Is university worth it?

A recent Freakonomics podcast “Is college worth it?” was sadly centered on the economic returns of studying and on US colleges, but one student of economics and philosophy had this universally applicable answer:

If a bunch of people from the community sat in a park every day for three months straight and just exchanged books and had lectures, we’d learn much more than we had in three years here.

That’s a very good answer. Of course it depends on the university, the specific degree, the professor, but this student has a valid point.

Sure, you will know more after studying for three or four years than you knew before, but the real question is if you learned more than you would have learned on your own – or by other means – in the same time. I dare to say that most universities probably fail that test.

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Economics, Education and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Is university worth it?

  1. It depends on the university. I went to a “technical” college that emphasized the core curriculum (data processing and computers). We did have some English/writing classes, and some economics (but only as it related to computers and their effects on business, plus some basics), but we didn’t get lost on biology or the history of literature or anything “extraneous”. (I put that in quotes, because I think my knowledge in things outside the curriculum made me a better person). Had I attended a “traditional” university, I would have gotten a lot of classes in things that, frankly, wouldn’t have helped me get a job or earn more money. AND – I studied a lot of stuff in my free time both during and after college, without the horrendous cost of getting the knowledge from a university.
    It all depends on what you want to learn when, I guess. And what you want the school to do for you.

  2. JoV says:

    Great Ideas and great learnings are sparked by connecting the many dots of “structured” learning we have gone through in our lives. The person who wrote that quote is a student of economics and philosophy and has many years of learning in his belt. Try putting a high school student and a graduate school student and exchanged book and read everyday for the next 3 months. I bet you the student who has a higher education gain a lot more insights than the other student. Uni is worth it. Thanks for the thought.

  3. You are probably right, but most people lack this kind of motivation for self learning.For most of these not so motivated people like us, Universities are the answer.

  4. Liz says:

    Interesting article. I believe college isn’t just about what you learn in the books, but rather is teaching both how to ask as well as answer questions. Most people forget the details when a class ends, but the general knowledge they gained helps solve real world problems.

  5. You may have learned more without college, but for certain people college still might be worth it knowing that. Companies who hire are usually more likely to hire the guy who went to a good school and got a good degree than the guy who spent a year reading books and listening to lectures (even if the second guy learned more).

  6. This is an unfair comparison: people who meet regularly to discuss ideas for four years on their own are much more motivated than the average college student. So many students merely do the work to get the grade; learning often seems incidental.
    Anyone really motivated to learn will be able to learn much more in a (good) college than they would on their own, thanks to interacting with other motivated peers and with grad students and professors who love this stuff so much that they have devoted their lives to it (and are so knowledgeable about it that they are being paid to think about it!).

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