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August 13, 2008

Is College a Waste of Time?

In today's WSJ, Charles Murray puts forth a radical proposition:

Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:

First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn't meet the goal. We will call the goal a "BA."

You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that's the system we have in place.

Finding a better way should be easy. The BA acquired its current inflated status by accident. Advanced skills for people with brains really did get more valuable over the course of the 20th century, but the acquisition of those skills got conflated with the existing system of colleges, which had evolved the BA for completely different purposes.

Outside a handful of majors -- engineering and some of the sciences -- a bachelor's degree tells an employer nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance. Even a degree in a vocational major like business administration can mean anything from a solid base of knowledge to four years of barely remembered gut courses.

The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them. They need a certification, not a degree.

Whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Murray will depend, to a large degree, upon whether you accept what seems to be his main premise: that the main purpose of college is to tell employers what a student knows.

As a parent, I can attest (with great fervor) to the fact that I did not part with $130 grand of my hard-earned money simply to save some yet-to-be-determined employer the trouble of talking to my youngest son and figuring out what any reasonably intelligent employer ought to be able to divine from such a conversation: that he is bright, ambitious, well read, and above all, that he has a solid work ethic. The interesting thing about my youngest son is that - especially to someone of Charles Murray's way of thinking - he didn't know how to do much when he graduated from college. But then that's not why I sent him there.

He did know how to think.

My son graduated from a school with a Great Books curriculum. For four years his companions were Plato, Socrates, Descartes, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Herodotus, and Euclid.

He never took a modern math course the entire time he was in school.

He now works on advanced risk calculations for mortgage lenders. Not only did he have absolutely no trouble getting hired, but he has been promoted early.

He would almost certainly have failed the kind of test Mr. Murray proposes.

I didn't send my sons to vocational school, though I happen to believe America would be well served to send many of the students who now attend our colleges to a good vocational program of study. In America we look down upon the trades, but we should not do so. It takes intelligence and aptitude to perform well in many trades. To excel, it also requires an apprenticeship under a skilled master craftsman or additional study after high school.

In some technical fields, such as nursing, engineering, or accounting, proficiency tests may make sense. But passing a test is, at best, a proxy or indicator of proficiency or skill. Graduating from college is intended to be an indicator of education.

They are two entirely different things.

Is college a waste of time? Feel free to ensmarten me in the comments section. After all, your hostess has only a lowly BS to show for her efforts.

Posted by Cassandra at August 13, 2008 06:37 PM

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I have a BS and AA degree and it was a waste of time. I'm in tech and I don't get paid well.

Posted by: sir jorge at August 13, 2008 07:08 PM

"After all, your hostess has only lowly BS..."

Oh puhleeze, your BS is of the highest order.

Posted by: Snarkammando at August 13, 2008 07:57 PM

College teaches you how to think? Are you serious? US colleges, especially? In non-hard-science related fields?

Hahahahhahahahahhahahhahahahahahahaha. [take deep breath]

Wheeze, wheeze.

Think of universities today as a kind of threshing and winnowing machine. The wheat stay, the chaff blow away.

Posted by: Gregory at August 13, 2008 08:54 PM

I considered St. John's as a choice when I was in high school. If I had know it cost 130 grand, though, I wouldn't have bothered to consider it.

Now, I was accepted into several "good" schools, and offered what seemed like very generous scholarships -- but none adequate to close the distance between what my family could afford, and what the scholarship offered. So I went to Georgia State, where the HOPE Scholarship offered by then-Governor Zell Miller paid 100% of my tuition.

The results of that, I must leave you to judge for yourselves. Still, it was surely a great bargain.

Posted by: Grim at August 13, 2008 10:04 PM

I can agree with both sides here. Most people who earn degrees don't want an education; they want a training for a job. It makes no sense to drive them through the same gate as those who want to learn how to think and understand the foundations of western civilization.

Bravo to your son. The Great Books curriculum is top notch. I wish I had known about that program when I went hunting for a college. (Shouldn't have been difficult since my uncle followed that course.) I attended a state university and wound up getting my head stuffed full of postmodern nonsense (or, more correctly, stuffing my own head with it). Do you know how hard that is to rinse out? Sheesh.

