforced. Lending money requires judging people and that’s hard for both social and policy reasons. Repayment depends in part on family/cultural background and not just on individual, statistical creditworthiness, which makes judgement even more complicated in a society where credit decisions are based solely on individual (or possibly married couple) attributes.

Agree or disagree? What do you think about a European-style approach to higher education, where slots are more subsidized but limited to applicants with higher demonstrated academic aptitude?


The U.S. government over the last 15 years made a trillion-dollar investment to improve the nation’s workforce, productivity and economy. A big portion of that investment has now turned toxic, with echoes of the housing crisis.

The investment was in “human capital,” or, more specifically, higher education. The government helped finance tens of millions of tuitions as enrollment in U.S. colleges and graduate schools soared 24% from 2002 to 2012, rivaling the higher-education boom of the 1970s. Millions of others attended trade schools that award career certificates.

The government financed a large share of these educations through grants, low-interest loans and loan guarantees. Total outstanding student debt—almost all guaranteed or made directly by the federal government—has quadrupled since 2000 to $1.2 trillion today. The government also spent tens of billions of dollars in grants and tax credits for students.

New research shows a significant chunk of that investment backfired, with millions of students worse off for having gone to school. Many never learned new skills because they dropped out—and now carry debt they are unwilling or unable to repay. Policy makers worry that without a bigger intervention, those borrowers will become trapped for years and will ultimately hurt, rather than help, the nation’s economy.

Treasury Deputy Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin compares the 7 million student-loan borrowers in default—and millions of others who appear on the same path—to homeowners who found themselves underwater and headed toward foreclosure after the housing crash.

“We needed individual households to stabilize property values and help revive communities,” she said. “We want to stabilize this generation of student borrowers and revive their prospects for the future. I think students are essential to our future economic growth and contributions to productivity.”…

The Obama administration faced criticism that it was too slow to help ailing homeowners during the foreclosure crisis, which impeded the economy from recovering more quickly from the recession. The administration is determined to avoid similar criticism with student-loan borrowers.

It has already put forth an array of programs to help borrowers, including slashing monthly bills by tying payments to incomes, and forgiving some of their debt. But this time they face a different challenge: How to get borrowers to pay anything—even a penny—for an asset they never received.


161 thoughts on “Overinvestment in College Lending

  1. oh yeah, you won’t be surprised by my comments…
    (1) college is probably for everyone, at some point in their lives
    (2) college is NOT for everyone at age 18 (i.e. the fall after graduating from HS in most cases)
    (3) a 4yr college is NOT the right starting place for everyone
    — community colleges are the right fit for many who are not academically inclined but who need training / skill development. Many “tech” type jobs are available to people with specific AAs (some computer stuff, auto, HVAC, cosmetology, etc). Two years of school, get your license/certificate and you’re good to go
    — CCs are also the right fit for some academically inclined kids who might not be able to afford living away from home. Get the first 2 years of basics out of the way, live at home, work part time and build your funds so you can afford to go away if that’s for you. BTW, even in this fairly small metro there are two commutable 4yr state schools so if the $10k or whatever it’ll cost to live on/near campus is unaffordable, students can still live at home for their upper division classes.

    As much as we as a society value education / college degrees, there are a lot of things that go into the idea that people with 4 yr degrees earn a ton more than those who have no college…including, btw white privilege. If a kid is brought up in a top quintile household odds are s/he’ll get advice and have role models on how to get better paying jobs. Just because someone has a college degree DOES NOT mean they are going to get high paying / in demand jobs straight out of college. Art History majors, anyone? Or maybe close to all degrees like ____________ “Studies”. And certainly anyone with a ‘PRE-_________’ anything degree.

  2. There is a lot of variation in European higher education systems. Some countries, Italy in particular, have way too many people going (and staying) in college. Other countries put limits on admissions that we Americans would find unacceptable. In Germany, not only do they limit enrollment,they also dictate where you will go to school and stricly limit particular majors. On the other hand, and this is a very important other hand, they have lots of other highly subsidized postsecondary forms of education. So most kids do end up with some kind of postsecondary education. It isn’t all vocational either. In Germany, many programs that would be run in a university here are run in Fachhochschule programs. So in the end, the government does subsidize a wide variety of students, not just the high achievers

  3. Partly agree with Fred, college is not the right path for every high school graduate upon graduation, and for some, it may never be. I have a co-worker whose son has some learning issues that are making high school a challenge, let alone college. The family is directing him toward a vocational program – desiel mechanic, welder, etc. – that get the bulk of their training from trade schools and/or apprenticeship programs. If he is good at his trade, he will be able to make more than many college graduates with a degree in something like Art History.

    I think high schoolers need more information about what a degree costs and what someone with that degree will earn – both right out of school and over time. More of that is available now than when I was in college. I think they have an unrealistic expectation, which leads them to think they will be able to repay the loans easily. I saw this with some of our new hires int he workplace. Once they saw what their take home was and the costs for living “unsubsidized” on their own, they were shocked!

    Then, there is the whole other level of what you are striving for. I had one new hire, who couldn’t understand why at the 6 month eval, he did not get a raise, but several of his peers did. The bottom line was they were learning and progressing and he was just doing enough to get by and his work quality and quantity had not changed since the end of the first month. I had to listen to, but I have worked here 6 months, I deserve raise.

  4. I’ve said this before and I will say it again – CC may be a poor choice for kids who want to do engineering, computer science, or other majors with a long prerequisite chain. Yes, there are CCs with articulation agreements with particular engineering schools – but there aren’t tons of them, so you have to be very careful. I advise student after student who has transferred to us after “getting his or her basics done” at a CC. I am the unfortunate person who has to inform these students that it will take an extra year to finish, because they don’t have the prerequisites for the upper division courses.

  5. Agree with Mooshi about the prereq trail for certain majors. I was explaining this to a Mom at the swimming pool this weekend whose high school son wants to go into engineering. I hope she now understands that merely having an AA does not fulfill the engineering requirements. I generally tell people you have to attend the university (our community college and university offer dual enrollment) for at least some classes in your sophomore year.

    I’m often surprised that people don’t consider what majors are offered. Our local directional state university has programs in law enforcement, nursing, business and teaching, but that’s about it. I emphasize to people that if you don’t want to major in one of those fields, you should not attend there, or at least treat it like community college and plan to transfer.

    I think having attended community college myself gives me street cred.

  6. WCE, I am always surprised by that too. And not just for the regional schools, but also prestigious SLACs. Students fall in love with a campus without thinking about whether the school offers a desired major, or if it does, whether the program is any good or not. At the SLAC where my DH taught, they didn’t have a full CS major. It was a minor within math. Students would endlessly complain about it. I kept wondering – why did they choose that school if they wanted computer science?

  7. I know a few families going the CC or local university route. There is one local university that offers courses in education and the arts among other things – so those who want to work in these areas are taking courses right away instead of wasting money on a general four year degree. Other options are hair dressing school or cooking school both of which have schools in the area. Another university is actually the city campus of the UNC system. It is a decent option for those who want to live at home and commute. The military is an attractive option for some others. It all depends on the guidance the student is getting. I find this area to be very open to different ways to being self sufficient adults.

  8. The NY Times recently ran an article about the over-abundance of law schools. What is the point of going to a 3rd or 4th tier law school paid for via loans?

    I remember looking at SUNY Binghamton for CS/Engineering and it was not (at that time anyway) a full major. Much as I liked the campus, I crossed it off my list. How are these courses marketed (“they didn’t have a full CS major. It was a minor within math”)?

  9. I think part of the problem is that for high school kids there is a lot of college counseling but not a lot of career counseling. No one to walk kids through what a degree in __________ really means for a living. No one to talk to them about what kind of life they think they might like later on, e.g., travel or living in one place, children/no children etc…. No one to explain that sometimes when doing what you love is how you pay your rent, you don’t love it so much anymore.

    I agree with all the other posters about more trade schools. Gonna need a human being to come wire your house for the foreseeable future. Not so much with a lot of other jobs.

  10. No one to walk kids through what a degree in __________ really means for a living

    I think that’s most like due to the fact that 3/4 of college grads have a job that isn’t closely related to their major. This group is unusual in that a significant percentage of people actually do have jobs closely related to their majors.

