Robots and college

The "conventional wisdom" says that, as more and more robots enter the American economy and eliminate millions of jobs at every level (from pilots and truck drivers to burger flippers and janitors), what workers need to do is to constantly upgrade their skills to stay ahead of the robots. A big part of that upgrade process is "going to college". Most people agree that the only way to get a "good job" in America today is to go to college, and that pressure to go to college will only increase as robots start to invade the economy.

Therefore, this quote from this article on the GI Bill is fascinating:The article also states the reason why college is important in today's economy:Here is something to consider: If it took us 60 years to go from 5 percent college attendance to 25 percent college attendance, and if it will take only 30 to 40 years for robots to take half of the jobs in our economy, how, exactly, are we going to suddenly start providing college educations for the majority of Americans? What, exactly, is going to get us to 50 percent college attendance, or more realistically 75 percent, in the matter of two to three decades?

Getting to 75 percent college attendance represents a massive societal shift, as well as a massive investment. Yet, at this moment, public universities and community colleges are being hammered by declining state support because of the concentration of wealth occuring in America today. Tuitions at both public and private universities are rising rapidly. We are heading in the wrong direction.

See Robotic Nation and Robotic Freedom for details. See also this post on the percentage of non-wealthy people going to college.

[Postscript -- This post was originally published on Saturday morning. By Sunday morning I had received several emails saying, approximately, "There are lots of old people in the population who do not have degrees. Far more than 25% of today's students are going to college." I investigated, and here is what I found.

According to the 2004 World Almanac, 67.3% of today's students graduate from high school. That is, 67.3% of today's ninth graders make it to graduation. It is probably not the case that 100% of students make it from Kindergarten to 9th grade, but let's assume it is and go with that 67% number.

An article entitled Immediate Transition From High School to College published by Educational Statistics Quarterly indicates that 65 percent of "high school completers" go to college.

A CNN article entitled College graduation rate below 50 percent says that "Less than 50 percent of U.S. college students entering four-year colleges or universities actually graduate."

So, if 100 students enter 9th grade, only 67 of them will graduate from high school. 65 percent of the 67, or 44 students, will start college. Half of them drop out of college -- either they cannot handle the work, or they run out of money, or they get side-tracked. Only 22 students out of the original 100 ninth graders actually graduate from college.

22% of today's students are earning college degrees. That's what the statistics seem to indicate.]

Postscript 2 - By lunch on Sunday several people had sent in this article by Ariana Huffington: Graduation 2004: Pomp and Crummy Circumstances. It offers another perspective on the college situation.

Postscript 3 - One other thing that is important to keep in mind is the fact that the people losing their jobs to robots in the coming years are not going to be "kids" who are just getting out of high school. They are going to be pilots, truck drivers, pharmacists, and so on. Millions of people. Real people. They will have spouses, children and mortgages.

While these people are spending two years retraining, they are going to need a minimum of $40,000 per year to keep the family afloat, plus the money for tuition. It is a large national investment to retrain one milion workers displaced by robots, never mind 10 million or 50 million.

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