Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Grad School May Be A Waste of Time

I’ve written articles on why high school may be a waste (see this one and this one) and why college may be a waste (see this).  Now it’s time to take on grad school and to do that is my great friend and provocative inspiration Penelope Trunk who has been writing about how graduate school may be a waste of time and money (yes, business school and law school too).  When radio and TV producers need someone to bitch about graduate school, they call Penelope.  

I just loved her interview on NPR last week. It’s a great interview in part because of how quick she is at supporting facts and backing them up with research, but also because she completely lost patience for people still defending grad school. She explains in her wildly popular career advice blog that even to defenders of grad school it is clearly a bad financial decision. The guy she is bantering with int the interview actually resorted to saying that you need to go to grad school to be a good person. That’s where Penelope went nuts on him.

Penelope recognizes that not only is grad school a rip off but college is a rip off (here's a great discussion in New York magazine with James Altucher, a venture capitalist in NYC) And she goes on to share that folks like me are saying that High School isn’t even necessary.  She concludes that the future belongs to home educators because they are self-learners.

Her advice for those desperately seeking direction through grad school is this:

So all there is for adult life is you, following your nose, trying to figure out what brings you joy. Each time I see someone who has done that, in some little way, I feel relief and hope for myself.

The comments below are quite insightful as are the comments on Facebook which you can read here.


  1. As a recent education technology enthusiast I really appreciate your blog. Interestingly, the thing I love most about it is the very thing I find unsettling. Instead of making small tweeks and changes to the current education paradigm, you completely tear it down to build it back up in the 21st century.

    As a recent college grad, Im hesitant to agree with you that college is a waste of time. Not only for the hard facts, but for the social experience/community that can never be replicated in any other environment. I can see how you can use this to support your point, but rather than argue for it I encourage you to just consider it without defense.

    That being said, I am very inspired by your willingness to be a visionary and denounce what currently is for what could (and should) be!

  2. @Tasha,

    Like many innovative educators, I'd pick my chosen PLN over my artificial and EXPENSIVE grad school peers any day.

    I'm concerned that you've been brainwashed and/or mislead to believe the paid for grad experience is the only way you can have a powerful social experience and community. You have been fed untruths.

    You ask me to consider the benefit of the artificial socialization. Of course, because I was forced to become over schooled at great expense I have considered this.

    Here's what I have learned...

    I don't need to spend thousands of dollars to learn or to find people to social with me. I can do it very well for free, for real, on my own, and more effectively...thank you very much.

    I understand the need for those who have been forced to waste thousands to defend their expenditures, but after careful consideration of myself and many others, I can tell you that you could have learned more, better, and for less money without school.

    Perhaps we should think of school as the easy and expensive way to learn. Me, I prefer the perhaps more difficult, less expensive, passion-driven route.

  3. Should have clarified that I was referring to my undergrad experience. I agree w/ you on grad school. Just graduated last May and the entire 4 yrs were at no expense to me. So no, I do not have the cognitive dissonance that you speak of due to paying exorbitant fees.

    If you could have gained such a college experience on your own then kudos to you. Without it, I would still be living on the south side of Chicago in a cultural microcosm with an entire world unknown to me.

    It was only through the relationships and networks that I built with real live ppl (not fb friends, followers, or PLNs who are halfway across the world) who were able to challenge me and help me grow as a person. And it was in college that I first leaned that I can make my passions come to life while getting others to buy in as well!

    And no, I haven't been brainwashed (unless you mean shaped by experiences). In fact, I am not a fan of most institutions. But maybe you have been luckier than me. After spending 1 yr in the real world, I find it difficult to find ppl who enjoy discussing anything outside of reality TV. The work day is just too much.

    So, while I am in favor of restructuring the system, I think it is sensational journalism to suggest that we do away with school altogether. But, maybe by making such drastic demands we can tip the scales in the right direction. Gives me something to think on.

  4. Yes, taking a grad degree may not be worth it, but knowing your career path in the first place before heading to college is also a necessity. Here’s a great article on a comparison of different college majors and how long it takes to pay back your student loan.

  5. @Tasha, though school was at no expense to you, that often means it was at an expense to tax payers which is the focus of all the “College Bubble” news these days.

    I find it interesting when you and others need to make such clear distinctions between those you learn from and/with on line verses those you learn from/with in life. For many of us the lines don’t matter. We are communicating whether F-2-F, via Skype, phone, Twitter, Facebook, email etc. It is the blending of these communications that make up my learning and have allowed me to connect and stay connected with great thinkers like Will Richardson, Marc Prensky, Penelope Trunk, Angela Maiers, and the co-author of my book who I had never met f-2-f before writing it.