We need to separate trade schools and business schools from universities.

Posted by: Bill B (AKA Theocoid) at August 13, 2008 10:09 PM

He never took a modern math course the entire time he was in school.

He now works on advanced risk calculations for mortgage lenders. Not only did he have absolutely no trouble getting hired, but he has been promoted early.

So we have your son to blame for the sub prime financial problem?

Please understand that I say that with a smile. However, lack of math skills encourage the leadership of this country to spout nonsense and back it up with statistics that are meaningless. As a case in point, look to Mr. Obama's tire pressure to offset drilling proposal. The numbers do not add up.

Posted by: Stan/Tx at August 13, 2008 11:54 PM

I didn't say that my son didn't have to learn anything in order to perform the jobs he was hired for.

When I was hired out of college, I had no idea how to perform a single one of the tasks I routinely perform today. I took about two years worth of classes during my first few years of employment and they paid off. The question Murray addressed, however, was whether a college degree was sufficient to give employers a complete picture of the skill level of a new employee.

I submit that of course it isn't. But then it's not intended to (at least in the case of a BA).

As to the sub prime thing, first of all, that pre-dated his employment. But secondly, it is more complicated than "bad math skills". It would be very convenient to blame it all on a bad formula, but it's not that simple. Not by a long shot.

But I don't have time to go into that here - that's a subject we could go on and on about. Let's just say that business decisions had just as much to do with it as the risk calculations. Any technical person who has ever worked for sales should not find that proposition earth shattering.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 14, 2008 04:45 AM

I think college is a waste of time for people who can educate themselves. From what I saw at the four different colleges I attended over several years, college is for people who can't learn on their own, especially those who can't be bothered to read their own. I don't need to pay thousands of dollars to listen to some guy talk about a subject I can study by myself. Very rarely was anything said in class that wasn't something covered already in the textbook. With the exception of things you can't do at home like labs and discussion classes, all my classes were like this. I was bored to death.

Some people need college to get educated, some people don't. But there's no other option for people who don't, so even if you've spent years studying and learning, if you didn't do it in the "right" place and didn't get the little piece of paper proving that you did, it means nothing to employers.

Posted by: akinoluna at August 14, 2008 07:30 AM

I need to conslut (deliberate misspelling) the ethics people I am reading. We don't read the great philosophers. We get to read the dregs of the Age Of Reason.

Other than that, NO college is not a waste of time unless you are not reading the classics with the occasional math or science class thrown in for good measure.

Posted by: Cricket at August 14, 2008 08:16 AM

Seems to me that you're already reading the ethics people who're *teaching* the course quite effectively...

Posted by: BillT at August 14, 2008 08:49 AM

With the exception of things you can't do at home like labs and discussion classes, all my classes were like this.

Oddly enough, as a returning adult I spent very little time being bored in class.

As an 18 y/o freshman I was often bored. In fact, I was often hung over after partying all night :p

I think the difference is that as a younger student, I often saw no relevance between what was being covered in class and anything in my own life or experience. Once I returned to school as an adult though, college was an intellectual feast. Even classes I'd previously though dry and boring were fascinating. I constantly saw connections between all my classes - every day was like a giant connect-the-dots exercise.

It really was rather pathetic. Most of my profs loved me - probably because I sat in the front row and just drank in everything they said. It's not that I *agreed* with everything they said, mind you. Often, I argued with them heatedly. But I was utterly, completely engaged, every minute. I even enjoyed my homework. I asked more questions than anyone else - not because I didn't "get" the material - I'm not bragging, but the only class I took in four years in which I didn't tend to get the highest grades in the room was biology - but because I kept thinking of more things I wanted to know.

Biology, I barely scraped an A out of. Science is just not my forte, I guess.


Or maybe my course load was just too heavy that term - I was overloaded most of the time and I also worked.

But I know for a fact that there are a million books I never would have read, but for the distributive requirement. College forced me to stretch my mental wings a bit - more than a bit, in fact. Left to myself, I would have read only things which interested me. College forced me to adopt a well balanced course of study and exposed me to people and ideas I disagreed with.

