Ep.46 - We are A Nation of Stickers: A College Education is No Exception (3 Minute Read)
Read Time: 3 Minutes.
How many times have you been told that college is the key to the American dream? Probably way too many. College is known as a conduit to make people more productive and skilled. But having gone through college myself, I am a big skeptic on the increase in skills and productivity.
Now, take yourself for example, what tangible skill from your undergraduate education have you used lately in your job or in life? You may have to think really hard to even dig up one or two things.
WHAT GOOD IS COLLEGE IF MOST DON'T LEARN TANGIBLE SKILLS?
People often ask me if I learned my data analytics skills and finance knowledge from studying Economics at Dartmouth. It's a loaded question. But the answer is simple and definitive: no. None was learned in college. Absolutely zero.
If you ask me a different question, do I think Dartmouth College has been helpful in my career? My answer is also simple an definitive: yes, absolutely yes! It has been extremely helpful in my career and in life, not because of the skills I learned, but because the premium sticker it carries, a sticker equivalent to the Porsches in the auto industry, or the Michelin stars in the restaurant industry.
Let me explain.
WE ARE A NATION OF STICKERS
People pay a premium to buy a Mercedes over a Toyota, not because a Mercedes has more features or a Mercedes lasts longer, but because it carries a sticker, which says premium. It is true in all aspects of our lives. Let me give you two more examples.
Starbucks vs. McDonald's Coffee: We pay $5 to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks instead of $1 at McDonald's, not because we actually know the coffee is better. Although that is a possibility. We do it because we know the sticker Starbucks carries versus McDonald's, which is NOT cheap and low quality.
Belvedere Vodka vs. Smirnoff Vodka: NPR Planet Money just ran an episode explaining why all Vodkas are basically the same by definition. We pay $45 for a bottle of Belvedere instead of $10 on something else, not because we know the Vodka is actually better. We do it because we understand the sticker Belvedere carries, which is also premium.
WE TREAT A COLLEGE EDUCATION THE SAME AS STARBUCKS AND BELVEDERE
College Graduate vs. High School Graduate: It's the same sticker effect. Since society bought into the concept that college graduates are supposedly more skilled/educated, the collective assumption becomes our reality, regardless of what the actual reality is. In plain English, college graduates carry a sticker that says "we are better than high school graduates." Do we know if that's true? I'm sure you know someone who you wonder about how he/she actually finished college. Go figure.
Elite Colleges vs. Other Colleges: I am not an elitist, but I am very aware of how an eduction from an elite institution's benefited people like me. Because I graduated from Dartmouth College with an Economics degree, I had fewer hoops to jump through after college. This leads to a positive cycle over time. For example, when I was looking for a job across the country back in 2014, I was able to get two job offers within a month, and most of it was probably due to the sticker my resume carried. It at least saved my resume from being thrown into the trash bin.
A NATION OF STICKERS COMES WITH FLAWS
We all want a quick and easy way to identify the good from the bad, in coffee, in Vodka and in employees. But this sticker system comes with too many loopholes. For example, you probably know someone from your work, whether present or the past, who is impressive on paper, yet less than competent in reality. It is especially pronounced in middle management. You probably know a middle manager and privately wondered how he got a position leading a team on a subject matter in which he had no previous experience?
I believe the public school system provides a good example on how it should be done. You must have experience as a teacher before rising to a principal. Unfortunately, that does not always translate in other industries. I have witnessed many people without analytics experience leading a team of analysts. It's like asking a person without training and experience to step into the shoes of a surgeon.
LOOK BEYOND THE FANCY EDUCATION AND IMPRESSIVE TITLES
In my opinion, our society has gone too far as a nation of stickers. Personally, I am no longer in awe with people's fancy education, and impressive job titles. What we need is a nation of capable productive do'ers.
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