Sunday, 21 August 2011

09:28 – According to this article, outstanding college student loans are on track to exceed $1 trillion this year. People are finally starting to question just how much benefit these students are getting in return for shackling themselves with huge amounts of debt.

The final paragraph of the article begins, “[b]eyond dispute is the value of a higher education diploma, notwithstanding the risks associated with borrowing heavily to obtain it”, which is a fine example of the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc. Correlation does not imply causation. Yes, it is beyond dispute that college graduates, on average, earn more than those without a college degree. But what is not beyond dispute is whether the college degree itself actually has anything to do with those higher lifetime earnings.

Consider this: about 27% of US adults hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, with another 27% having attended college or received an associates degree. So, roughly half the adult population of the US has at least some college. Few would dispute that, on average, those people are smarter and work harder than those in the other half. If colleges did not exist, one would expect that that smarter, harder-working cohort would be more successful and earn more than the dumber and lazier cohort.

The question becomes whether a smart, hard-working person is better off spending four years or more and tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend college, or hit the ground running and get a four-year head start without incurring a crushing debt burden. Intuitively, it seems obvious that if one has what it takes to become a professional, it makes sense to take that front-end hit in the interest of earning more down the road. But it’s by no means obvious that less stellar performers should make that decision. In short, if you have what it takes to become a physician or other professional, you’re well advised to spend the time and money to get a degree. If, on the other hand, you plan to major in history or literature or sociology, you’re wasting four years and a lot of money that you’ll never get back, particularly when you consider the time value of money.

Barbara and I spent some time yesterday getting my kit assembly work area cleared out and organized. Until now, component inventory storage has been haphazard, with cases of components stored wherever there happened to be a free space. When I was assembling a batch of, say, half a dozen kits, I’d have to go here and there to get the components for them as I was packing them, which made everything take a lot longer than it should.

We moved all the stuff that had been stored on the shelves behind my work area to shelves elsewhere in the basement, so now when I need, say, two dozen 250 mL beakers, I can simply turn around and pull two boxes of a dozen beakers off the shelf behind me. We also cleared a lot of workspace that had had components stacked on it. Rather than build batches of half a dozen, now that I have more workspace I can easily do batches of two dozen, which makes things a lot faster. It should now take me only half again as long to assemble two dozen kits as it was taking for each run of half a dozen. It also makes it a lot easier to keep visual track of inventory levels.