  11. I feel better now…we have been enouraging my rising Junior to (1) figure out what she wants to study/do using at least the tools on the Naviance site, (2) figure out what schools have that major and which ones are “better”. She has figured out that while the idea of being a librarian fits with her love of books, it wouldn’t pay enough to have everything she wants. So, right now math, science, computer science and engineering options are being considered.

  12. I was having a discussion over the weekend with the mother of a girl who wants to go into the dental field. I say “dental field” because it could be that she lands up being either a dentist or dental hygienist. Now, she’ll have to figure out what it takes and how much it costs for each of those paths.

  13. Rhett said ” think that’s most like due to the fact that 3/4 of college grads have a job that isn’t closely related to their major. ”
    I agree, but kids are also not counseled on what that means for them. One of DH’s cousins did an English degree because he loved literature, not realizing he wouldn’t be spending his life doing literature. He now sets up classroom technology for one of the for profit career schools. Kids who major in things like history and English need to think about what they may spend the next 40 years doing.

    I think one of the reasons for the overabundance of law schools is that it is the main option for people who don’t have quantitative skills and who don’t want an MBA

  14. Kids who major in things like history and English need to think about what they may spend the next 40 years doing.

    Wouldn’t that be true of any major?

  15. There are a lot of law schools because they are huge profit centers for universities. The only costs are people.

    I think those of you who are in Engineering/Sciences, etc. have this view that your major needs to equate to your career because it does in your cases. I’m a fan of liberal arts degrees and I have a ton of friends from college who majored in English, French, History, etc. who are doing very well for themselves. Who cares if they have unrelated jobs to their major? My husband was an environmental sciences major in college, and went to law school to become an environmental lawyer and is now a corporate lawyer. I was an English major that went into development/fundraising. I know History majors that work on Wall Street. There are a ton of career possibilities out there even for Philosophy majors.

  16. Atlanta: As a liberal arts major, I tend to agree with you. However, we are old and the job market/ economy have shifted since we graduated. Does the same trend hold true for Millennials with liberal arts degrees who are not educated at top colleges?

  17. Atlanta – I think the issue happens when you get this 4 year (or more) degree and it’s time to start looking for a job. For some, that is the first time they give any thought to what they want to do. At that point, they can be very lost about what to apply for, where or even how to translate what they learned into that field. I think it bogs down their job search and they end up back home.

    If they even have an idea about what they are interested in and then know they are on one of the paths to reach that field, they are better off.

  18. Houston – I assume colleges are better about career advising than they probably were when I was there but maybe not. I do know friends who hire kids graduating from our alma mater for entry level jobs at their telecommunications and media companies so I’d have to ask them what the process is. I know they go back once a year or so and talk to students interested in their careers and they host students in NYC that are interested. Colleges seem to have an awful lot of mentorship programs that weren’t necessarily there when I was in school.

  19. “At that point, they can be very lost about what to apply for, where or even how to translate what they learned into that field.”

    Yes, this was me. I decided to give grad school a try at that point and ended up going to law school. But I went to a top tier law school. I also had very little debt at that point. Once I got to law school I actually really hated it the first year and nearly dropped out, but was sorta screwed because I was then more deeply in debt. Luckily I did really well, started to like it and landed on my feet.

    Moving back home was only an option if I had a job lined up and was there to save money and payoff debt and it would be only for a limited time. (DH’s path.) My parents would not have supported me if I wasn’t at least working at something full time (unlike my SIL who at an age over 30 is still mooching off her parents).

    My parents were shocked I went to law school but really offered no support in finding a post-undergraduate job. That was what the university career center was for. (I never found them to be at all helpful.)

  20. Georgia State University just absorbed the local community college so that they are now Georgia Perimeter College at Georgia State. The CC still awards Associate degrees but there will supposedly now be a more streamlined approach for those students who are going onto their four year degrees. Georgia State is now investing in a lot of resources (more counselors) into making sure those students who are continuing on to a four year degree stay on the correct path (making sure they are taking the right courses, etc.).

  21. My parents never gave me any advice in selecting colleges, majors, or jobs. I didn’t give my decisions as much thought as they deserved. Luckily, things turned out OK.

  22. My dad’s only advice to me was to never go into retail. Get a professional degree in something that you can do anywhere – dentist, accountant, etc.

  23. Not a fan of the article, as it seems to imply that the fundamental error is the government choosing to involve itself in educating its citizenry and ergo causing a crisis by the lure of easy money. I think the goal of a well-educated citizenry is one of the best investments a government can make; I would argue the GI Bill played a huge role in the post-war boom; my own FIL got his leg up in the world via NYC’s generous offer of a free college education for its citizens; and even I got a law school education for under $10K, courtesy of a big pot of oil money that the state devoted to subsidizing its universities. An affordable college education is the clearest way I know to provide opportunity to those who aren’t born into an UMC life.

    IMO, the problem arose when colleges became expected to operate more like businesses. Businesses exist to maximize their own profits, which means charging as much for their products and services as they can. 20-30 years ago, state legislatures began demanding that their state colleges pay their own way, so they cut back on allocations. The schools could have responded by cutting services or raising prices, but in the world of 801 different college rankings, cutting services is death, so they chose to raise their prices. (This also provides a perverse incentive for the schools to do student-unfriendly things like cut back on staffing/required classes so that students need to spend an extra year, or shunting kids into non-creditable remedial classes, or imposing their own specific and opaque prerequisites when they really should be creating a smooth path from CC through graduation at a 4-yr school.)

    I would argue that the huge growth in student loans was the “let’s keep things as market-based as we can” solution to a problem that the “run public colleges like a business” approach caused. When you stop subsidizing schools, tuition goes up; when the tuition goes up, fewer and fewer people can afford it (and many of those who could also have private options, so the universe of full-pay becomes even smaller, and the need to appeal to those folks in turn makes the US News & World Reports rankings even more important). But at some point, raising prices means insufficient numbers of customers can afford the product, and the company goes out of business. So if the gov’t wanted to maintain its educational system and educate its citizenry, the only options were to re-subsidize (which was a political nonstarter at the state level, and not something the feds could do directly given our federalist system), or provide easier access to loans to pay for it. Which then enabled further increases in price. Which then, after a few decades of cost spirals, ultimately created openings for “for-profit” universities, because there’s basically no such thing as a cheap state school any more (and the CCs, which are supposed to be offering many of the same “certificate”-style programs and technical training at much more affordable price, get people caught up in the whole requirements and remedial education loop, and hey, these other schools will just let me in and loan me money). And the real kicker at the end of the day is that the loan system is not really market-based, because those loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy like every other loan is.

    I am a fan of going in the other direction. Simpler, more basic, affordable education, at much lower costs to the students, with more of the costs paid by state and federal subsidies. Make use of MOOCs for intro-level work, make use of CCs for vo-tech training. Look at what your competition is doing right: why are so many kids willing to commit so much money to for-profit institutions, despite horrid graduation rates and employment histories?

    Of course, the problem is there is no incentive for the schools or the state legislatures to change anything — they’re not the ones stuck with unaffordable loans and no job prospects. So externalities win again.

  24. “CC may be a poor choice for kids who want to do engineering, computer science, or other majors with a long prerequisite chain.”

    OTOH, I went to school with a number of kids who went to CC for a year or two before transferring to flagship U to complete their engineering degrees. From what I saw, one year was optimal for kids who were fairly well prepared for engineering, as the CCs they attended offered a full year of calculus as well as at least the first semester of physics. More recently, I’ve seen that the CC nearest my home also offers some of the freshman-level engineering classes as well (e.g., introductory logic design, programming).

    But as WCE pointed out, it was important that these kids received counseling and were familiar with the engineering requirements. It helped that the CCs and flagship U are part of the same college system, so there was no issue with transferablility of credits, and the CCs had resources to help their students learn about the flagship U engineering requirements.

  25. LfB, are you suggesting that the Feds replace a large part of the state subsidies that have gone away, rather than spend so much on loan subsidies, and perhaps even outright grants?

  26. Rhett said “Wouldn’t that be true of any major?” with regards to the idea that you are likely to not end up working in the field that you majored in.

