In my March 30 column, I asked for input about the value of a college degree in a technical field. More than 50 of you responded. Thank you so much! Your responses were as interesting and diverse as the parts of the world you live in.
To make a couple of sweeping generalizations about the comments, I'd say that no one who has a college degree regrets spending either the time or the money to obtain it. Of those who don't have a degree, some feel fine about it, but others—for a variety of reasons—wish they'd gone to college.
Many of you mentioned that a college education, even in a technical field, isn't meant to give you specific skills training; instead, a college education is geared primarily to giving you a foundation in learning to learn. Even if your degree is in a technical field, most colleges require you to take some courses outside of your field of study. These requirements can include courses in history, languages, literature, life sciences, psychology, or art. Although I remember being disgruntled when "forced" to take a course I didn't feel I "needed," afterward I almost always felt that the course had value. I learned interesting things about the world and read books I wouldn't have even considered reading if the college hadn't required those courses. True, I rarely use this information in my day-to-day life, but often I feel it helps me hold intelligent conversations with people who aren't in technical fields. And of course, I might get to use this information on a TV game show and make a million dollars!
Others of you mentioned that having an education that provides a foundation for learning can be useful if you decide you don't want to stay in the same field forever. Being able to switch to a new field and learn what you need to know to work well can be a result of a solid educational background. A broader background can also help you dig deeper into whatever field you choose. Diana Hays expressed this notion very well: "If you want to keep operating at the tech level forever, then skip college or go to tech training school. If you want to operate at any technology level, then dive into college studies with gusto—you may find you have a talent for inventing the next technology, not just waiting for it or fixing it!"
The issue of a college education also centers on how much you value being an educated person. For me, education in general is a fundamental personal value—like being clean, neat, and polite. I'm mortified if I find that something I posted or emailed has a spelling or grammatical mistake, and I'm indebted to all my editors for saving the day for me so many times. Bigoted as it is, my first impression when I hear or read something from people who misuse or misspell words is that they're less worth paying attention to. My poor children bear the brunt of my philosophy. For example, now that my 12-year-old son is programming, I insist that even the comments in his code be well worded and spelled correctly!
Although "having a broad educational foundation" was probably the reason you cited most often for having a college degree in a technical field, it wasn't the only one. And you made many other interesting comments. (Click here if you want to read all the comments.) I wish I could respond to each comment individually, if only to say "thanks so much for letting me know what you think." In my next column, I'll look at some of the other interesting issues that you raised.