    You lament the real world where it is difficult to find people who enjoy discussing things outside of reality TV. Perhaps if you shifted your definition of real – world to no longer have geographic boundaries you would find there are many people in your real world with whom you can have these conversations. When writing my book it didn’t matter to me how I communicated with my co-author. We communicated in a variety of ways…few were face-to-face and in the end we created a book.

    Also, I often meet those I connect with online F-2-F at various conferences and because I open the doors of my home to those who visit NYC and once a month during an ed chat that I host.
    I don’t believe it is sensational to say we can empower people to own their learning. There are many out there like me that are quite sure we could have gained and demonstrated mastery without our dusty diplomas. Others, may just need some hand holding, but I maintain that it doesn’t need to be in an institution.

  6. @Abin Clane,
    I couldn't agree more. Knowing your career path is key. Unfortunately, it is not really in the curriculum here in NYC. Strangely, I recently wrote about a student in a technical school who I was helping write a cover letter, resume, and put together a portfolio. None of this was addressed at school.

    The other issue is that there are careers that now FORCE you to get a degree to get a job. Here in NYC you need a Bachelors to be a cop and a masters to be a teacher. Like many educators, I could have learned better outside my outdated ed program.

  7. All i know is that I could learn more of what I need to know and be able to do to be an excellent middle school media specialist faster, better and cheaper on my own than by getting the MLS degree that NY and most states require.

  8. I found this post (and the subsequent comments) to be interesting since I just started graduate school through a distance program at MSU in educational technology (MAET). I suppose statistically graduate school is a rip off, especially for educators who could take advantage of the exploding numbers of teachers joining online communities rather than taking student loans that will take years and years to pay off on a teacher's salary.

    I wanted to get a graduate degree in something that interested me. And yes, I know I could have designed my own program and PD through the wealth of resources available in my PLN - and in many ways I do and use this to supplement what I'm learning in school. I could have joined a MOOC of some sort and collaborated with people around the world. But I wanted the school experience. From a practical standpoint, I also chose to pursue graduate school because of the professional opportunities I will be afforded with that very expensive piece of paper. I'm living in The Netherlands now and in order to even be considered to teach higher level subjects to 11th and 12th grade students, you need a master's degree. I like school. Maybe it's the same way that people like getting a massage. For the money? It's probably a rip off. But I enjoy it and I certainly find it rewarding in other ways even if it doesn't have a good ROI.

    Isn't there something to be said for learners who do better in a school environment? That people are individuals and learn differently and one might be best suited by "traditional school" while another best served through something more experiential? I agree that we need a major cultural shift in the U.S. and elsewhere. College degrees say little about a person other than they studied a lot and got a piece of paper in a certain subject - it says nothing about who they will be, their problem-solving skills, their drive to improve an organization. That's all a gamble. And unfortunately the higher ed system has stacked everything in favor of the ones that pay out to get the piece of paper.

  9. @Mary Worrell,
    Great points. For many, continuing on the path of the dependency learning school affords (i.e. someone else tells you what to do when and if you did it well or not) works best. I contend however, that this is because learners have been trained / institutionalized to learn this way. Not because it is the best way to learn.

    I understand that you need the paper to get the job. I do too, but I think this is a corrupt system where some of us put in an enormous amount of time and money, and others (like our school chancellors) are simply granted waivers as they oversee their minions.

    Technically, a waiver means you have met the requirements for qualification by alternate means. I believe such alternate means should not just be available for privileged friends, but for anyone who chooses to prove mastery that way and the credentialing shouldn't be by how good of friends you are with someone, but by what you have actually done inside or outside of institutionalized schooling.

  10. I completely agree. We need different avenues for proving mastery or skills necessary for a certain position. Unfortunately "schooling" has everyone following the same methods except for a few unique cases, usually in the more creative fields, such as web design, for example. Every now and then a link will go viral showing some creative, out-of-the-box resume that goes against "everything we're taught." Most laugh at it, say it's cool, before qualifying it with "but that would never fly in X industry." Education is one of those places.

  11. I got a lot out of my MA programme that a PLN cannot provide. (I did mine in a subject area, not education, so maybe that makes a difference.) I was asked to read things I would not have chosen to read and but were enormously valuable. I was asked questions that I was not aware existed and therefore was not prepared to ask myself. I was required to immerse myself in the traditions and discipline of a subject, and while I may not find every element of the discipline useful, it has been enormously important to know the rules even if I break them.