That alone is well worth the price of admission, IMO.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 14, 2008 09:12 AM

Cricket has hit on one of my biggest beefs about most college curriculums: the derivative nature of the syllabus. We never study what Plato said. We study small excerpts of what x, y, and z think about what Plato said Socrates said :p

Posted by: Cassandra at August 14, 2008 09:16 AM

In my view modern US university degrees (I hold a BS in CompSci) tells a prospective employer that:
a) you're trainable
b) you've got perserverence
c) you can show up (most likely on time) over a long term basis

My college experience is twofold. I first went to college at 17 and was NOT ready. After dropping out, I joined the Army and did a 5 year tour. Following that I went back to school, and had an extremely different experience. It really is like night and day between how I participated in class and the 'kids' did. They were almost afraid to speak or contribute to discussions, whereas I would jump into the conversation at the drop of a hat.

One of my favorite experiences was in my History classes, we had a Korean War POW vet auditing the classes (he's since passed from cancer that he knew he had all during those classes) and his insight and views really were an invaluable contribution to the classes.

Posted by: MikeD at August 14, 2008 11:09 AM

When I went back to school, I tutored other students and one of my constant refrains was, "college is *so* wasted on the young".

Posted by: Cassandra at August 14, 2008 11:13 AM

Is college "worth it".

Yes and no.

But I'm in one of those technical fields that requires higher levels of training. You can't take a history major and teach them to perform Non-Stationary Markov-Chain simulation (not in a reasonable period of time anyway).

However, the biggest complaint I have as a hiring manager is that candidates come out with a thorough understanding of statistical theory, but they have no idea how to solve real problems. In the 6 years I've been doing this I've never once went into one of my teams cubes and asked "Quick, I need a proof of Central Limit Theorem!".

I've had candidates tell me about their thesis project and describe the great difficulty of involved in verifying that a certain population's behavior exhibited a certain distribution. I asked the candidate one question, "That's great, but why were you doing it, what was the purpose?" This person looked at me like I had 3 heads. Appearently verifying that the behavior fit the distribution *was* the goal. I asked "OK, but now that you know, what are you going to be doing with that knowledge?" The answer I got was "I don't know", but I have a feeling what that really meant was "I don't care, that's someone else's problem".

So while the school may have imparted on them the technical abilities, they have done a piss poor job of preparing them for a working environment. We don't do stuff as an academic excersize just because it's neat to know. If that's what you want, then stay in Academia and work on getting a theorem named after you. I wish you luck, but stop wasting my time.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 14, 2008 11:59 AM

"As to the sub prime thing, first of all, that pre-dated his employment. But secondly, it is more complicated than "bad math skills". It would be very convenient to blame it all on a bad formula, but it's not that simple. Not by a long shot."

In my experience working in the mortgage industry (not the same part as the sub-prime lending, but close enough), the problem was more along the lines of poor business decisions on the part of those making risky loans. Long shots that bit them in the bum.

I dont think I learned very much in college, except a couple of skills, such as organizing techniques and process mapping that help me out with projects. Odd, looking back on my experiences at University, it is a wonder how all the work I did then looks so simple in comparison to the things that I do today that it never really trained me for.

Posted by: Kevin L at August 14, 2008 12:09 PM

I've found there is often a gap between what happens when the business unit or sales division asks the technical side of an organization to design something and how it ends up being used. The two rarely are in sync.

This isn't all the fault of the business side. Or the tech side.

Often there is poor communication between the two. The tech people don't always understand how their product will be used, partly b/c the business unit doesn't really understand what they want and consequently don't explain their requirements well (how can you design to a spec your customer doesn't even understand?). But also because post-delivery, they don't listen to the tech staff and they go out and shoot themselves in the foot with the product despite explicit instructions on how NOT to shoot themselves in the foot with the product :p

But also, sometimes the techies are in love with the tech aspect of the product and bored by the real world requirements of their customers, and so they don't pay enough attention to what the client is likely to want/do with it (i.e., they'll say "they shouldn't do x, y, or z even though we all know they WILL do x, y, or z the first chance they get and so they need to fix it so they can't :p). They need to be pulled back to earth.