    I think it depends on the major. If you get your degree in nursing, you are likely to end up working in nursing, and I would assume anyone who chooses that major has already thought about whether he or she wants to be a nurse. Same for engineering, education, accounting, computer science, occupational therapy, and so on. Yes, of course some kids get degrees in those fields and then leave, but most end up working at a job related to their degree. This isn’t true of liberal arts majors for the most part, and I think a big problem for kids who major in those fields is that they don’t realize it, and haven’t thought about what they can do for the rest of their life. Obviously, a history degree can be great preparation for lots of careers, but you need to be thinking about the path you want to take post-history. That is part of what led to the law school bubble – a law degree became kind of the default path for people who had majored in a liberal arts field but hadn’t thought too much about career options. The universities wouldn’t have expanded their law schools if there hadn’t been a market of willing students

  27. LfB said “. Make use of MOOCs for intro-level work, “.
    Schools that have experimented with using MOOVs at the freshman level have pretty much abandoned the idea – look at what happened at San Jose State, for example. Freshmen are the worst possible audience for MOOCs. It seems to me that the companies like Coursera are now targeting working adults that need to learn some skill for their jobs. Which makes sense. I always thought that coporate training was a natural fit for MOOCs

  28. A couple of DS’ classmates moms are Art History majors, and both work at the local art museum.

  29. LfB said “mposing their own specific and opaque prerequisites when they really should be creating a smooth path from CC through graduation at a 4-yr school”

    We really don’t do this to be meanies! There are certain things that students need to know before going into upper division courses, and if they don’t have it, they will not succeed. Our students need to have some level of competence at programming, and be familiar with the standard data structures and algorithms before they go into upper division courses. If they haven’t gotten through college algebra, they aren’t going to succeed in calculus. In fact, one big problem we have is that administrators who do some of the advising are so eager to smooth the transfer path for kids coming from CCs that they approve completely ridiculous courses. I had to deal recently with a student who was allowed to transfer a course in Microsoft applications as his required data structures course!!!! The poor kid was failing in one of the upper division courses because he had no background. I have seen this happen a bunch of times

    We aggresively court CCs to set up articulation agreements. The problem is, not all of them are interested

  30. “I think part of the problem is that for high school kids there is a lot of college counseling but not a lot of career counseling. ”

    Way, way, back when I was in HS, a required class for all freshmen was Guidance, and much of the time in that class was spent learning about different careers and the paths required for those careers. College was not a focus beyond which careers required different levels of college, and some effort was made to make sure kids interested in certain careers requiring college degrees were aware that they needed to make HS class choices with that in mind.

  31. One more thing before I get back to work. We have this career services model in which the career services people are embedded within the majors. The two who deal with us have offices very close to mine, and I chat with them all the time. I feel so sorry for them. They try and try and try, but can’t get students interest. They have internship listings, resume workshops, meet n’ greet event set up with local employers, panels on career opportunities – but getting the students to show up is a huge struggle.

  32. “We aggresively court CCs to set up articulation agreements. The problem is, not all of them are interested”

    I think this is entirely consistent with my earlier post that my engineering classmates who’d started in CCs were able to succeed, in no small part, due to the fact that those CCs were part of the same college system and that there was coordination between the CCs and flagship U.

    BTW, I’ve heard that this level of coordination between flaghip U and the CCs facilitates kids graduating sooner, because they’re able to mix and match classes at the CCs and flaghip U. E.g., kids accepted to and attending flagship U will sometimes be simultaneously taking classes at CCs, especially when they can’t take those classes at flagship U due to not being offered there, or having a conflict with another class.

  33. “They have internship listings, resume workshops, meet n’ greet event set up with local employers, panels on career opportunities – but getting the students to show up is a huge struggle.”

    As we discussed recently, a surefire way to get students to show up to these events is to offer free food.

  34. I agree that student aptitude and motivation are huge issues. I suspect that motivation is an even bigger factor at Large State U than at Small Private College. I remember realizing that there was only one section of technical writing (which always filled immediately and was oversubscribe) that would fit with the engineering courses I needed to take the next semester and logging on at precisely 7 AM and choosing that section of technical writing first, before the rest of my engineering classes. Why the university didn’t just open up more sections of technical writing (a worthless course that existed to subsidize grad student TA’s in English) is beyond me.

    I agree with offering student aid for vocational/technical tracks. The problem I see is living expenses while in school, because federal grants and subsidized loans aren’t adequate for living expenses, books, and tuition, especially for students who already have children.

    Information on career paths is pretty easy to get now, compared to when I was in school. I think people just aren’t motivated to plan a course and stick with it. ATM mentioned how her law school decision worked out well but had a scary period. One of my talented high school counterparts went to dental school for a year or two before deciding to attend law school. This is the type of transition that probably can’t/shouldn’t be supported by a federal student loan program, because too many of the people who make such a transition would not be successful in the second professional program.

    Overall, they money that states used to provide to universities has gone to Medicaid, because states have decided it is more important to subsidize medical care than higher education. I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about that decision.

  35. They still have a mandatory advisory class, in which they are required to think about possible careers, college, what sort of a resume they currently have, and so on. But they can’t make kids care . . . In fact, my oldest almost failed it last semester (it’s pass fail) due to not turning in the (not overly burdensome) assigned work.

    My son:

  36. “If you get your degree in nursing, you are likely to end up working in nursing, and I would assume anyone who chooses that major has already thought about whether he or she wants to be a nurse. Same for engineering, education, accounting, computer science, occupational therapy, and so on.”

    Very broadly generalize, IME, engineering majors choose engineering for three main reasons, which sometimes overlap:

    -They have some level of familiarity with what engineers do, and want to do that.
    -They did well in math and science in HS, and had engineering suggested, or were pushed to engineering, by their counselors.
    -They were attracted by engineering salaries.

    As WCE and I have discussed, female engineering majors often fall into the second category. IME, female engineers seem to leave engineering for other fields or to be SAHP at higher rates than male engineers, and I theorize that is in part because they were often not drawn to engineering, but rather were pushed.

    More generally, I think those who fall into the second and third categories don’t necessarily put a lot of thought into what engineering entails. And many so-called engineering jobs don’t involve much real engineering.

    And back to the OT, those who fall into the first category but not the second often wash out of engineering, and the process of washing out often increases the debt load of those students while delaying the start of paying off those loans. WCE has mentioned before the correlation between poor SAT/ACT scores and such washouts, and these kids are examples of the poor risks she refers to in the OP. Some screening of kids prior to making loans would help reduce the problem.

  37. My career center was very helpful back in the day. I went to a few workshops & career events, but I was in there quite often my last two years going through internships & job postings. Attendance was not high, even for people from the Business department where hardly anyone was going onto grad school immediately. It was a career center job posting that led to a plum summer internship & then my first FT job with a top company. In fact, I am almost positive that my previous internships were via postings in the Career Center as well. I went to a small school, but area companies big & small still recruited there. I don’t know how that works today – this was the mid-late 90’s so job postings were not really online yet. By the time I was looking for my second job in 2000, all the postings were online.

  38. We have 50 community college districts (with even more campuses – 11 in my CC district alone) in my state. Making sure they all align with the 6 large university systems (with about 35 campuses), plus 12 independent public/private colleges/universities is likely not realistic at the level of transferability you would want.

    Our legislature is making the public schools give the students credit for CC classes, but the school can designate them as an elective if the course is in their major, but isn’t deemed to be equal to the university’s course.

    Then they overlaid “dual credit” in the process which designates certain high school classes as the same as CC courses.

    This has raised the question about AP vs dual credit in my “mom” group because AP credit (if you do well enough) appears to be more easily transferred to colleges/universities than dual credit.

  39. And many so-called engineering jobs don’t involve much real engineering.

    Then is part of the cost and resulting debt due to teaching people more than they will actually need to know to do their eventual jobs?

  40. Rhett, in the case of engineering it may have more to do with the engineering profession’s guild-like behavior — successfully convincing large employers that whole categories of jobs should be available only to engineering graduates, not to, say, physics or chem graduates. So you end up with some jobs that don’t require ‘real engineers’ but still must be filled with someone holding an engineering degree.

  41. Agree with HM that most engineering jobs don’t require much engineering knowledge. To the extent that they are engineering jobs, it’s because of the type of thinking they require, not the body of knowledge imparted to the engineer in school.

    I’m realizing that I may have found a unique, WCE-appropriate niche, however. My employer let go a contractor they hired after me (despite his PhD and decades of experience) because he wasn’t “picking it up”. As a development engineer, I try to be “plug and play” and I solve new, varied problems adequately. My employer is finding that most contractors are narrower, more specialized and less willing to consult with current employees (and look stupid) in order to make progress. My employer has also made some odd decisions (laying off the senior level environmental staff) so I’ve gotten to play some roles that I wouldn’t assign to contractors, if I were running the company.