    More importantly, I had people challenging me: looking at my ideas and asking me to clarify and support those ideas rather than just throw them out there. I have seen little of that challenge in Twitter and similar forums. The trap of virtual networks is that we tend to network with those with whom we agree. I have seen little evidence of oppositional challenge in PLNs; rather, I see people agreeing with each other, nodding at platitudes, and when the occasional challenge comes along, it is ignored or dismissed.

  12. Mark, I too have that same experience. I love networking and sharing resources, but generally my PLN doesn't push my thinking too much - or maybe to the degree that it should. Some might argue that's my own fault - that I should cultivate a network of people with whom I agree and disagree. Fair enough. But I also think you have a point that graduate programs can be places like that. Laboratories and spaces to have our thinking challenged by those we might not meet otherwise.

    I find things like #edchat, which are supposed to be provocative places to hash out ideas, more a masturbatory show of one-liners from education philosophies. I actually just had to participate in one today as a requirement of a graduate school course. The really hard to answer questions and statements got lost in the mess of "hear hear!" while the same old things appeared and reappeared.

  13. @Mark Kilmer, you say you got things from your MA program that a PLN cannot provide. I disagree. Through my PLN I have achieved all the things you achieved in your MA. The difference is that in your MA someone else drove the learning. For me, I drive the learning. Because of my PLN I have not only connected with, but I have also had the pleasure of engaging in deep and thoughtful conversations and readings with some of the greatest thinkers in my areas of interest and, I can do it anytime/anywhere on-demand as it meets my needs. It has also resulted in me publishing for magazines, writing a book, and speaking to groups around the world in person and online.

    When I’m interested in something I don’t necessarily want to be placed with a random teacher and random group of people. I figure out who is the best and connect with them and with others who share my interests. These experts do exactly what you say your MA program did. They suggest I read, I write, I speak, I publish and I get to do so for real world reasons.

    On another note, you say it taught you what rules you needed to know. Those are usually not too difficult to figure out through a PLN either.

  14. @Mary Worrell,
    I’m really interested in understanding why your PLN isn’t pushing your thinking. Maybe you’re not asking them to. I only ask because my thinking has never been pushed as much as it has since I’ve had the pleasure of creating my PLN. For me, my thinking, sharing, and creating have never had the opportunity to become fully developed before my PLN was formed.

    I don’t mean to offend and I did go to some top ed schools for my MA, but those in my graduate program were often just learners who usually had less expertise than I did. I did some pushing…they did a lot of complying. My teachers were usually aggravated with any dissenting belief I would try to discuss or share. And, in the field of education…gawd forbid we use technology. The outdated programs need a lot of updating. We just didn’t speak the same language.

    I have a concern about students being mandated to participate in something like #edchat for a few reasons. First, it shouldn’t be about #edchat. It should be about participating in particular conversations of interest, but this is the typical horrible assignment that I don’t like in grad school. Instead I might give students a list of the hundreds of chat topics, let them know when they occur and invite them to find a topic they might be interested in participating in. Picking the chat about something that might not even be of interest makes no sense to me and I too would find it of little value. It’s kind of like when my blog gets “assigned.” The comments are dull and uninspired when they’re someone else’s assignment.

    When it comes to Twitter chats, I have selected #mathchats #edchats #ptchats and #ntchats to participate in that were about topics of deep personal interest and I gained a tremendous amount and connected with some wonderful people who I would never otherwise have had a chance to meet.

    Ultimately, for some the path to mastery may be a masters, but for those like me (and there are many of us) I believe we should be able to prove mastery without jumping through the hoops of programs that are beneath our abilities just to have an institution grant the almighty (and expensive) piece of paper.

  15. I must be extremely fortunate: I just graduated from a program that encourages individual learning. As an older student at Portland State, I was introduced to the online networks that you are discussing. I would not have experienced blogging, Twitter, or Facebook without the practical uses for them during my classwork and internship.

    In the masters program for writing and publishing, we were encouraged to get online and discover ways that publishing is changing. Then we applied our research to the press work (Ooligan Press is student run). The atmosphere is one of encouragement and sharing, whether between students in person or within the PLNs that evolve from research.

    My final paper discusses ways that publishing can be used in the classroom as a positive teaching tool and the ways new media can be used. It is exciting to find ways teachers make use of Youtube, blogs, OER, and more.

    I feel that education needs to be made equally available to all without the costs that exist. I agree that many are self directed learners--I am one--but there are times that classrooms open doors to the next step. I'd like to think of teachers and classrooms as guides to our future learning, no matter what level.

  16. @Kay Tracy,

    First a question. Your paper sounds interesting. Where was it published? Can you share a link?

    Next, I don't understand why you wouldn't experience blogging, Twitter, or Facebook without school.

    I guess it still seems to me like there is so much dependency learning instilled in us by "schooling" that people have been led to believe they need school to tell them what to do to accomplish their goals in life where things like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter are ever present.