This is a part of what I do: I try to act as a bridge between the two sides.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 14, 2008 12:21 PM

MikeD: "In my view modern US university degrees (I hold a BS in CompSci) tells a prospective employer that:
a) you're trainable
b) you've got perserverence
c) you can show up (most likely on time) over a long term basis"

Not too long ago, that's what a High School diploma was supposed to show. Now that the HSd has devolved into irrelevancy, the BS had to take its place.

Posters like Gregory recognize that many colleges - and expensive, Ivy-League ones as well - have degenerated into leftist propaganda mills (cf. Horowitz's "The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America"). But there's still hope; there are many Professors who don't fall into that class.

akinoluna: "I think college is a waste of time for people who can educate themselves." For those who can, perhaps, but unfortunately, not everybody is an Eric Hoffer.

I was going to add "and has the leisure time to do it", but then I remembered that Hoffer did it while doing heavy lifting and toting in the San Francisco dockyards.

Posted by: ZZMike at August 14, 2008 12:53 PM

The problem is that long ago you could CLEP your way to a bacholor's degree, courtesy the University of Chicago. It was a good indicator that if you could pass the tests, especially since you weren't being taught to the test, you could think.

Of course, that means self-taught people are scary to the Ivory Tower League because the ITL went through school on theory credits.

The only thing I like about online courses is they challenge me to write, but the interaction between the profs and the Inquiring Minds in a discussion doesn't happen. I am enjoying the ethics class because it is more of a discussion. The prof is actually a Presence, even if the book is idiotic. I am pulling out my Harvard Classics and reading the Greeks. And the Romans. And everyone else.

Best ten bucks I ever spent.

Posted by: Cricket at August 14, 2008 01:06 PM

Not too long ago, that's what a High School diploma was supposed to show. Now that the HSd has devolved into irrelevancy, the BS had to take its place.

You're exactly right ZZ, that was when you left High School with a grasp of the English language, some algebraic skills, a sense of the common history of this country, as well as an understanding of civics and an all around grasp of the basics. College was meant to be a specialization training. You'd learn how to be a Biologist, or Engineer, or what have you. But since High School has degenerated into some form of baby sitting for teens, Colleges are finding they need to teach those basic skills while trying to shoehorn in some advanced material.

At least, the good schools are. The bad ones let you skate by with Womyn's Studies and Poverty Studies classes that require nothing more than nodding vigorously at everything the professor says and being able to regurgitate their talking points. "Rich bad! Men bad!" And so on.

Posted by: MikeD at August 14, 2008 01:21 PM

The sub-prime crisis was a perfect storm of 1) unprecedented low interest rates (combination of the slowed economy at then end of Clinton's term and start of Bush II and 9-11) and 2) a gov't mandate to expand homeownership (which can pretty much only come from a) the sub-prime sector through the advent of b) exotic lending product) and the resulting astronomical real estate appreciation due to the effects lower payments have in allowing consumers to bid up the price of housing without impacting their budgets.

So we have risky consumers in risky products buying overpriced housing. Yeah, that's a GREAT plan.

Well, for a while it really was. Any customer that got into trouble could refinance his way out of it with a lower payment from lowered prime rate, a more exotic product, or home price appreciation (lowering the APR). This works fine so long as payment amounts continue to fall. But when they don't (or they go up from higher interest or resetting loan terms like converting from Interest only to Principal and Interest) someone is going to be left holding the bag.

But the guys who are compensated by originations volume are reluctant to give up revenue. Especially when you can't tell them when the crash is going to come. "Sure it's unsustainable, but you're not telling me it's going to crash next month/quarter. What if it's not going to crash for 2 to 3 years." The problem is that by the time you have enough data to know when it's going to crash, it's already too late.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 14, 2008 01:25 PM

What I have never figured out, and bear with me on this, is if you can go into a bank and finance a 100,000 dollar car, for 5 years, why can't you do the same with a house and pay your escrows separately (you do get socked with a higher interest rate if you don't let the mortgage company think for you. There's ways around that, too)?

Or, if you want to refinance the balance on your loan, say uh...80 grand, at a lower rate for a shorter term, like you would a car, why the *market value* of the house has anything to do with it? You can get a lower rate of interest on credit cards with a principal balance nearly that high, which is unsecured, but the house? It ain't drivin' itself anywhere...and depreciation or equity isn't the point...it is what you owe.

Can someone help me with that, please? That is, once you have picked yourselves up off the floor from laughing, that is.

Posted by: Cricket at August 14, 2008 05:48 PM

Because you live in the USA?

No, seriously. There are different laws and differing regulations between countries, and some are more strict, some less.

Posted by: Gregory at August 15, 2008 02:47 AM

I know there are different laws in different countries, but the lending industry has shown itself to be above such petty restrictions.

I say that because the banks determine to whom they will lend under what restrictions.

Banks can slap any rate of interest they want on their unsecured lines of credit if the state they do business in doesn't have any usury laws to protect the consumer. However, the house and the payment history of the buyer is the security for the balance of the loan, not the market value.

Posted by: Cricket at August 15, 2008 08:02 AM

$100k for a car loan over 5 years? Not at any bank I know of. Not unless you're makin' some serious cheese.

Also, an $80k credit card at less than 6.5% interest? Again, not at any bank I know of.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 15, 2008 10:04 AM

However, the house and the payment history of the buyer is the security for the balance of the loan, not the market value.

The house is only as much security on the loan as is it's market value. If I have a $200k home loan and the house's market value is only $15k then I have (practically) no security on the loan.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 15, 2008 10:09 AM

I assume your son went to St. John's Annapolis, not St. John's Collegeville - tuition behind the Pine Curtain is far less than on the East Coast. I studied under Robert Spaeth after he made the transfer and started a similar program here - I'm forever grateful for the grounding in the classics he gave me.

But we're the exceptions, your son and I. Don't judge Murray's point by us, but by the crowds at St. Cloud State University or worse, the kids getting BA's in Womyn's Studies from expensive colleges who now pour coffee at Starbucks.

They've wasted four years and thousands of dollars and have nothing they can sell in the job market. They'd have been better off working as insurance salesmen or climbing the office cubicle ladder in Accounts Receivable.

Posted by: Joe Doakes at August 15, 2008 01:56 PM

Joe, I don't know if you meant to make this point or not, but I was looking back at Cass' description of her son: "...he is bright, ambitious, well read, and above all, that he has a solid work ethic". I am wondering how many of those qualities did he take with him to college, vice get out of college? I certainly hope that college amplified those qualities, but it does suggest that the worth of what you take out of college is highly dependent on what worth you bring with you.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 15, 2008 02:17 PM

This is a part of what I do: I try to act as a bridge between the two sides.

She's the enforcer.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 15, 2008 05:37 PM

Thanks for the input. For further clarification, the car loan was financed at 80% in the hypothetical. You see, this is why I come here before I start getting on the talk show cicuit and Larry King.

My home loan has 6%, which is good, and I prefer the tax benefit...but if Barack O. gets in, or another socialist, could we kiss mortgage interest goodbye?

Posted by: Cricket at August 15, 2008 07:55 PM

80% or 8.0%?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 15, 2008 09:43 PM

80%? No wonder you can't afford dinner and a movie!

Posted by: BillT at August 16, 2008 02:05 AM

Har de har har. 80% financed by the bank at 4.5%, or eighty grand, assuming the down payment for the car was 20%.

I KNOW if one has the down payment of 20 for a luxury car, they are making serious money. I didn't factor that into the hypothesis, because most people don't buy luxury cars, they buy houses at 95% financing at 6%. What I am asking is why the difference in treating a house differently than a car IF the amount is roughly the same?

Wouldn't it help people get out of debt or would it encourage more spending?

Posted by: Cricket at August 16, 2008 02:03 PM

Sorry I hadn't kept up with this.

OK, 80% Loan-to-value (LTV) on a $100k car. But there the bank did know the 'market value' of the car. And it did make a difference (if there were no down payment the interest rate would be higher.) The same as they would on a home.

But the scenarios are still not matched. The person spending $100k on a car with 20% down is not in the same financial position as a person who is buying a $100k house with 20% down.

The person buying a $100k car has an income somewhere in the neighborhood of around $250k-$300k per year. The person buying a $100k house likely has an income of $50-$60k per year.