  42. HM,

    What about law school?

    When Mr. Berner joined the Valparaiso faculty in 1971, he was one of nine professors, and the school focused primarily on legal instruction. But in the mid- to late 1980s, he said, the school put an increasing emphasis on legal scholarship and recruited faculty members who could produce it. Across the country, many law schools were undergoing a similar evolution.

    It’s no coincidence that the average law school faculty began to grow quickly around this time: Each professor was teaching fewer courses to make time for research. Mr. Berner said he went from teaching 15 or 16 credit hours a year — typically five classes — to no more than 12. Every law school seemed to want to emulate Harvard and Yale.


    It seems these folks are in so much debt because they are being taught wildly more than they will need to know to practice law in northern Indiana. My understanding is that what you need to know to pass the bar is actually taught by BARBRI whereas in times past that was taught in Law School.

  43. The idea that fewer people should go to college keeps being pushed, ignoring this fact “More than 90 percent of college-educated men are in the workforce, compared with 83 percent of those with a high school diploma or less.”

    Everyone viscerally knows this, and it is the main reason that downsizing the number of students going to college is an idea that isn’t going to go anywhere

  44. “figure out what she wants to study/do using at least the tools on the Naviance site”

    What Naviance tools will help her with that?

    That’s DS’ big problem– he still doesn’t know what major to choose. His problem is he likes all kinds of stuff, and he hasn’t run into much to suggest he can’t do well in any given subject. He has at least been able to identify some career paths he doesn’t want to take, which has been the about only thing so far to help narrow his choices.

  45. The idea that fewer people should go to college keeps being pushed, ignoring this fact “More than 90 percent of college-educated men are in the workforce, compared with 83 percent of those with a high school diploma or less.”

    You’re confusing correlation with causation. Simply forcing more people, who have neither the IQ nor executive function to succeed in college, through the process isn’t going to make them more employable.

  46. I am curious what careers you guys talk about with your kids, in terms of pointing out possibilities to them.

  47. Rhett, I didn’t say anything about causation. And no one is forcing low IQ people to go to college. Rather, they look around, and despite their low IQ, they are smart enough to see that their friends who went to college are doing better than their friends who stopped after high school. And so they CHOOSE to go to college. It doesn’t matter whether it is correlation or causation. People are making choices based on what they observe and read.

  48. Rhett, the thing with BarBri is that it’s actually a review of classes you took earlier, prior to taking the bar exam, so I don’t think it would be so effective as a standalone. But I’d say law school could be a two-year program instead of a three-year program. As I recall, the first two years were when we did most of the classes that you’d want anyone offering their services as a lawyer to have at least a passing familiarity with — torts, contracts, property law, civil procedure, criminal procedure, criminal law. Stuff like international law, judicial philosophy, corporate law, environmental / regulatory law, intellectual property, that’s essential for various legal specialties but not what you’d necessarily need to hang out your shingle in a mid-sized town, was more during the third year, and some of the second year.

  49. I think part of the definition may be “college-educated.” My family has a mix of people with 4 year degrees and without, but the people without 4 year degrees work as an X-ray technician, loan officer at a bank branch, home childcare provider, produce department manager, insurance agent, physical therapy assistant, pipefitter and firefighter. The Management Information Systems guy got a raise, but kept doing the same job, when he finished his (employer-paid-for) degree.

    The bulk of the population has less than a 4 year degree but more than a high school diploma.

  50. Rhett – What makes you think having sufficient knowledge to pass the bar has much to do with practicing law?

    Which raises another good point.

  51. “I am curious what careers you guys talk about with your kids, in terms of pointing out possibilities to them.”

    There was an ad in the local paper recently for a cigar-roller. I brought that to DS2’s & DS3’s attention in case their other career plans don’t work out.

  52. HM, for me BarBri was a standalone course :)

    Neither BarBri nor the vast majority of my coursework had any bearing on my practice, despite my effort to take only classes with statute books.

    But then my school was famous for that, so I knew it ahead of time. Made BarBri pretty nerve wracking, though!

  53. “I am curious what careers you guys talk about with your kids, in terms of pointing out possibilities to them.”

    We’ve been talking to DS about it a lot over the last couple of years, as it will definitely affect his college choices.

    Obviously, engineering has been discussed, and it’s something he’s seriously considering, although not necessarily as a long-term career, but as a BS prior to grad school. He’s indicated that he wants to pursue an undergrad major that will prepare him for a well-paying job on its own.

    DW wants DS to become an MD, but DS isn’t really interested in seeing patients. OTOH, he is interested in medical research, like the dad of one of DS’ close friends. An MD friend who does some research (although she has a regular practice to pay bills) has indicated that she would hire DS as an intern once he’s a college student, which will give him a chance to see if he wants to pursue that, in which case he’d probably be looking at an MD/PhD program. He’d also probably choose biomedical or perhaps biochemical engineering if he’s going to pursue this.

    We’ve also discussed law. He’s quite interested in that, and has been following the SC quite closely over the last couple of years, but I’m also thinking that there aren’t that many jobs to argue cases at that level. I’m also concerned that there may be a glut of lawyers.

  54. Finn – You tuber? Kidding, that’s what my kids are talking about these days.

    I read a real estate article recently where the purchaser created viral videos for a living, enough to afford a home going for over $700k.

  55. Finn, if he majors in biochemistry or a similar hard science, he can take the patent bar after law school and that is (afaik) still a lucrative and high demand field, because there are not a lot of people who can do both science and law at the necessary level.

    I wound up being sorry I didn’t do a dual science major, because patent law is more family friendly than my (former) specialty.

  56. Do NOT suggest Compliance positions. You take on a lot of personal risk (these days) for an un/under-appreciated role, often without being adequately compensated financially (in my view).

  57. I know a science PhD who went to law school and the son of a friend who did electrical engineering followed by patent law. Both seem fairly happy as patent attorneys, though they still work more hours than I would be willing to work. 2-3 nights/week seem to be devoted to client dinners.

  58. Do NOT suggest Compliance positions.

    I’m not saying actually do the job, I’m saying provide the tools. Like the gold rush, the real money wasn’t in mining it was in providing goods and services to the miners.

  59. And Finn, probably the most lucrative and booming industry now? Data security! Companies are now so worried about hacking that there is basically no push-back when it comes to cost. If you have the skills you can write your own ticket.

  60. My understanding is that student loans can’t be wiped out through bankruptcy. I wonder what would happen if that law changed – more risk for the lender so maybe higher interest rates and harder loan application processes. I could see where there could be inequality issues, but if people had to go through more hoops to get student loans, they might be less likely to make bad investment decisions (says me who feels that college is partly a consumer decision vs. an investment decision).

    if I give my kids any career / major advice, it will be to take as much math as possible.

  61. I’ll argue that math, too, is a threshold variable. Another bridesmaid at the recent math camp wedding/reunion was a math camp attendee who decided to become a dentist. (I was a math camp attendee who decided to become an engineer.) She has three sons just older than mine and has been able to work flexibly.

    The dedicated mathletes moved around for grad school/postdocs. The most successful are tenure-track professors and about half are single. If you love math, the demands of academia may be appropriate, but I never think, “I should have gone to grad school in math instead of getting an engineering degree and a job at 21.”

    I just don’t like math that much. I also (in case y’all haven’t observed this already) am a work-to-live person and not a live-to-work person.

    I’ll probably try to explain to my kids the effects of career choice on where you can live, and possibly encourage them to become adequately fluent in Spanish.

  62. “You tuber?”

    I’ve discussed this with both kids. DD in particular was impressed by the income of youtuber nigahiga, a local guy not a whole lot older than DS with net worth and annual earnings well into 7 figures, and whose videos both kids enjoyed.

    One of the things we discussed was how being a youtuber isn’t necessarily a sustainable long-term career, but worth a shot when they’re young and don’t have a lot of financial responsibilities, or as a complement to another job with better prospects for long-term sustainability.

  63. That article on the Valpo Law School was very depressing, on so many levels. How can schools keep taking money from students who cannot reasonably be expected to pass the bar exam, let alone get a job for which a J.D. is required? The recent graduates who are engaged have half a million dollars in student loans. What were they thinking? Neither one can find a job and they are planning to open their own practices (not one, but two practices) in an economically depressed part of the country with an apparent glut of lawyers. The young woman who has twice failed the bar exam and is working as a store clerk and planning to take it again because someone told her that if she works hard enough, she can do anything she wants.