    My final question to you is can you share an authentic ePortfolio of your learning and accomplishments gained through the program or was it like most programs where such work is collected just for the insular and artificial school community as I wrote about in these two posts?
    =Have schools forgotten they were supposed to prepare students for success in the world?.. http://t.co/DayLmrO #edchat #edreform
    -Diplomas Don't Prepare Students for the World. ePortfolios do http://t.co/5f5WFeb

  17. My paper was presented to my review committee (who said they'd like to put it on the Classroom Publishing section of Ooligan's website someday). I will be happy to send you a pdf copy via e-mail.

    One reason I was slow to experience Twitter and Facebook is simply my Luddite tendencies and ignorance of technology. I accepted my children's eager use of it, but until I was forced into it and saw the effective uses with my work in the Four and Twenty poetry journal, I was clueless. I really did learn a lot during my stint.

    The goal of our final portfolio was to display what we learned. I admit, I'm still not skilled in creating e-books (future goal for myself), but I created a portfolio of books aimed at showing teachers what can be created at home or in the classroom. I used InDesign, and created saddle-stitch, sewn, brad, and spiral bound books. I wrote about publishing topics, such as editing and typography. The main portion of my portfolio is a perfect bound book printed on PSU's new POD machine.

    I intend my work to be something that others can read and learn from: I intend to use the portfolio as a guide in my future projects in schools or community programs.

    I found your blog during my work with educational marketing for the press, and enjoy the discourse here. Classroom Publishing: A Practical Guide for Teachers was the book I was involved with.

    Unfortunately, my children suffered through the standard educational system before I learned about alternatives that might have been better for them--school for them was not the exciting haven that I encountered. I'm hoping to do better with future generations.

  18. @Kay Tracy,
    Why is audience an afterthought? I think that is a problem with school. If you’d like to write a post with a link to your paper, I’d be happy to publish it.

    I still have an issue with the idea of school as a necessity because it “forces” people to do things. Why didn’t you allow your children to guide you? Why did you need to be forced?

    You are telling me about an exciting portfolio, but where is the link? Like other institutional failures, I feel like it’s locked up in the institution with the paper you are proud of.

    These are my frustrations and dissatisfaction with schooling. It is also why I think real learning is preferable to artificial school learning.

    I too suffered through the standard ed system. My frustration around not knowing alternatives was my impetus for creating the free guides for parents and teens on my site.

    I don’t mean to challenge you in a negative way, but instead to push your thinking and mine in a positive way.

  19. I don't take offense at your challenges. Having children in itself has been quite an education, and I've had to stretch and learn constantly from each child's different way of thinking and learning. I think I've let them down at times, but I keep trying.

    I am going to accept your offer and write a post for you. I will work on creating links to the PDFs of my portfolio (maybe I can get an e-pub together. It may take a few weeks. I will e-mail you.

    I look forward to our future correspondence. I am creating ways to use Four and Twenty poetry journal in the teaching community (school or unschooled), and it'd be great to share them with you when I finish.

  20. @kay Tracy, I guess my whole issue with what you are outlining is that it is the school rather than you who is leading the learning. Why on earth would you wait for them to maybe publish something someday? How on earth do they have a student write a paper on the importance of publishing but (as is so often the case in school)...they forgot the main part of publishing, which is actually publishing for a real audience?

    You describe a typical school experience where they talk about doing but nobody does or has anything to show for what they did.

    This is why I still contend that post-secondary ed is usually a waste...compared to learning that is self-directed and real.

  21. Lisa, you may be interested in seeing the talent of Ooligan students firsthand. They publish to quite a few audiences. Their website is here: http://www.ooliganpress.pdx.edu/

    My portfolio is physically bound for sharing in person. Once I have it in a digital format, I will share it with you.

    Best, Kay

  22. True education does not produce the lame results that we witness today in countless college graduates who can't even find entry level employment, because they're lacking in entrepreneurial skills.

    Like little children, they think at the ripe age of 25 or older, after spending every year of their lives since age 5 or younger in school, that by running to graduate school for another 2 or 3 years to get a Master's or for another 4 or 5 years to get a useless Ph.D., they'll be cared for by someone else from the battering of the economic storm now hitting all of us.

    Grads know not how to think or take care of themselves except as educrats taught them. And educrats, beings statists, think only one way: the State will take care of us all.

    That's why these students pursue for more subsidies, more years of support, more dependence on Big Brother. The servant is not greater than his master.

    When it comes to education, we need less statism and more productive, hands-on, family-driven, family-focused entrepreneurship. That's true innovation today.


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