If the first person does buy a $100k house (assuming primary residence because investment property is different, which is highly unlikely as that income bracket is much more prone to spending $600k on their primary residence) then you would be correct. I'm not really concerned with the collateral's value at that point. The person's earning potential is my security.

However, for the latter customer a great part of my security is being able to take the house away from the resident and sell it myself as there is not enough earning potential to cover my exposure.

Ask yourself this question, would you lend $100k (or $80k to someone who was putting $20k) down on a house to a person who makes $50k/year without knowing what the house is worth? Would you be more or less likely to do so if you knew the house was worth $400k, or if the house was worth on $40k?

If the house is worth $400k, who cares if they pay me or not. I take the house, sell it and recover my money. I'll make that loan every time.

If the house is worth only $40k and the customer stops paying me. I'm out $50k-$55k (The $80k I had in it, minus the $40k owed, minus repair costs, minus realtor fees). It'll take a highly unlikely percentage of good loans to make up for that kind of loss. It's better to just deny the loan.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 19, 2008 12:51 PM

Okay, let's go with this: The loan has already been paid down 20%, so there is 80 grand remaining on the balance. At that point, why not allow the loan to accelerate to a five year term.
The house is already purchased, so it is the balance on the loan that the buyer wants to pay off but in five years, not ten or fifteen.

Oh, and I thought you all would get a kick out of this video.

Department of Education

Posted by: Cricket at August 19, 2008 01:49 PM

Priceless "Yes, Prime Minister" excerpt.

I believe banks approaching lending on houses differently from lending on cars in part because it's so much easier to keep track of your collateral when it's fixed on real estate. You just make sure it's insured, and it's bound to be there when you go to foreclose. All you have to worry about is your exposure to market fluctuations. Also, you can be fairly sure your borrower is highly motivated to keep the loan up so he'll have somewhere to live. The less critical the collateral is to daily life, the more at risk the loan is.

But you guys amaze me with your estimates of how much income someone would have to have to afford a house or a car of a certain value. I'd hate to see your portfolios! In my wildest dreams I'd never have bought a car worth even 10% of my income! Or a house worth more than 3 times my income, and then only when I was pretty sure my income was likely to go up soon. What in Heaven's name do your credit card balances look like?

Re the original topic, the value of a college education: I didn't get any vocational training to speak of, but the experience still was quite valuable to me. Mind you, this was 30 years ago, at a fairly rigorous and traditional school. I was exposed to ideas I might otherwise not have stumbled on for a very long time as an autodidact, and challenged in a way that had been unfamiliar to me. It was a good way to jump-start my curiosity. And in my case, the cost was negligible. Ivy League was quite out of the question economically.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 19, 2008 04:00 PM

Texan99, I used the luxury car as a comparison to the cost of real estate. I bought My Precious used, and it has been a wonderful vehicle, but it is paid for and I have owned it almost five years. The Engineer's Yacht (aka the Jeep) has been in our happy SUV family for 15 years...we bought it new at the dealership. Still going strong.

The Concours d'Elegance was just held at Pebble Beach. A Bugatti was there; price tag 2 million.
Uhhh...sure. I will keep the pocket car with my pocket yacht at my summer cottage 'Breakers.'

Posted by: Cricket at August 19, 2008 05:29 PM

Jeep Cherokee, 1985. On its second engine and approaching the second 200,000 mile mark after the first engine self-immolated at about 218,000 miles.

Don't have any idea how many clutch plates I've gone through, but at least Pep Boys still accept cash...

Posted by: BillT at August 19, 2008 07:12 PM

It truly is a Jeep thing. I love those cars. We still have everything original, except it had to get rebored about seven years ago. Even *I* did some of the maintenance on it when the Engineer was deployed...in spite of microchip idiocy. Ours is a five speed manual transmission too. The new ones don't even come standard except as a custom option. That is so wrong.

The best car to teach CLUs how to drive. They just don't make fun easy to maintain cars like they used to.

*off to have a good cry*

Posted by: Cricket at August 19, 2008 09:50 PM

Well, that's a relief. I'm still trying to get used to the concept of a $100K car. I'm afraid I'm getting old.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 19, 2008 10:59 PM

Mercedes Benz. Bulletproof everything. RM1 million (approx USD330,000).