  64. One of my students introduced me to a career choice I had never been aware of before: making YouTube videos on sneaker refurbishment, while selling your services at the same time. There is actually at least one person who has a successful business doing that. YouTube-based sneaker refurbishment! Who’d have thunk?

  65. making YouTube videos on sneaker refurbishment, while selling your services at the same time.

    I could totally see that working for all kinds of repair / refurb. People with a broken whatever google for a how-to-fix video, after watching think “so it’s doable, but maybe more fiddly than I really want to deal with, and here’s this business that’ll just fix it for me for only $– more than the parts would cost me anyway, and then I don’t have to worry about accidentally screwing it up!”

  66. “Who’d have thunk?”

    I’ve viewed a bunch of those videos. Ever since I’ve moved back here, I’ve had all kinds of problems with glue failures on shoes, most typically, failure of the glue that initially holds the soles to the rest of the shoes.

    I’ve had some success with Gorilla Glue.

  67. “I’ll probably try to explain to my kids the effects of career choice on where you can live”

    Househunters can be helpful with this. We don’t watch it as much as we used to, but when we do, we like to note the occupations of the househunters in relation to where they’re hunting, what kinds of houses they’re looking at, and how much they cost.

  68. Finn, do you have better luck with Gorilla Glue than Shoe Goo? We have lots of glue failures too (standing water on the playground, anyone?) and I’ve been using Shoe Goo.

  69. Student loans can’t be wiped out through bankruptcy which should change. There is no reason that student loans should be less dischargeable than credit card debt.

    We have a close friend who got his BS in Engineering, worked for one of the auto companies for a year or two and then went to law school. Now he’s a patent attorney and doing very very well. My husband was also in law school with an MD (a neurosurgeon) who wanted to get out of medicine.

  70. We talk a lot about careers and interesting quirky jobs and how the content of what one studies at college is not as important as the skills in writing and analysis one acquires in the process. DH and I have both known lots of successful people who studied esoteric subjects that have little apparent connection to their jobs, but we also know tons of parents of college-age kids who are convinced that, say, history majors can only work as historians, and that majoring in finance is the key to lifelong happiness.

  71. Shoe goo was the first thing I tried to re-glue soles to shoes, but that didn’t work well at all for that. It’s OK for patching holes, or building up parts of soles that wear.

  72. One of the comments on the Valparaiso article is pasted below. It supports what I hypothesized when I considered law school. For those of you with knowledge of the law profession, how true is it?

    Comment: “I have been a law firm administrator for the last 25 years at the nation’s Top 10 AmLaw firms in New York City. Law is a caste system. It’s rare to come across a new lawyer who comes from a working class family without “1% ” ties that made it into the game. What’s really sad is that it’s not necessarily THE BEST lawyers getting through schools and getting mega watt salaries to start. It’s the ones that have family money, the “right” connections and best mentoring from those at the top of the food chain. It’s a club – and you have to be very, very special, lucky and supremely motivated to make it to the top caste without legacy, connections and cash.”

  73. Student loans can’t be wiped out through bankruptcy which should change. There is no reason that student loans should be less dischargeable than credit card debt.

    The problem is then that everybody would take out as many student loans as they could, finish college (or drop out), and file bankruptcy to get the loans wiped out. It’s an easy case: you’re unemployed or maybe working a part time job for $12 an hour, have no assets except maybe a few hundred bucks in the bank and a cheap car, and have $100,000 in debt. And at 22, there’s no real harm to taking the hit to your credit rating.

  74. And while you are at it, you might as well rack up tens of thousands in credit card debt since you can get that discharged as well.

  75. The problem is then that everybody would take out as many student loans as they could, finish college (or drop out), and file bankruptcy to get the loans wiped out.

    There is no reason that needs to be the case. The judge could be allowed to weigh your employability and earning potential before allowing discharge under bankruptcy.

  76. DD.

    You could also disallow student loan bankruptcy for X years after the loan was made.

  77. WCE,

    From this weeks NYTimes Wedding Annoucements:

    Mr. Kempner, 28, is a law clerk in Boston for Judge Douglas P. Woodlock of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. In November, he is to begin work as an associate in the litigation department of the San Francisco law firm Cooley. He received a law degree from Stanford.

    His mother, who retired as a partner in the New York law firm Coudert Brothers, is the vice chairwoman of the boards of the Juilliard School and the Roundabout Theater Company, both in New York. She is also a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History. His father is a founder and the managing partner in Davidson Kempner Capital Management, an investment management firm in New York. He is the chairman of the Central Park Conservancy in New York, and is on the boards of the Harvard Management Company in Boston, which oversees the endowment and financial assets of Harvard University, and Harlem Village Academies, a network of five charter schools in New York.

    The groom is a grandson of the late Nan Kempner, the New York socialite.

  78. Denver – I’m not so sure. Why would someone run up hundreds of thousands of dollars just to go to school? I think those cases would be few and far between. It’s far easier to run up tens of thousands of dollars in debt on various credit cards without having to go to school. And as someone mentioned up thread, lending parameters would probably be tightened up a bit.

  79. The problem I saw with one babysitter is that you can borrow money for both tuition and “living expenses” with no realistic way to pay it back.

  80. Elite law is very hierarchical but I disagree that it’s limited to the 1%. I made it there with zero connections and so did a nephew. There were more doctors’ and lawyers’ kids in my law school class than working class kids, but what the top firms cares about was GPA and Law Review. IMO law is a viable path to prosperity for a brilliant but unconnected kid who is willing to put on the hours doing the young associate grunt work.

  81. Career discussions with my kids – DS is very interested in engineering. Not surprising since that is the family trade. DD is a little more difficult as she can do the academics very well but is also interested in crafts. Her dream job would be the business of design/fashion. Her interests would not make for a straight career path.

  82. Denver – I’m not so sure. Why would someone run up hundreds of thousands of dollars just to go to school?

    Because they knew they could have it discharged in bankruptcy after they graduated.

  83. There is no reason that needs to be the case. The judge could be allowed to weigh your employability and earning potential before allowing discharge under bankruptcy.

    So more incentive to major in Liberal Arts so you can keep your employability and earning potential down. :)

  84. WCE – I agree w/Scarlett, although it may be more true for top ten firms. I think most of the top 100 firms pay similar salaries and most people would probably be happier working for a non top ten firm. I have seen kids of clients get law firm jobs that they otherwise were not qualified for but that is not often.

  85. Per my kid and the guidance counselor…I have no direct access to Naviance….there is career exploration component.

    Career discussions – my DD#1 is not particularly interested in anything medical related that requires dealing iwth people. Medical research – maybe – but she isn’t sure how to get through medical school without having to deal with patients. We have kind of run down a variety of trails on this topic. Though her best friend is seriously thinking about physical therapy.

    She really enjoyed cryptography/code breaking camp – which partly tied in with computer security. She’s been to several engineering camps and taking courses in high school. It is of general interest, but she has already ruled out civil engineering. She’s been sort of puttering around on the College Board’s site where it tells you career areas and college majors that are somewhat linked to AP classes. A couple of things caught her eye under Chemistry, but I can’t recall off the top of my head. I think that is where the idea of pharmecutical science vs. pharmacist came into a discussion she started with me the other day.

    College Education – I think that MANY jobs require more education than high school, but not all of them require a 4-year college degree. At least around here, we are sorely lacking workers trained in trades. Welders make in the $40-50,000 range, which is the same range as teachers. You are comparing making roughly the same amount, with welding you need trade school or associates degree and teaching you need at least a bachelors.

  86. Also agree with Scarlett. Although I did get a very good 1L job from a connection, the brother-in-law of my first grade teacher. :)

  87. “I am curious what careers you guys talk about with your kids, in terms of pointing out possibilities to them.”

    With both of our kids we used the analogy of an open door. Studying things that required math/science/computer abilities help keep the door to possible jobs open wider than following a path towards something like a Poli Sci or English degree (not picking on those majors, though!).
    The goal is to keep your options open as much as you can while you are in school and trying to figure out what you want to do for your career.

    When DD got into the business school of her university (state flagship school) I advised her to pursue the specialty areas that required math (I believe they were Accounting, Operations Research, Information Systems and Finance – or close to that) rather than Human Resources or Marketing. My reasoning was that you can always move from Accounting to Human Resources in a company, but you can’t go the other way.

    DS is pursuing a double major in Civil Engineering and Political Science. The first year or two we were waiting for the call to say that he was dropping Civ E, but it never came. Hopefully it won’t come, since he has finished his 3rd year, and has a great summer job in engineering!

    Someone posted about a liberal arts degree from a top school – DS has a grammar school classmate who is studying something like Government and Art History at Dartmouth, and she is interning in banking in NYC this summer.

  88. “a double major in Civil Engineering and Political Science”

    A good combination, given how much CE work comes from government entities.

  89. Denver, Ada –

    Almost two weeks ago I fell off the dock and landed on my back as it hit the edge of the dock. It was really stupid and extremely painful, but on the side, not on any bones–above the hips, to the right of the spine, and below the ribs. The bruise was hideously black and blue, but the damage all seemed to be well under the skin, as the surface only had some minor scraping.

    Now the muscle soreness is mostly vanished, but the area still gets these sharp, searing localized pains, and it’s swollen, like puffy swollen. I’m thinking it’s either (and tell me if such things exist) a scab on the inside where blood has clotted to heal, or a blister on the inside, but whatever it is, it hurts like the Devil. I still can’t sleep on my side as I prefer, so I’m not sleeping as well and averaging two nightmares a night:: one at 2 am and one starting at 4:30.

    Sometimes it doesn’t hurt at all, until I stretch too much or walk down steps and it gets jarred, then it feels like a scab is being torn apart. Is it possible at it’s a blister or scab? I feel like there’s this puffy bag that I want to stick a needle into, but it’s not like a foot blister that can actually be popped, because it’s well underneath healthy skin.

  90. Austin – an acquaintance is a Chemistry PhD and has had some jobs she really enjoyed with companies that make products like shampoo, moisturizer, scented products, etc. She is routinely recruited to new companies, so it appears that there is plenty of demand, and she seems to really enjoy the work.

    On CC – I have found that colleges here and in other states have a wealth of info on their sites on exactly what transfers and what the equivalent course is. You can look up the degree sheet for a planned major, select any course and then select a CC from a drop down box and it will tell you what course at that CC transfers to the university to meet that requirement. Even the out of state university my DD attended had our local CC in their list so she could make sure the Calc class she wanted to take over the summer would meet the requirement. Within Texas, they have standardized course numbers that help you figure out what transfers. Three hours at our local CC costs about $200 or so, while it costs about $1100 for the equivalent course at a 4-year university. It is certainly a way to save some money on the cost of the 4 year degree. I don’t know the quality of the engineering prerequisite classes at CC, so like others that is something I would investigate. But may of the lower-level courses would be fine st CC.

  91. The twin thrusts of my career advice to my kids is 1) keep your options open 2) go into something you can actually make a living at.

    DS1 is scary smart at math. It isn’t just that he gets good grades in math, although he does. But he reads math books for fun, and understands them. He just sucks the math in. Right now he is looking for a book on Baysian statistics. He read a calculus textbook last fall, and is happy to discuss calclus with us. He is also really good in computer science – not at churning code, but understanding the algorithms. It just comes naturally to him. I cannot imagine he would go into anything that doesn’t involve a lot of math and computation. He also is an excellent artist and a good violinist (was concertmaster the last year he was able to take orchestra). Of course, with those abilities he should be targeting Stanford or something, but ADHD kills him and will definitely affect his career choices. I don’t think he has the temperament to go into finance, unless as a quant working in a backroom. So I imagine he will do some kind of interesting computer science or mathematics – there is a lot of call for people who can do computational math, as well as data science.

    DS2 is harder. He is good at math and science – gets A’s – but iin a more typical way. He has to study it. He loves history, but career wise, when he learned that the most common field that history majors go into is law, he said “No way”. He would want to actually BE a historian, not use “critical thinking skills acquired in the major” to do something else. He is very visual, and since toddlerhood, has loved to build and assemble things. He makes endless Lego creations. He is also a good artist (though not a good musician, lol). So right now, he is undecided between civil engineering and architecture. I am guessing he willl go the civil engineering route because it is more secure. But who knows? I don’t see him in business – he doesn’t have the social skills and he says that although he is a competent Python programmer, it isn’t a direction he wants to go in.

    DD is going to go into business, start her own company, and spend her career bossing around other people. That is her favorite things to do. She also loves to build and make projects and says she either wants to be a fixit person, or a vetenarian, when she grows up.

  92. You can dual enroll here at the land grant and the community college. Mostly because of the student body, the community college is very good. My engineering professor acquaintance recommends that people take their courses at the community college when they can. My community college physics professor was way better than my land grant physics professor for the same class, probably because he became a community college professor because he wanted to teach physics.

    On careers: my sons are working on the difference between a veteran and a veterinarian. Sometimes it’s really funny when they mix them up.

    Has anyone done “a year of finance” with your ~high school junior where you sit them down for the monthly bill pay (credit cards, review of debit transactions, car/house insurance, medical bills, whatever), the annual medical insurance decisions and doing taxes? I’ll have to discuss with Mr WCE, but I’ve been thinking about that as a way to help my kids understand what makes our middle class household run.

  93. “Milo, have you seen a doctor for that?”

    Umm, what do you think I’m asking here for?

  94. “Umm, what do you think I’m asking here for?”

    Perhaps because you haven’t actually seen a doctor? The questions you were asking suggested that you hadn’t seen one for that.

  95. Finn – yes, I think that is part of his strategy. He interned for two congressional representatives last summer (and loved it), one of whom was on the transportation committee. He got to attend several hearings on transportation issues and really enjoyed it, and his job this summer is in the transportation industry. I think he may work in the private sector and then go into government work down the road. We’ll see. I’m just happy that he has reframed his view of Washington from House of Cards to The West Wing.

  96. “DD is going to go into business, start her own company, and spend her career bossing around other people.”

    I find it interesting that she seems headed in a stereotypical direction despite her non-typical upbringing.

  97. ssk, that’s great. We need people with practical experience in the positions making the types of decisions the DoT needs to make, and to help inform those without that background and experience.

  98. My immigrant parents were completely horrified when my brother told them that he was going to major in philosophy in college. “How on earth are you going to support a family with a philosophy degree???”, my mother screamed. Well, my brother got into a top law school (largely because he excelled in that philosophy major), was a law review editor, landed a plum job in BigLaw, and has had an incredibly successful career arguing appellate cases in front of courts all over the country. He is a prime example of Scarlett’s “brilliant but unconnected kid who is willing to put on the hours doing the young associate grunt work,” for whom law was (and continues to be) a great career choice.

  99. Ferhevvinsake, peeps, you can make a living in law without it being BigLaw. DH is a partner in a large regional firm. Partners typically make between $300K and $1M a year. Is it BigLaw? No. Are they all the scions of the captains of industry? No. DH’s dad, like my dad, was an engineer. But it’s a living, and it’s not a bad one.

  100. Scarlett, we don’t have a time machine (or a hot tub), but I think DS does have an interest in constitutional law, thus one reason to be looking at schools that could facilitate entry into the seemingly very small subset of schools whose alums argue those cases.

  101. Milo – It’s kind of neat that I’ve convinced you that I am a doctor. I actually am just a SLAC graduate who watched a lot of ER.

    You can’t really have a scab inside your body – that would imply you had blood inside a cavity where blood doesn’t belong. While you have convinced us that you are a very tough guy (maybe you are just a SLAC grad who watched a lot of NCIS?), most people with intra-abdominal bleeding aren’t able to wait it out a few weeks before thinking they need a doctor. Also, it doesn’t scab – it eventually gets absorbed after the peritonitis resolves. It is possible to have an abdominal wall hematoma, and that might progress like what you described. You could stick a need in it to be sure. If you are right – you have just introduced bacterial to a nutrient rich, sterile space, likely resulting in a terrible infection. If you are wrong, maybe you will puncture an loop of bowel – then you can see what peritonitis is actually like.

    In general, injuries should get a little better every day. Even if it takes a few weeks. However, a competent primary care provider (I would not go to a minute-clinic for this – you will be sent somewhere with a CT) should be able to smoosh on your belly and decide that you are just fine.

    In case the sarcasm isn’t apparent: Don’t put needles in your body. See a doctor if you’re worried. If you want to Google something, try “abdominal wall hematoma”.

