Working Man’s Phd


I’ve never understood higher education. My high school teachers always told me I should go to college and get a degree. A degree? I wanted a life and a job that I enjoyed. I wanted to either be a mechanic or work in radio but was told to go to college, not for a reason or to further my aspirations or really any reason. It was like I was being told to “go west, young man” even thought they had no idea what I would do when I arrived “out west” nor did they care that I was happy were I was.


Education is a great thing; it’s always good to learn more about the world. The problem is that each credit is so expensive that formal education should have a goal-like a job to pay back the loan for those expensive credits. I think the days of wandering through paths bordered in ivy-covered fence and being a “student of the world” (that made my gag reflex activate) are gone. Days of being a professional student died somewhere in the early part of the last decade and education must be a tool for success, not just a vague journey that ends in some sort of state-certified and transferable “enlightenment.”


I always hear people use the phrase, “work smarter, not harder.” Well here’s the deal, you have to do both. Also there is no shame in working harder, it’s how the happy places in this world were built. There is some sort of mythical place were students are told they will arrive at post, post-secondary where they will always find a “living-wage” and never have to work harder. This is a falsehood. If you question this last sentence, please go talk to the person who earned a degree and now works on their feet somewhere they earn barely enough to cover their student loan and cares not for the fact they are a student of the world.


I believe tech schools are the best place for many students. I wish I’d gone straight to one myself after high school. In a recent article in Parade magazine, a reported 450,000 openings exists for skilled labor. Plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, cooks, mechanics, etc-jobs unfilled, at least in part, due to students who have skills more related to educational rather than vocational goals. I realize we live in a world that involves a lot of technology, however all of that technology lives within a world built by skills which have existed since the Romans. We still need skilled labor as it cannot be outsourced plus there is such a vacuum of it now-more nationally than locally but still very needed.


If you are in college right now congratulations, if you are there with a specific job in mind then CONGRATULATIONS! If your major is “unspecified” then I would cast aside every other consideration and decide what you’re good at or fires your passion and pursue it with intensity and focus. A college degree is a fantastic achievement. However, I would say that being in your mid to late twenties and being able to support yourself without constant, advanced life support from your parents is an even better one.

4 thoughts on “Working Man’s Phd

  1. I agree with 99% of what you say. I am a Registered Nurse. I graduated in 1986. Wednesday before graduation I was earning $400 a month. Friday following my Thursday graduation I was earning $800 a check. I worked my ass off for three years but there was an obvious, immediate pay off for staying the course.

    I have four boys and at least two of them would benefit from an apprenticeship rather than a traditional education. I would love to see that old system returned. There should be an avenue to a job that pays a living wage (Don’t scoff at that term, the concept is valid. Today the living wage is almost $15 an hour; you sure aren’t going to earn that at McD.) without having to go to college. Some kids just aren’t cut out for academia.

    I am now back in school (to call me, a grandfather, a non traditional student is an understatement). When I finish my Masters I will have 3 times as many loans as I did when I graduated nursing school, and no chance whatsoever of getting the pay raise I did back then.

    That said, I would not change a thing. Gone are the days where a person graduated from high school, or the local community college, and went to work for the same company for the next 30 years. Today two or even three careers (lasting 10-20 years each) are the norm. In this respect education is golden. The more you know the greater your options.

    I agree wholeheartedly that we need more technical education. I would just warn against throwing out the baby with the bath water. While there is a definite cost/benefit analysis to higher education, in the long run nothing increases your earning potential like a college degree.


    1. Thanks for your comments. I don’t scoff at the “living wage” term, I just use quotes because it’s just seems too vague a term. What might be a living wage for one won’t be for another because of a variety of reasons. Again, thank-you for your comments.


    2. Sorry to resurrect an old post. Great article. I’m a working class dog, running, running my own business. No student loans, ever. Some college, but I paid as I went along, and only took classes that taught me something I needed at the time, not worrying about a degree. I now make more, and work less doing a skilled trade, and at the top of my game because of the path I took, making money all the way.

      “in the long run nothing increases your earning potential like a college degree.”

      I disagree…

      I prefer “equivalent work experience” when hiring…. From my point of view, it takes less training on my part, and on the part of the person I’m, they’ve been covering their bills, not making more bills, while they spent the same amount of time. My option benefits everyone…except the higher education system.

      Which one better fuels our economy?



  2. I think the days of easy distinctions between college and “the real world” are over. There are all sorts of practical degrees at universities, tons of vocational school, and lots of opportunities for developing “college” skills outside of the university. The biggest reason that university degrees still net graduates about $1 million extra is the fact that high school diplomas mean nothing. Fix that, and I think we’ll free quite a few people from the pressure to get a B.A. in something.


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