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Got a lot of diverse reaction to yesterday’s FaceTimepiece bemoaning the conclusions of a Pew Research study saying that more Americans than ever don’t think a college education is worth the investment.

MNB user Jim McDowell wrote:

I’ve given a lot of thought to this subject over the months and years.  This is my story:  I was a foster kid in high school and was on my own right after graduation.  Even though I was an honor student in high school, there was no money for me to go to college—but I was/am a lifelong “learner”.  I got married one year out of high school and our first child was handicapped (cerebral palsy) and my wife was unable to work.  I went to work for Publix Super Markets three years out of high school.  I started as a stock clerk and my last assignment with the Company was Director of Government Relations (making a handsome 6 figure income).  With a strong work ethic and thirst for knowledge (reading, listening to tapes [yes tapes], and going to seminars—I was able to advance into retail management, systems training, corporate training [management development] and finally government relations—ALL WITHOUT A COLLEGE DEGREE!

While I don’t devalue a college education, I believe more and more that it isn’t for everyone.  There is certainly a “who’s who” of folks who didn’t finish or attend college—Bill Gates, Karl Rove, Michael Dell, Walt Disney, George Jenkins (founder of Publix), Henry Ford, Simon Cowell, Barry Diller, Debbie Fields, Steve Jobs, Rachael Ray, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mary Kay Ash, Jesus Christ, etc., etc.

I see more and more young people graduating from college these days saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in college loan debt and no “marketable” job skills.

I agree with you, that we may need a new model (sort of like some European countries) that partners formal education with industry.

I believe that it is incumbent that our public education system help prepare young people to support themselves.  This is a curriculum issue.  While (to your point), it is important to learn history and the humanities, etc., we live in the information age.  Any person who wants to “voluntarily” learn about any subject is just a click away.  Nothing says that learning can ONLY take place in a classroom.

A recent report stated that there is currently nearly a TRILLION dollars in student loan debt outstanding—and a lot of that will never get paid. That means that 7% of our current national debt is outstanding student loans.  And we haven’t even talked about the burden to young people trying to get a start in life.  And the dirty little secret is that while the national unemployment rate is around 9%, there is probably another 2 or 3 per cent of the workforce that is being “warehoused” in colleges across the country.

Anyway, enough rambling.  College is not for everyone—either because they don’t fit, or can’t afford it, or whatever.  Despite the rhetoric from the average high school counselor who only knows how to direct a student toward college—you can make a living in this world if you work hard, keep learning and play by the rules.

One final thought—I’m all for a revolution that changes the way employers and educators think about preparing young people for a career and life.  It will require a huge paradigm change and taking on BIG ED [education].

MNB user Donna Osburn wrote:

As a parent of a child who has dropped out of college (after two very expensive years) to work because he likes working with his hands (and doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up…), are we placing too much emphasis on “clean” work and college?  I have a degree in Chemical Engineering and worked in a paper mill in hard hat and boots for years.  And loved all the mental and physical work ... We are sitting here in a nation begging for skilled workers, but not college workers… but we are churning out college workers who can’t get a job…  and can’t pay their college loans.

MNB user Denis Zegar wrote:

As a former college professor, I am disturbed by these findings, but not surprised.  What we have seen over the past decade is the dumbing-down of America that politicians have embraced and fostered to their benefit.  It allows for easy sound bites that often lack clarity or factual content.  Technology has often become the transmitter of misleading information, but it is easy to get and even easier to promulgate.  I am sadden that technology has been used in a counter constructive manner.  Whenever budgets need to be cut, education tops the list.  Politicians often criticize teacher's unions for failing our students, but this is nothing more than passing the buck.  There is plenty of blame to go around.  Here is some disturbing data.  Among secondary education worldwide, the U.S. ranks 14th in the world in reading; 25th in math; and 17th in science.  Ironically, South Korea ranked first, first and third, respectively, but spends a fraction of what most developed nations spend on education.  It's no wonder students question the value of college as they lack the skill sets necessary in today's global economy.  Its no secret that pan-Asian nations have become the hotbed of recruitment for multinational companies.  This would have been unheard of 25 years ago.

Our country needs to have an open dialogue among national, state and local politicians, teacher unions and school administrators to develop a national curriculum that meets the needs of our country and, hence, its student bodies.  To be fair, our country is a microcosm of many diverse students, cultures and needs.  School districts may ultimately need to be broken down into magnet schools based on specific needs and/or curriculum. Students excelling in math and sciences should be nurtured, not held back because of political correctness or other self defeating criteria.  Students talented in the arts need to be introduced at an early age to digital art media and content development, and the list goes on.  Community colleges need to be seen not as "halfway houses" to education, but as technical development centers that complement tomorrows technology needs.  Universities and colleges are cable of teaching today's skill sets, but only when students are fully prepared to learn.  This will require an investment to elevate all schools into the 21st century.  No other investment we can make as a nation will pay as many dividends as education.   Every school needs to have access to new computers and software labs and, high speed internet to achieve our national goals and ensure our children's future in a global economy.  A better and more relevant education will become the currency of future success for America. Paramount in importance, it will make a family's investment in higher education meaningful.