Ferrari. I need say no more.

Toyota Camry. RM120k-150k.

Brabus (customised Merc). Cheapest model going for RM399,000 (approx USD130k).

Goodness, you folk have amazing build quality. Our national car manufacturers have cars that last about 10 years before you need to spend ~10%-30% of the resale value of the car just to keep it going. Gosh, we change cars faster than we change governments. Well, of course, the current government's been around for a good half-century by now.

Posted by: Gregory at August 20, 2008 06:26 AM

Gregory, I don't know if you are in Germany or not, but here, we used to teach engine maintenance and repair in high school. In driver's education (taken at age 15 and a half back in the 70s), knowledge of how the internal combustion engine was required in order to pass the course...both boys and girls.

I helped my brothers work on their cars when they needed small hands to hold something tricky; that was when they would tell me what they were doing, why and why things worked the way they did.
I am by no means a grease monkey, but part of the reason the build quality is there is most people know enough to do it themselves or know where to take it to be done properly. It also helps that many new cars come with insanely long warranties.

Then, when I went to my first year of college, I boarded with a family whose patriarch was literally, a rocket scientist. His hobby was to build formula racing cars. He was the one that taught me a tiny little bit about fuel economy and how gasoline works better with a solvent to vaporize it. The reaserch I have done on the web confirms it, so every now and then I give the Precious a hit of nitrogen methane or acetone to boost mileage. I get about 15 mpg in the city.
My Precious is a ten cylinder Ford Excursion, gasoline powered.

Posted by: Cricket at August 20, 2008 01:13 PM

"Goodness, you folk have amazing build quality."
"Why zank you Doktor! Oh! you mean our automobiles... ahhh", says Dr. Froderick Fronkensteins assistant.

I'm with Cricket. I've a 1979 pickup that underwent a complete restoration about 5 years back. And I have an '87 Toyota Supra that is in the paint/body shop right now after I completed its drive-train/chassis rebuild. The painter is to lay down black metallic base/clear, today come to think of it. Afterwards it gets new upholstery, then Viola! a brand new, old car! Just my speed. Then there is our almost new, 93 Ford sedan with 48-ish K miles, retained as an economical hot spare. Now the wife always gets the new vehicles, befitting her station in life. I like my vehicles old, like my... ahhh, errrr humor! yeah, that's it, humor... And I enjoy the therapeutic benefit I gain from wrenching on them myself. =8^}

"My Precious is a ten cylinder Ford Excursion, gasoline powered."
Oh my... I would love to find a low mileage diesel Excursion in good shape. We had an Expedition when we were hit while sitting at a traffic light by a large one ton doing approximated 45-50 mph according to the LEO and later physics dude hired to calc the forces involved. The mass of the Expedition probably saved us from injuries far more severe than those we suffered.

Regarding the question of college being a waste of time. For many collegians, it would seem that the answer is yes, it is a waste of time. My current opinion is based on my observations of my two girls, their circle of friends, and the benefits they seem to have taken from college, money issues aside. And I have to agree that vocational training would probably be better for some subset of college age kids who lack the maturity or desire to fully appreciate and make the best use of their time at University. College, youth and so many other things are wasted on the young.

So, post-blather, I think I'm in agreement with Milady on the topic of college versus votech versus broad exposure versus test taking abilities versus thinking. I think... Or as they used to say during the Age of Aquarius, and back during my age, that being the inception of dirt, different strokes for different folks.

Posted by: bt_in-an-indeterminate-state_hun at August 20, 2008 02:14 PM

Come to think of it, the one ton utility truck was grossly overloaded and was tipping the scales at what was later determined to be about 5 tons when he hit us. Which was why his brakes failed and why I prefer to travel in big, heavy vehicles like my pickup. Try absorbing 5 tons moving at 45 mph sometime in your MINI Cooper. I'd be willing to wager that it would not be pretty.

Posted by: bt_in-an-indeterminate-state_hun at August 20, 2008 02:32 PM

Dear Cricket;

No, not in Germany, I reside in Malaysia. Where car taxes - excuse me, tariffs - are ~200-300%.

We bribe our driving invigilators to pass our exams here - we don't get taught anything about fixing the automobiles.

