Tag Archives: college degree

Cheating Is the New Normal

Pensive guyIf you’ve studied social psychology, economics, sociology, or law, you’ve probably heard of “The Tragedy of the Commons.”  The story goes like this: A long time ago, towns used to have a “common”—a shared field or piece of land—where people let their cattle graze.  In order for there to be enough grass for all the cattle, people had to take turns letting their cows graze on the common.  The tragedy occurred when some people decided to secretly bring their cows in at night to let them eat extra grass.  When only a few “cheaters” did it, they might have gotten away with it, but when enough people did it, the grass died, and the resource dried up for everyone.

I was talking to a former athlete this morning about how it’s more common for people to take a gap year in between high school and college than it used to be.  He said that people used to do it in sports to take a year to lift weights and get bigger and stronger to be more competitive in college football.  He said, back then, they called them “cheaters” and taunted them.  But today, this kind of behavior is completely normal and accepted.

Have you noticed that, today, it’s normal and accepted to use every loophole, advantage, tutor, coach, and even cross the line to exaggerate the truth or have others do the work for you to get ahead of the competition to get into college, to get a job, to get elected, or simply to get anything you want?  It’s so normal, in fact, that we don’t even flinch anymore when we see it.  We just sigh and lament how things are today.  And, if we have the resources, we tend to jump on board.  I hear over and over again, “I’m afraid if we don’t do it, we’ll be left behind.”

Today’s tragedy is coming about in a different way than the commons of yesteryear.  We are cheating the system and destroying it in the process.  Our individualism is spoiling the commons—our common resources, our communities, and our unitedness—and it’s spreading around the world.  Look at the environment for an obvious example.  It’s okay for a few people to pollute, but when many people do it, the atmosphere gets destroyed and global warming impacts us all.

This whole conversation started when the former athlete said that he overheard one affluent mother in a coffee shop telling another that her kid just got back from a college tour in Sweden.  The other affluent mother responded by saying hers had just returned from a college tour in Norway.  Now, you may have heard that studying abroad can be less expensive than attending college in the States, but, for the most part, that is not true.  Even if tuition is cheaper, the travel and living expenses can be quite high.  In any case, undergraduates from the most affluent families are up to five times more likely to go abroad as part of their degree than less privileged students, a new study says.

Why is this important?  Because so many people are trying to cheat the college system in our country that it’s become a less desirable resource.  The cost to get into college is so much higher than it used to be—both financially and because of the toll it takes on the children spending every waking hour boosting their resumes and test scores to get in.  What’s more, college students are increasingly anxious, tuition costs are skyrocketing, and, because so many people have college degrees now, the degree means less.

It’s even more tragic because the people who could benefit the most from a college degree—poor and middle-class Americans—get the least benefit because they incur so much debt.  But no worries for the rich, because as the American college system dries up, the rich increasingly use their resources to send their kids abroad to get educated.  And so it goes.

 

The Missing Component that Nerds Need to Succeed

woman it engineer in network server roomAs an engineering student, I missed out on certain parts of the education that my friends seemed to get in college.  I took the requisite number of core courses, like English and social studies, but my curriculum was mostly filled with science, math, and engineering classes.  While my friends were writing papers, I was working on problem sets and computer programs.  I received a great education in engineering and science, but I didn’t get as much training in writing and speaking.  When I graduated I had to play catch-up.  Does this sound familiar to you?

Honestly, I can’t blame college for my stunted developmentStudent in glasses with books in communication.  It was my own doing.  I wasn’t interested in reading the mind-numbing classics or writing tedious papers.  I wanted to learn how to make things that were useful and solve problems that mattered.  After graduation, I achieved my dream and went to straight to work as a design engineer in Silicon Valley.

But when I got there, I realized that completing problem sets and computer programs didn’t teach me how to communicate with other team members, manage my visibility, interact with sales and marketing, or see the end-user’s perspective.  These were all skills I had to learn to be successful at work.  I had graduated from Harvard and my education was lacking.  How could that be?

It turns out, I’m not alone.  This is very typical of people in STEM.  We become technical experts at the expense of learning people skills.  There’s no blame there.  It’s hard—impossible, in fact—to be good at everything.  We all have to choose what to specialize in.  Some focus on the people at the expense of technical skills.  It works both ways.

Businesswoman talking on cell phone in officeBut we’re finding that we all need to have some skills outside of our expertise.  People-people need to learn technology to survive in today’s world just as technical people need to learn people skills.  We don’t have to be masters at everything.  But we do need to learn just enough to get by.

That’s why I developed the Reinventing Nerds program specifically to help technical people develop communication skills.  I get it that you don’t want to be smooth-talking, manipulative, or touchy-feely.  You just want to be able to work effectively in a team, manage your manager, and understand the end-user’s perspective to get your product designs right.  I know.  I’m a nerd too.

Should You Spend Less on College?

money stackBy Joanie Connell

Parents and students beware! Don’t get suckered into taking out unaffordable college loans because you think you have to. You don’t.

The problem with financial models is they assume people make rational decisions. There’s nothing rational about overspending. People overspend for emotional and psychological reasons, not rational ones.

We overspend because…anxiety

  • We feel anxious: we need to keep up with the Joneses, we feel insecure about our abilities, looks, or status. (Salespeople prey on people’s anxieties to sell them things. See techniques used and a sales example.)
  • We want something really badly: we see a beautiful house and we have an overwhelming desire to own it. (Salespeople also create customer desire to sell. See techniques used and a sales example.)
  • We think we deserve it: we feel entitled to go to a good college because we are a member of a certain group or because we have worked hard to get good grades.
  • We invoke psychological defense mechanisms to believe we can afford what we are buying: we deny that interest rates will go up, we rationalize the luxury car is necessary to impress clients.

There are many more irrational reasons for overspending, but the point is we need to stop doing it.

OVERSPENDING ON COLLEGEgraduates

“Too many degrees are a waste of money. The return on higher education would be much better if college were cheaper.”

One of the biggest problems in our nation right now is that young people are overstretched with costly student loans and it’s limiting their ability to live independently. Financial analysts have shown that, for many people, the investment in college has a negative return. (See The Economist and The Wall Street Journal for recent articles). Why are people spending so much on college then?

“Four in 10 college graduates, according to a recent Gallup study, wind up in jobs that don’t require a college degree.”

Frankly, I think the biggest reason why young graduates are in great debt is because they thought they had to go to the college they chose to get a good job. This is driven by anxiety—the fear of not being attractive in a highly competitive job market. Evidence shows that expensive college degrees are not necessary for most jobs. Check out the College Planner for more on this and for advice.

“A study by the Harvard Business Review found that almost half of the top executives at Fortune 100 companies did not go to prestigious schools.”

Prestige is another driver for choosing a college. I think that parents are the main contributors to the prestige factor because it makes them feel more successful as parents to have their children go to more prestigious colleges. The Boston Globe reports on how parents are using Face Book as a bragging platform to boast about their children’s college acceptances.  Here is a great blog from the Huffington Post for all you parents out there who are doing this.

The Huffington Post provides a “ranking of the public colleges with the highest return on investment.”

Entitlement is another major factor. A high school student told me she wouldn’t consider going to the local state college, as she literally turned up her nose. I was confused because it was a good school at an even better price and her family had only modest means. She chose to go to a state college in a neighboring state and pay out-of-state fees instead. She also moved back home after graduating, burdened with large student loans.

These are all psychological reasons for choosing colleges that may turn an otherwise practical decision to an impractical one.

OVERSPENDING ON LIFESTYLEmoney roll

Student loans aren’t the only factor contributing to young people’s financial problems. The new grads feel entitled to a high standard of living right out of college. I have been surprised at how many 20-somethings I know who have lived in their own apartments, walking distance from the beach here in costly San Diego. Some of them have moved back home because they say the cost of living is too high for them to afford. Well, of course it is if you expect to have an apartment next to the beach! Seriously, who can afford that?

What are reasonable expectations for a standard of living for a recent college graduate? A used car, an apartment with roommates and mismatched, self-assembled furniture in a rundown part of town would seem like a start. It takes time to earn money and save up to buy furnishings, piece by piece, and eventually make enough money to rent a nicer apartment or get a nicer car (emphasis on “or”). It’s not reasonable to expect to have all this right out of college, especially if you have loans to pay. It’s also part of the experience and the fun of being young.

All of the issues here are affected by the economy and demographics as well as psychological factors. Yes, it is more competitive to get into college these days and there is higher unemployment than at some times in our history. The standard of living has also increased so we should expect to have a higher standard of living than at previous times in history. Yet, young people are still financially overstretched and they don’t have to be. We don’t have control over all of these factors.  Yet we can take control of the psychological factors if we are aware and deliberately make practical choices.

Be wise. Make a practical decision on where to go to college. You will be thankful later.