  102. I have five friends (not counting the lawyers) who have English degrees (two from Ivies, three from Directional State). One has an MSW and very much enjoys providing inpatient therapy in a hospital setting (50k/yr), one is a librarian for the big county system (40k/year), one is a librarian in a specialized corporate library (100k/year), one directs a library at a fancy private school (130k/year with int’l package), one is director of a Do Good Nonprofit (150k/yr). Most of them have additional schooling. None came from connected families. I don’t think any of them imagined their current careers. None of them are trying to change fields, and I think they are pretty satisfied with salary and job (the two living in totebag poverty could get more lucrative jobs if they wanted). None of these jobs are easily outsourced (unlike my brother, who does a lot of coding – he is always competing with off-shore programmers).

    I just can’t get hung up on the STEM fields being the path to career success. I want my kids to develop their talents, but I fully expect them to land on their feet if they choose English.

  103. Trip report on our vacation.
    Montréal (just a taste), Québec and down the St Laurence for a couple of days in the countryside. Road Scholar (fka Elderhostel) 8 days.
    1. Weather was great. The choice of trip was to see how my husband would do 1 year after his hospitalization and subsequent cardiac rehab. He did really well despite all the walking but took breaks. The other people were very nice, solid middle class, we were the only northeast corridor, 50% N Carolina or non Fairfax VA, 30% other heartland, 6 Pacific Coast. Mostly couples. Overall, exceeded my admittedly low expectations. Fairly priced.
    2. Did we like being on a tour in a place for which it is optional (i.e. not dangerous or exotic)? It was okay. Too many lengthy group meals that were not a good use of our time or caloric allowance. But plenty of free/self directed time. Picking up on the topic from ten days ago, a bit heavy handed with the educational value, but this company was founded on tours for retired teachers. I would not choose to take another one just for convenience – there would have to be a very fine program or some situation where I really need someone else to do the driving. In going over the highlights of the trip, almost all of them were from activities we did outside the group context.
    3. Next summer is the 150th anniversary of Canada and 50th anniversary of Expo. Great events planned, should be busy and pricey. Montréal is getting a massive facelift this summer which made it hard to get around.
    4. For families I have one word. Bicycles. If that is your thing, you can get around the cities easily and even do countryside bike trips. Mooshi can weigh in on that mode of travel and also on French Canada.
    5. We will go back (only 6 hours ) in a couple of years when we get a new car – build a vacation around some of the cultural events in the summer. Québec and down the river were wonderful. It helps to speak French, but it is not mandatory.

  104. I don’t think any of them imagined their current careers.

    This is a huge point. There are so many jobs that HS and college students don’t know exist, heck even the rest of us don’t know about. And there are many ways to get to them.

  105. The more I learn about other people’s careers, the more I think about the accident of geography. Your career options are very different depending on where you grow up, and the return on education depends on what jobs are available where you live and what fraction of them require a college degree. Maybe some part of loan eligibility should be associated with willingness to move.

  106. Meme,
    That sounds like a win. Great that your DH was able to get out and enjoy it, and even though the trip was to a “safe” place, perhaps going with this group was the best way to begin his post-cardiac travel experiences, and to give you both a sense of what you might like to see the next time on your own.
    I agree with you on the bikes. We took three great week-long bike trips in Maine and Canada Before Kids, at a time when most of such tours were not geared towards families, but would love to do it again. Lots of empty nesters on our trips.

  107. @WCE – we have landed in a community with a ton of lawyers. As RMS mentioned they are at local firms and make quite a decent Totebaggy living.
    And I’ve met a lawyer who like NoB runs his own law firm, he is very involved in the community in order to market his services.

  108. On the career subject. DW works in big pharma. The company is 40,000 people who start with a chemistry, nursing or pharmacy undergrad degree and then get trained to do the work of the company after they get hired. Stats/math is also prevalent.

  109. I forgot to mention – Southern lawyers tend to be involved in their communities and go into politics. Usually not Ivy League law schools but regional schools.

  110. Ada – Thanks. It got a lot better overnight. What had gotten me perturbed was that, while the dull soreness had been healing ever since the fall, this sharp pain had developed later and worsened before improving. And it felt like a Ziplock sandwich bag filled with water and sewn up under the skin. Now it seems to have lost some of its volume.

    Google talks about “trauma blisters,” but those all seem to be bubbling of the actual skin.

  111. Milo – I’m not sure you will value a medical insight from a non-healthcare professional, but it does sound like a hematoma to me too. My DS had a bicycle accident that involved the handlebars and his lower abdomen. While initially it seemed like a rough crash that did more to damage his pride than anything else, he eventually developed this horrible purpley swollen bulge in his abdomen. I took him to the pediatrician fearing some judgy opinions about being neglectful by not bringing him in immediately. However, they said it was a hematoma and would take weeks to dissipate entirely. And they weren’t judgy at all.

  112. Sunshine – That sounds right. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hematoma Since it’s improving, I’ll just wait it out.

    It’s good to know that “In most cases, movement and exercise of the affected muscle is the best way to introduce the collection back into the blood stream.”

    I’ve been running about one mile at a time.

  113. How would you advise someone who is suffering from an extreme anxiety disorder that is affecting her work? She is having difficulty fulfilling her responsibilities and business travel is a nightmare.

    She has been under the care of a psychiatrist and therapist for several years and able to function well. But this current flare up is crippling, and poor job performance could lead to getting fired. She’s taken a few sick days recently but she’s unsure of her choices now. I don’t know what her mid-sized company’s policies are, but she gets a certain number of paid sick days. What are typical company policies? She’s concerned about the stigma. I’m trying to help her but I feel very uninformed.

    Should she resign while she gets better? She’s under her husband’s medical policy.

  114. The best way to help your friend, IMO, is to encourage her to consult her psychiatrist and/or therapist for guidance. It may be as simple as a change in medications or dosage (or starting meds if she isn’t on them), but she can’t make an informed choice about sick leave or resignation without a better understanding of what is going on.

  115. I don’t think she’s been at her current job long enough to qualify for FMLA, but I think I’m going to suggest she request unpaid leave for medical reasons and see how her employer responds.

  116. Thank you. She has an appointment with her therapist later this week and I’ll advise her to ask him for guidance.

  117. If she really can’t function at work, taking unpaid sick leave is probably the best immediate option. She doesn’t need to provide an explanation of the nature of her health issues.

  118. I may be off base, but I think anxiety is such a common disorder these days that most employers would not consider it much of a special medical problem. So I would probably not go to great pains to hide the nature of my medical condition. Of course, I’m coming from a NYC-centric perspective . . .

  119. @WCE: your 1:45 post used the word “motivation” several times. I think that’s the wrong word — I think it is executive function. I think you have such a high level of executive function that you can’t conceive of life without it, and so you assume people fail because they just don’t want it enough. But I think in many cases, that is an erroneous assumption that leads to solving the wrong problem.

    If you look at it from the standpoint of executive function, it’s fairly apparent that our educational system imposes a lot of barriers to success. Frankly, you have to have a pretty high level of executive function, or get a fair amount of guidance, to figure out how to work the public school system and graduate in 4 years (I’m not sure *I* would have made it to register for that technical writing class on time — I was motivated as hell, but I still managed to sleep through a 1 PM final). And it’s harder for the kids who struggle more — the ones who don’t have the best grades in HS or who are on their own at 17 and so need to start in CC and then transfer over; figuring out which CC cooperates with which 4-year school and which classes will transfer to which major, etc., is a whole other layer of complexity. So you have a lot of kids who could probably do perfectly fine at a job reviewing TPS reports or answering phones or whatever, but who struggle to get the degree they need to get in the door. I think this is why for-profit schools have been so successful in attracting kids: they just make the path to the job look so easy.

    @Rhett — ITA with the responses on the “top firm” Q. Law is one of the few areas where you can get a foot in the door based solely on academics — there are very few metrics involved, and every law school wants the guy who aces the LSATs, and then every firm wants the straight-A editor of the Law Review who is willing to bill 2300 hrs/yr. Now, whether he’ll make partner depends on how trainable he is — if you’re talking about one of those top firms, he needs to learn to look the part, talk the part, schmooze the part, etc. But there is a path. And like Rocky says, if the “top” firms are too insular, there are many many many others who would love to have someone like that.

    @Advice for a Friend: your friend may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. I am not 100% sure, this is not my area, but longstanding anxiety may be a protected condition. If this is the case, the employer would be required to make reasonable accommodations while she is having her flare-up, such as limiting business travel or temporarily changing her job responsibilities, unless the employer can prove that whatever-it-is is a critical job function. OTOH, those requirements don’t apply if they don’t know about it — as of right now, the company could fire her for nonperformance, and there’s not a lot she could do about it. So my general recommendation would be to get a note/explanation from her therapist, along with a list of suggestions for short-term changes to her job responsibilities that would help her get better; she should then set up a meeting with HR, give them the note, and request accommodations.

  120. Southern lawyers tend to be involved in their communities and go into politics.

    Or they get caught up in a nefarious plot and become the subject of a Grisham book.

  121. Advice,

    It looks like short and long term disability can cover depression and anxiety so make sure they follow up with that as well. However, it does look like they make you jump through more hoops for a mental health issue vs cancer, a broken leg, etc.

  122. Meme, sounds like a good trip.

    Went up that way as a kid and would love to go back.

  123. Advice, I agree with LfB. This is a medical condition and she needs to have it documented with her employer. Even if she hasn’t been with them long enough, a lot of employers will still grant her some unpaid leave if she needs it.

    I also agree that it’s not just about motivation. When you live and breathe college admissions, it’s easy to forget that a lot of people don’t know all the nuances involved. So they don’t make the right decisions in regards to making sure their CC classes will transfer and such simply because they don’t know that they need to do that.

  124. Meme, yes, we did the bike tour from Montreal to Mt Ste Anne, mainly following the St Lawrence, but also going through Joliette. This was Before Kids. We are considering repeating the trip this summer With Kids, since the plane fares to France look too steep/

  125. “There are so many jobs that HS and college students don’t know exist, heck even the rest of us don’t know about. And there are many ways to get to them.”

    And new ones being created every day.

    I agree with the others that there are lucrative paths for non-STEM/Business majors besides law school. Anecdata – BIL majored in History at Flagship U, but he is a property tax consultant. There are so many things that you have to learn on the job anyway that a CPA-path doesn’t really help all that much, and property taxes are a niche within a niche. I know lots of people like that. Consulting in general hires quite a few liberal arts majors, don’t they? Communication & Power Point skills and all that jazz.

    Would I recommend that my kid major in History without any thought towards supporting himself? No. But I wouldn’t recommend that he study Math without thinking about what it might lead to career-wise either.

    Love the You Tube example. I mean – there are people who are raking in $$ for opening toys and filming it. What a world!

  126. I can’t help but think that this STEM push that I see literally EVERYWHERE is going to backfire for a lot of people. Lots of folks seem to have a Willy Wonka attitude like STEM is some golden ticket. I think it is a golden ticket for those who are suited to it. I think it is a potential disaster for others. I have a hunch that this will end up like we were in the 90s – when everyone thought that studying computers was the way to go – “Everything will be computers” you’ll always have a job and what we ended up with was a glut of mostly marginal computer engineers. If you don’t have a fire or a talent for STEM then that isn’t going to serve you any better than a degree in basketweaving. It is very concerning.

  127. milo hope you get to feeling better. Go to the doc, at the very least you might get some meds that will let you sleep!

  128. Lots of folks seem to have a Willy Wonka attitude like STEM is some golden ticket.

    The reason it pays well is because most people have little aptitude for it and even less interest in it.

  129. I agree that you shouldn’t force or otherwise persuade a kid who doesn’t like math or science to pursue one of those subjects as a major. But, if he or she has an aptitude for math, I think it makes sense to encourage them to take courses in that field. Rhett is right that many people shy away from it because they think it is hard or they just aren’t comfortable with it.

  130. Thanks, Moxie. It’s really not that bad; I can sleep, just not as well as usual, hence the strange nightmares. But none last night, so I think I slept much better. And we still hiked about 5 miles in Shenandoah on Sunday.

    I also have some good narcotics in the medicine cabinet that we’ve been saving for a couple years now.

  131. I should have clarified my math comment. I didn’t think about math in terms of a STEM career. I think of it as helpful for almost any career. I wish I would have taken through linear algebra, but I was given advice to not kill myself at college, so I stopped after calculus I. My life has turned out fine even without taking calculus II. I think having a comfort level with numbers when working in a non-number related job helps out tremendously, especially when dealing with budgets. I think having strong communication skills (business writing) in a more technical field helps out tremendously too.

    I know very few people who are in the same career related to their major 15 years out of school. I wouldn’t have had a clue at 18 what I wanted to do, which is one of the reasons I chose a liberal arts school because I liked not having to pick a major until the end of sophomore year.

  132. LfB, thanks for the executive function comment. It’s sometimes hard to remember that my lens is not everyone’s lens. In terms of whether colleges should provide in-depth individual advising and support, the attempt to do that is responsible for much of the increase in personnel and college costs, and kids without college-educated parents usually require more individual advising and support than kids with college-educated parents. It’s a trade-off.

    Part of why I submitted the article is my belief that too many people are getting college degrees for the jobs available. I think it’s unclear to what extent more educated people will increase the proportion of high level jobs in society and to what extent more education makes people underemployed.

    I know no attorneys personally right now. I know a couple hundred engineers. If I lived somewhere else, I’d probably have a better idea of what attorneys do. That’s part of why I like this blog.

  133. “I wish I would have taken through linear algebra, but I was given advice to not kill myself at college, so I stopped after calculus I.”

    My guess is that Probability and Statistics would’ve been even more useful than linear algebra; I think for most people it would be more useful than linear algebra or calculus beyond the 2nd semester.

    OTOH, in some colleges, Statistics is its own department, separate from the Math dept.

    “I know very few people who are in the same career related to their major 15 years out of school.”

    I know a lot. It’s quite common among engineers, especially those who eschew the management ladder.

  134. “I can sleep, just not as well as usual”

    Perhaps that’s why it’s taking a while to heal. My experience is that healing is tiring, and when I’ve been recovering from injury, I spent a lot of time sleeping, and my guess is that a lot of healing, like growing, happens during sleep. IME, pain is also tiring, and perhaps one reason is to facilitate sleep, and thus healing.

  135. “But, if he or she has an aptitude for math, I think it makes sense to encourage them to take courses in that field.”

    But also encourage them to learn about that field before committing to a major in it.

    I’ve discussed here previously my theory about the much higher rate I’ve seen of female engineers than male engineers leaving engineering; that much higher percentage of female engineers were pushed into engineering because they are good and math and science, as opposed to going into engineering because they want to be engineers, and surviving the curriculum because they are good at math and science.

    A corollary in my experience and observation is that the washout rate due to not being able to handle the math and/or physics is much higher among males than females.

  136. I’ll mostly agree with Finn and then assert that the level of competence at which women “wash out” is much lower than that of men. The engineering honor society for electrical engineers was half women even though women comprised 5% of the major.

    I think much of the reason women leave engineering at much higher rates than men is the inflexible schedule/demands/rank-and-yank, rather than lack of interest. All the women I can think of (a couple dozen) in my area are either childless or the sole/primary earner. All the men in my group, and most of the men overall, have spouses who manage the caregiving. One of my contractor counterparts is a former top R&D engineer who contracts so he can manage his childcare obligations (he’s divorced) and eldercare obligations (his Mom is in assisted living) A similar age pediatrician/software engineer couple both want to work part-time. For the pediatrician, it was a simple request at work. For the software engineer, it’s a struggle- and the software engineer got an offer from Google and other companies, they just expect too many hours and aren’t open to part-time schedules.

  137. A similar age pediatrician/software engineer couple both want to work part-time. For the pediatrician, it was a simple request at work. For the software engineer, it’s a struggle- and the software engineer got an offer from Google and other companies, they just expect too many hours and aren’t open to part-time schedules.

    This is due, IMO, to the question of “does this job directly generate revenue?” In general, when a job has direct correlation with revenue, it’s usually easy to allow the person to work part-time. Their revenue and compensation can decrease proportionally. A jobs that don’t generate revenue usually have availability requirements that make them harder to allow part time because then you need another part-time worker with a schedule that meshes.

    Like the pediatrician, I could go part time very easily, I’d just need to work out the schedule with my boss. My MA could not, because her job is based on handling calls and processing requests during business hours. I can’t wait a day for orders to be sent to a facility because it’s my MA’s day off.

    Obviously this doesn’t hold for every job, but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb.

  138. To be fair, DD – most MAs are considered interchangable. So lots of them work a part time schedule, because any other MA can take their job (especially in an ER or inpatient setting).

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