Although, you ask me to change a wheel or the battery or the oil and other minor stuff like that, no problems. But you ask me to overhaul the microchip-controlled auto transmission or fix a cracked gasket, that gets outsourced to my mechanic.

I always thought it was NO2 you pumped into the engine to give it a bit of a boost. :)

Posted by: Gregory at August 20, 2008 10:53 PM

FWIW, this article also caught the eye of Dr. Perry, over on the economics blog Carpe Diem. Thought you might find some of the comments over there of interest, too.
Link here

Posted by: Obloodyhell at August 21, 2008 07:34 AM


PL/1, Assembly, Fortran, C... What no ADA?

Slacker! =8^p

Posted by: bt_in-an-indeterminate-state_hun at August 21, 2008 08:43 AM

Gregory, that was what I meant about taking your vehicle to be serviced. You have to know enough about it to know what is wrong and what needs to be taken care of in order to be honestly served.

It stands to reason that a mechanic who gives you accurate, honest service will be busy because of it.

bthun, I second that about SUVs. They are excellent.

One of the CLUs wants a jeep. He will get his jeep, with a roll cage.

Posted by: Cricket at August 21, 2008 09:04 AM

Re: income-to-house ratios.
Personally, I borrowed less than 2 times my income for my own home and my cars were paid for in cash. But in my home state the average is a little less than 3 times annual income. California, however, is around 6 times annual income. Is that ridiculous? You betcha. It's part of the reason for the housing crunch out there.

Re: Okay, let's go with this: The loan has already been paid down 20%, so there is 80 grand remaining on the balance. At that point, why not allow the loan to accelerate to a five year term.
The house is already purchased, so it is the balance on the loan that the buyer wants to pay off but in five years, not ten or fifteen.

Again, it comes down to capacity to repay. The person who can buy that luxury car likely has the disposable income to be able to pay off 80 grand in 5 years. The person who bought the house likely does not.

Let's take a look at the numbers, the person who bought the 100 grand house likely makes 50 grand/year. After taxes, this looks suspicously more like 40 grand. At the same time an $80k loan at 6.5% interest over 5 years yeilds nearly $22 grand in annual payments (PITI). This person would be paying nearly 55% of their take home pay towards their mortgage. Add utilities, insurance, food, gas, clothes, and any other debt (cars, credit cards, etc.) and the person is under water. Murphy will take up residence in your spare bedroom.

Throw on top of this that I, as the lender, have no idea if the house is actually worth $80 grand. There's no way I make this deal. You can't pay, and I don't know if I can recover. (Heck, I likely wouldn't make the deal even if I knew I could recover due to the home's value as it could be seen as predatory lending).

What it all comes down to is that for your scenario, you have to assume all else is equal. But they aren't. Even if you assumed an equal income, the nature of the collateral is different. Cars go down in value, while home (at least long term) go up. So if you walked into my (fictional) bank and told me, "I want to refi my $80k balance on my $100k car for 5 years and I want to refi my $80k balance on my $100k home for 5 years." I'd be willing to lend at a lower interest rate on the home than the car.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 21, 2008 01:55 PM

As a recipient of a BS and MBA , I can honestly say that overall college was a waste of time for me.

I was fortunate enough for my college to be paid in full. Today I'm fortunate enough to not have any student loans looming over my head. I know of people I went to high school with who have less education than me making more money today. It may be all about being happy in a career vs. salary but that doesn't help pay the bills.

The "skills" I learned in college I never apply to my position in retail management. True I made life long friends that I still keep in contact with, but honestly that's pretty much all I walked away with.

I can see how college can be both good and bad. It can take a sheltered child as a friend of mine was and turn them into a brilliant lawyer. But the "being out on one's own" for the first time can backfire as well. The individual who was valedictorian of my class came back from college after only one semester due to not being able to cope with the new lifestyle shall we say.

I truly feel some people are geared for college and some are not. I can understand parents wanting the best for their kids but some just need to face the harsh reality that their child may not be ready now or ever to go to college. Just because the parents graduated from college doesn't necessarily mean their kids want to go as well...........

Posted by: b at March 6, 2009 05:32 AM