Two Letters Re: The Best College Degrees for the Next Depression?

College is alarmingly pricey. As a child of the 1970s, I grew up understanding that you either got a useful degree or paid your own way.

I contend that the most useful education currently is learning a trade. Welding, auto repair or electrician’s certification will pay the bills through the rough times as people choose to repair instead of purchase. As times get better, some of those trade school credits may transfer to a college and you are on your way. What is that architecture degree, but about a year of drafting plus three tortuous years of art…the discovery of use of light and space…with a dash of engineering. One of the coolest people I know, was a blacksmith who got his doctorate in physical chemistry. You never know where your trade may take you.

Art comes in many mediums that must be learned such as welding for those grand sculptures that grace the lawns of universities and corporations. Get the “practicals” under your belt first, while you make a few bucks or barter for your dinner.

Don’t forget that the library is free. You should know your reference librarian as she hold the key to all knowledge or can borrow it from another library for you. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on.

As you head off to college: Find out all the required courses for your degree. Does your college allow “testing out” of any subjects? The last I checked it cost about $75 average to test completely out of 3 or 4 credit courses. Testing out may not be an option for “required for major” courses.

If you are still in high school, go for every advanced placement (AP) for college credit course you dare.
So as you plod away learning your trade that is only vaguely related to you dream degree, remember: we do what we have to do so that eventually we can do what we want to do.
Now, who is gonna come fabricate some new tines for my tiller? – The Accidental Survivalist


For more than 20 years I have volunteered my time with unemployed US scientists, engineers, and computer professionals. Based upon my experiences, I suggest that young people 1) attempt to have a trade under their belt before they get a four year college degree; 2) preferably pick a college major that will allow one to work for oneself and not as a mere employee; 3) consider mixing two majors such as getting a teaching certificate and forensic accounting as this might give one two options for a career. If the student is not committed to college or unsure what to major in, consider attending a community college first as it is less expensive. Learning something either in college or via the trade pre-college that is hands-on work such as plumbing, construction, roofing, carpentry, welding, aquaculture (fish farming) , farm management, get commercial driver’s license, learn to drive farm equipment, learn to repair things — electronics, washers/dryers, etc. Some high schools have working relationships with community colleges where a high school student can take college courses while still in high school thus saving lots of money while living at home. Some schools will allow students to attend high school part time and learn a trade at the local community college at the same time. Many high tech professionals in the USA have been told by college career counselors after the student graduated with his degree in chemistry, physics, engineering, or computer science that he should consider that degree as nothing more than a ‘hobby’. Kind of a fun mental exercise but it was foolish of the student to expect to have dreamed of a career in that field. What you are looking for is a skill (or skills) that allow you to be self-employed. If the young person is in college, they should focus on skills that will make them more marketable — oral communication skills, writing, bookkeeping (useful for one’s own business), marketing, solid basic math and computer skills. Having a degree in the medical profession may or may not make one employable — I have read of dentists and physicians who were unemployed during the Great Depression. It is possible that cosmetic surgeons might be in high demand if there are wars as the victims (military/civilian) may need reconstructive surgery. Health care professions are still probably a good bet but it doesn’t guarantee a career or stable income. Case in point: I have a friend whose brother-in-law in California is an allergist and is now closing his practice because he can’t making a living in this specialty. He is dropping down to become a Physician’s Assistant (PA) and will work for his wife who is also a physician. He, however, cannot afford to maintain the cost of his license as an allergist with fewer people willing to see an allergist in an economic recession.

Princeton University economist, Alan Blinder (do an Internet search to read his international presentations) has stated that young Americans should not waste their time and money (paraphrasing) on a four year college degree. Instead, American youth should be learning trades that cannot be off-shored. (Unfortunately, he doesn’t raise concerns about the importation of cheap labor.)

One should strive to have a college education that is debt free. No one knows what the future holds and graduating with an educational debt for a degree that may or may not provide a job (no longer a career) is a tremendous burden for a young person to enter the adult world with. When looking for a summer job or working during college — try to pass on the burger flipping jobs and look for work in something where one can enhance a skill such a learning how to pump out septic systems, car parts shop, working on a dairy farm, landscaping, etc. I do think that having a college degree is valuable to one’s personal understanding of the world but it is not necessarily essential these days to earn a living. I would urge young people, if possible, to complete a four year degree but not having one is not a sign of failure.

Finally, I also urge parents to help their children to learn basic life skills — how to manage the home budget, cooking skills, gardening, car repairs; as well as learning to be happy and enjoy life. Learn to sing, dance, play some musical instrument, juggle, something to bring happiness to oneself and to others. This might sound like it is off topic, but when one is unemployed if you have these inner resources to pull upon it can literally be life saving.- Cynthia W. (An informed American on jobs and education)