Unfortunately, our nation has become so ideologically splintered, we have lost sight of what's really important.  American exceptionalism is readily becoming a myth.  Educational preparedness won't change until parents demand better of their schools and demand constructive participation by their elected officials.  Continuing with the politically expedient blame game will only punish our children and the future standing of this nation.

Another MNB user wrote:

On an annual basis the cost of higher education outpaces the rate of inflation.  With grants or loans so readily available, I don't see any real incentive for universities to manage their costs.  Thankfully I've written my last college tuition check.

MNB user Annete Nepomuceno wrote:

I read your Face Time today with interest - not just for the Pew results, but also because on 5/11 I watched Mike Rowe (from Dirty Jobs fame) as he eloquently described the dire situation of manufacturing in America to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation ... Mike demonstrated his trademark sense of humor and his extensive knowledge on the subject.  I admit I am a fan of Mike and his show; I was still incredibly impressed with how much he knows about the problem.

I know that not valuing a college degree is bad, but so is not valuing skilled trades.  In fact, it might be worse - we NEED those people who, in Mike's words, "make civilized life possible for the rest of us".  I would be interested in a Pew study on American attitudes with regards to skilled labor.  I would be even more interested in a viable solution to the problem.

MNB user Joe Davis wrote:

So glad you pointed this out, and you are so right on to look at this with concern.

However, I would also read some of those statistics with a grain of salt.  I agree with the 57% that the value for the money isn’t there a lot of times – as I’m sure you’re acutely aware, the classroom fees and textbooks are ridiculous alone.  The cost is getting unsavory, like $4.00 gas – I don’t like it but I’ll pay it because the alternative is worse for me (calling a cab or walking).  But when I see only 42% say college education is important and then 86% of graduates saying it was a good investment for them, I begin to wonder if some people responded negatively to the importance of a college degree because they personally didn’t go for one, for any reason.  There’s no insult here – it’s basic psychology that people will attempt to outwardly devalue something if they don’t see a means of having it.  I think if availability and means were higher, that statistic would be higher, as it has been in the past.

On the other side, I think it is good that people are taking a harder look at higher education and whether or not it makes sense for them.  One of the major news networks ran a special on this some months back that highlighted a couple families where the kids said they didn’t care how much it cost to go to college (in fact, they stated openly they had no idea) but that their parents would find a way.  The parents had no idea how to pay for it either.  The ignorance of the children aside, this means loans.  Education is no question an investment in your future, but like all investments, you need to weigh it out.  Coming into the world as a 20-something with $150-200K+ in debt will make things interesting for you, no doubt.  With all the loan/debt crisis in our country, I think it’s not all bad that people are taking a hard look at COST.  The notion that “someone will pay for it” cannot stand long term, and the sooner people realize that your outflows need to not exceed you inflows the better.  There are plenty of students out there that don’t even know what their total loan amount is or what they’ll be obligated to pay when they get out of the deferral period.

All of that said, a society that starts to devalue education (rather than re-value) is on the wrong path, for all of the reasons you mentioned.  People need to look at it for themselves and judge whether or not it is worth the investment from a cost standpoint, but we should all aspire to higher education in whatever form suits us best.  More education leads to an ever-expanding goal for society to progress to better stages.  The alternative is setting goals of eating 25,000 Big Macs or some other nonsense.  And for my business, I’d continue to look at whatever pool has the best candidates, not just the pool that is immediate and common place.  Which means if Americans don’t have what I need, then I shop elsewhere (same reason I shop online).

From another MNB user:

While I do agree education is extremely important…It should not be the prevailing reason for a hiring decision  or promotion.

I began my retail career in 1980 at Wal-Mart.

Mr. Sam’s mantra was to give people responsibility based on their performance. The more a person can handle, the more responsibility you should give them, and promote and reward them accordingly. Period. Not, if they have this degree or that, promote them.

Certainly seemed to work for him and the team he put together in the 80s and 90s!

Too many times I’ve seen perfectly qualified and experienced people overlooked, with no regard to proven ability, simply because they did not have a degree.

In a management position we should all strive to have the best, most qualified, experienced people around us. Someone having a Masters or even a Doctorate degree, while providing some evidence of their ability to learn, in no way guarantees their ability to communicate, relate, or assimilate into the job at hand.

We have all witnessed those with  powerful educations, without maturity or experience to guide them, make horrible decisions that wreak havoc in the organization.

