Friday, October 29, 2010

Why start College at 18?

There a nice post just up from Seth Godin just up called 'Pushing back on mediocre professors'. He says of students:

I think you have an obligation to say, "Sir, I'm going to be in debt for ten years because of this degree. Perhaps you could give us an assignment that actually pushes us to solve interesting problems, overcome our fear or learn something that I could learn in no other way..."

What he's missing alas, is that most undergraduates aren't that smart. As Ernie Balls put it in a comment on my post "Pay for outcome, not process" "Most people who attend university do so to get laid" and simply aren't thinking ahead like that. George Hook said the same thing recently, saying that only 20% of students were thinking past graduation day. The debt (or opportunity cost, in countries where fees are state paid) is a problem for some arbitrary future version of them, not a real problem for them today. It's imaginary money. They simply aren't mature enough, or sure enough of themselves at 18 to provide the kind of smart pushback that Seth talks about in his post. The herd instinct is too strong. Everyone else is keeping quiet and taking notes. Let's not rock the boat, I want a good mark.

But there are students who do exactly that - mature students. They are, to the last man or woman, exactly like that. For educators, they are pains in the neck. They understand exactly the sacrifices they must make to get the degree, and exactly what it will cost, and precisely what they want out of it. Why can't we have more of them?

The solution? Let's have no one under 25 in college. Life is long now, in the first world. Why rush out of a schools system and straight into college. Why make kids at 18 make huge decisions about their lives, incur massive set and set their future path for years? It's too young. Some can handle it, most can't, and simply make the best of the choices down the line.

Careers have extended out the other end. None of these kids coming into college today will retire in the sense their parents will until they are 80, if ever. So why not make them spend 5 or 10 years actually doing something in the real world and then, when they actually know what they want to achieve in college, let them return to do that and start their grown up careers? Wouldn't they make smarter choices of degree, and be more likely to be smarter students? And if a bunch of them found that after 5 years in the wilds, they didn't want or need to follow the herd into a college degree just yet, would that be such a bad thing? Because everyone else is doing it isn't a good enough reason.


  1. Noooo! I couldn't wait until I was 25 to start studying, I need a degree to get into science and get a job doing what I love.
    Plus it would be difficult going from earning a wage and having cash to being a poor student.

  2. A Fair point, and there's a whole other post on why we all rush to University at 18. I'm being devils advocate above.
    People who do know what they want (or think they do) aren't going to want to delay it at all - if degrees lead to improved earnings, then why defer those earnings?
    Moving away from on/off education where you are 'in college' or not would help. People who want a career might take some modules in the topic while working on something related to it - closer to an apprenticeship model? Maybe.
    The other issue, of course, is kids. Pushing the start into mid/late 20's means people start thinking kids in very early career (or mid postgrad). Might or might not be a good thing.