Education is vitally important, certainly critical in some fields…no argument there.
It should NOT be the leading indicator on a persons potential, work ethic, nor their ability to make major contributions to your company.

Another MNB user chimed in:

I think we have, as a country, relied too much on formal education as a gateway for many positions that don’t need it.  Historically high skill positions were learned through apprenticeships and large companies sought to educate employees in the skills they need to succeed.  Many small businesses and large companies alike have shifted away from this because of the cost and risk that the apprentice doesn’t work out.  Instead the burden has been placed on the student (potential employee).  So when the student goes to college to get an education they find that they need to take classes in things that don’t directly relate to their career desires.  While I don’t personally mind the idea of a well-rounded education.  I love to learn new things. This is a nice-to-have, not a must have that does nothing but add to the cost of the education.  Don’t even get me started on the number of classes that I took in college that were completely outdated by the time I graduated because technology was moving faster than the education process.

MNB user Jon Gabe wrote:

I read your piece this morning on college costs and value associated with it. While other countries are placing a major emphasis on educating their best and brightest, our leaders seem to think dollars should be spent on short term social programs that while well intentioned, do not help to educate those who will be able to learn, prosper, and pay taxes. Sometimes, even the government must spend a little, to make a little.

The Federal government has de-funded a program that gave merit scholarships to smart kids. Does everything have to be "need based"?

MNB user Carter Calico wrote:

First and foremost, you have a wonderful column. I read it each morning and, given my position, pay special attention to the information you share about Walmart. Keep up the good work!

I enjoyed the piece you shared about college. I am 24 and have been out of college for 2 years now. I attended 2 college graduations at my alma mater (University of Arkansas) this past Saturday and found something I found interesting. Of the 15 or so people I knew graduating, only 3 of them have companies they are joining immediately and 1 of those just received her offer on the day before she graduated. None of these positions stem from the majors they chose.

This is a bit different than the view I had growing up. I always thought that I would go to college, likely get my MBA, and come out with a 75K/year job with my whole life ahead of me. What I found, and I think many others are finding, is that the current state of the economy put my generation, and the ones that follow, in a bit of a predicament: if we went to college and paid the money for a degree, we are expecting a job right out of college in order to pay back school loans. If this doesn’t happen, we become under-employed and become another player in the credit problem of our country. However, if we decide NOT to go to college and go straight in to a minimum wage job in order to work our way up the ladder, we don’t have the bare essentials to enter a truly prolific company at a level where we can thrive.

My point is this: I believe the view on college has shifted because Generation Y is beginning to feel and see the college degrees they dreamed of their whole lives be worth very little in terms of actual cash value. College is a time to grow and learn, but ultimately, it is meant to provide a prerequisite for getting to a good career. Because that is now becoming less and less the case, I think younger generations are starting to view college as unnecessary. And you’re right… this is incredibly scary because it shows that the future of our country and our economy is going to be very ill equipped to stand next to other countries who are valuing education now more than ever.

MNB user Brian A. Polk wrote:

My son graduated with a degree in Marketing in 2007 with a good, but not great, GPA. He was hired after several interviews, but not in the specific field he wanted to be in. Simply put, having a degree these days doesn’t open the doors it did back when we graduated. Degrees can vary greatly in cost, as you know, and degrees from prestigious schools definitely make a difference. Competition is fierce due to the number of kids getting degrees these days. Employers can be very selective, as they should be. Many interviewers use the “tell me what you’ve done” guides, even with new grads. The students who have worked or had multiple internships have a leg up, but it’s still very much who you know.

MNB user Jason Graham-Nye wrote:

Great piece this morning. As an Australian who moved here to launch our business, it helped me better understand the landscape.

I lived in Japan for 5 years where education is front and centre. In the 20 years since I graduated from High School, I have done four University degrees (one in Japan, three in Australia) for the grand total of about $8K.

My last one (an MA in Japanese Sociolinguistics - perfect training to become a diaper executive!) I can't actually pay the bill until I earn an income back in Australia, such is the system down there.

If the average US university graduate is saddled with $40K of debt, they'd better be studying a degree that leads to a career with a high salary. It certainly doesn't bode well for the teaching profession.

This gave me a better appreciation of our education system back home.

On another subject - Walmart’s stagnant US same store sales - MNB user Hortencia Espinoza wrote:

When I heard on the news the other day that Walmart’s same store sales were down while Targets were up, the first thing that came to my mind: Customer Service.

I will no longer shop at Walmart. I just cannot take their abysmal customer service anymore. I have given them several chances to redeem themselves giving excuses as under staffed, it’s the holidays or maybe their new. I have even gone to different stores thinking, it’s just that one bad store. But there just simply isn’t a comparison between a Target Team Member and a Walmart Associate. I have always been a Target shopper just simply because the closest Walmart was 25 miles away. I was actually excited when the Walmart opened in our city. Target has my full loyalty now.

This was my “last straw” trip to Walmart...

Walked in carrying my 2 year old and holding my 5 year old’s hand. Door greeter speaking to another associate. No greeting. No carts. When I interrupted their conversation (dirty look) to ask if there were any carts available told outside. No offer of assistance and they went back to their conversation. Lucky me found someone walking out of the store leaving their cart by the door so I grabbed that if not I would have to scour the parking lot with kids in tow. Looking for bed linens, not difficult, but very specific. Go to the area, and they have part of what I needed but not everything to complete the set. Walked around looking for an associate and found one in the electronics section. Told me couldn’t help but would send someone over. 10 min later someone walks over whom I obviously bothered from whatever exciting venture they were doing and I ask her if they have any more? Tells me what’s out is what we have. I ask if she can find out when they are getting more and she says she does not know. I asked again if she could find out. Was told no. We don’t do that. Then she points out that they do have something that is not even close to what I am looking for in a completely different theme. I turned around and walked out.
Decided to go to Target and try my luck there.

Walked in. Security guard and team member speaking. Greeted by both. Team member grabs a cart for me, although there were plenty right next to me. I thanked him and he said you’ve got your hands full and thanks for shopping at Target. Head over to the linens and same issue. Not everything is there to complete the set. Team member walks by, sees me, comes back and asks if I have found everything okay. Tell her my issue and she grabs her handy dandy scanner, scans the bar code and tells me that she still has some of one item in the back and she will go get it. But the other item is out of stock. Do I want to check other stores or see if they have more due in? I asked her to check the other stores. Again with the handy dandy scanner and boom, the store 5 miles away has it. She asks if I would like for them to check if they have everything or just the one item? One item. She asks if I would like to have them hold one for me. Yes. She walks over to a scanner/phone kiosk, calls customer service, and puts my request in, they page her to tell her the other stores customer service has my item, to just go to customer service to be rung up. I was in and out of the other Target in 3 min. Only reason it took that long was because there was 1 person in front of me.

Take that Walmart!!

Did the products cost more? Yes, by $1.50 on the average but that was the best $1.50 per item I have ever spent. I will pay up, even in a tough economy, for being treated like you appreciate my presence and business. I’m the one with the money and I will choose to whom it goes. I’m positive I am not the only one who thinks this way.

Walmart needs to stop the kitschiness and store ideas and get back to grass roots customer service.

That, above all, is what keeps customers.

Another MNB user wrote:

How long is WalMart going to use this same old story of gas and shopping patterns (1st & 15th) ? We got that. Seems that since this has been this way for the last 4-6 years they would have come up with a plan to fix it?  To say that with their size and buying power that they are in the best position to keep prices low is unbelievable. In an up market with inflation inventory is key. They have cut their pass the bare bone and in fact have created unnecessary out of stocks. If the think their suppliers can hold raw material and inventory waiting for orders is as unbelievable as the first comment. Fact is they answer to their issue is cutting cost by continuing to put pressure on suppliers by the bid process, global sourcing, cutting hours and expenses. While adding more formats that do little to address comp sales, lost of market share and a host of other issue. Isn’t it odd that they will match their competitors price but not their own ?? Either online or local stores…  Let’s be honest it has taken then 10 years to get to where they are and its going to take them as long to get back to normal.

A note to the MNB users who thought that I was a little tough on the guy who this week celebrated having eaten 25,000 Big Macs in 39 years (which, as one person pointed out, works out to 1.7 Big Macs a day).

Okay, maybe I was a little tough on him.

I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that he was “disgusting.”

I wasn’t commenting so much on the nutrition or even the taste issue. It’s just that I find the whole idea of eating anything that frequently a little disturbing.

And maybe “disturbing” would have been a kinder word to use than “disgusting.”

And finally, because what would a “Your Views” be with an email about Supervalu and Save-A-Lot, we have one more to add to the pile - except that this is the only one that serves as a full-throated defense of CEO Craig Herkert:

Clearly the responses to recent SVU announcements are from the cynical few.  Quite to the contrary, Craig Herkert has done more to open up the lines of communication from the front line to the top.  In addition to the monthly “Checkout” broadcasts which gives much of the why behind the overall strategy (8 Plays), a retooled “Make A Difference” process which allows any associate to click on a link from the Associate Portal Page to send a message to Leadership (with resources to follow-up on each submission) to bring all of the Company’s Store Directors together in one place to make sure this most important group understands the strategy, how to implement key elements in their store and engage their associates in driving the 8 Plays.

The Annual Associate Survey is a good tool to obtain feedback, however, the Business Transformation activities that are critical to our ongoing success take precedence.

Fair enough.
KC's View: