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October 11, 2016

Ask Hickey: Should I bother going to college or nah?

Today's roundup features questions about onscreen deaths, podcast paranoia and the value of education.

Do you have something you want to ask? Well, send me your questions through FacebookTwitter or email (with "Ask Hickey" in the subject line). Your anonymity is guaranteed -- if that’s how you want it -- so feel free to send them via private/direct message.


And now, this week’s questions...

The College Dropout?

What is the value of a college education, really? I once read — in my public relations textbook, mind you — that a degree isn’t even really necessary to do the work I want to do, and now I feel like I’m wasting my time.

—Is It Time To Graduate Yet? (via email)

First of all, bold move by that public-relations professor to have you pony up — I don’t know, $75? — for a textbook that questions the need for a college education.

That’s like a cop telling you obeying the law is really up to you. Or a check-to-check bartender espousing the benefits of a 12-step program.

It’s a timely question, though, what with all the chatter about free college education, and the rebellion against the brainy elites who think they know everything this presidential/political season.

Anyway, you know who’d tell you that you can be successful in life without a college degree? Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Rachael Ray, Rush Limbaugh, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Mark Zuckerberg, Mark Twain and Anna Wintour.

Are they exceptions to the rule or pioneers who rewrote the rulebook? A little of both, probably.

Travel back with me to the early 1990s. I was enrolled at the University of Delaware (Go Blue Hens!) en route to a bachelor’s degree in mass communication. (Yes, that's way deeper than studying communications, fwiw.)

The focus was on print media. In the decades since, print has been decimated, but the lessons I learned — both classroom and life — enabled me to adapt to online journalism (which isn’t all that different).

Would I have been able to make that transition without the lessons learned — and professional opportunities made possible through connections — at UD? Nope. I’m happy I went to college; it worked well for me.

But to hear the late Jobs tell it — and, real talk, he did a lot better professionally than I have — dropping out could’ve been the wisest decision he ever made:

“I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.”

Makes you think, huh?

There are divergent opinions on this issue, though none of the Big Six schools in Philly responded to inquiries for their thoughts on it. Short of their pitches, I found a bunch of folks in the pro-college camp; see here, here, here, here, here and here …

… and many in the skip-college camp as well. See here, here, here, here, here and here …

Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself:

• What am I getting out of my public-relations education?

• Could I learn more just reading the books and dropping out to work my way from intern to boss of a public-relations firm?

• Education aside, what am I learning about life and self-sustenance while living away from home for probably the first time of my life, and how will that empower me in the professional world?

If you answered (in order) “a lot," "probably not" and "lessons that won’t truly reveal themselves until later in life,” then college is for you. It’s totally fun and you’ll meet friends for life. Plus, short of inventing something earth-shaking like, say, a smartphone that doesn't explode, you'll need to be ready for an ever-shifting culture.

Oh yeah, one other thing: Should you become a public-relations professional, please don't nag journalists with daily “OMG did you see this?” reminders about your pitches; it is the surest way to get filtered into the junk folder. Those folks are the worse than Diner en Blanc defenders. Don’t be one of those people.

All that said, this is a decision that you and you alone can make for yourself. I wish you the best of luck with it.

UpdateJeanne Brady, Ph.D., Provost and Professor of Education at Saint Joseph's University weighed in on the topic. Here's what she had to say:

The value proposition for a college education in general — and for Saint Joseph’s University, in particular — remains extraordinary. Consider:

• According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, college graduates across the country achieve lifetime earnings that are 84 percent higher than non-college graduates. With graduation and retention rates significantly above national averages, the R.O.I. value of a Saint Joseph’s degree is that much higher.

• The most recently surveyed Saint Joseph’s graduates (Class of 2015) reported a 97 percent rate of employment, professional school attendance or full-time service placement within six months. The mean starting salary range for those graduates immediately entering the work force was $50,800, with certain majors ranging as high as $80,600.

• According to Affordable Colleges Online, Saint Joseph’s ranks No. 12 in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for Return on Investment. The SJU Haub School of Business ranks No. 4 in the nation in the same category according to Payscale.

• Saint Joseph’s University has again received the highest-possible Financial Responsibility Score (FRS) from the U.S. Department of Education.

Clearly, a college education — and certainly a Saint Joseph’s University degree — remain solid investments even in uncertain economic times. We believe this is the fundamental reason over 90 percent of Saint Joseph’s alumni report, when surveyed, that they "would choose SJU again” if given the opportunity.

Dead Man Walking A Dead Dog

Do you get more upset in movies when a person dies or a dog dies? There is a right answer.

—Ellen R.F. (via Twitter)

Thanks for taking the time to inquire about this important delineation of sympathy.

You phrased the question in a fashion that asks for my personal reaction to human vs. canine deaths on film. I will answer that, with the caveat that we all understand there's no question about real-world sympathy power rankings between humans and pets.

Here are two movie clips which resonate with me. One involves a human death; the other, a doggie death.

This is the end of 1979's “The Champ.”

I first saw this when I was about 6 or 7 years old when I thought my parents were invincible. Now, I have my own 6-year-old son, and I wish I was invincible. Jesus Christ, I’m going to spend the rest of the day crying now. Thanks a lot for that.

While I gather myself, let’s revisit the death of Dinky in "National Lampoon’s Vacation" (as opposed to, say, Old Yeller) .

This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, though. Dinky wasn’t a nice dog. If Clark had intentionally left him tied to the bumper, he’d probably only get a fine … if that. Heck, Dinky's owner wasn't even that nice of a lady, and you saw what happened to her in that fine film, right?

So, yeah, I get more upset in movies when a person dies. That’s the right answer.

Earth Vs. The Pod People

“It seems like I’m the only person on Twitter without a podcast. How can I still be relevant?”

—@PhilliesFever (via Twitter)

You are not alone. I am on Twitter, and neither have a podcast nor the inclination to be involved with one. Hell, I don’t even listen to them and still feel moderately relevant to myself and others.

What are podcasts anyway? Annoying people prattling on about whatever comes to mind that day because they love to hear themselves talk? Nerds holding court on niche issues like basketball SABR-CORSI-stat isometrics? Sounds like Twitter on PEDs, if you ask me.

I’m sure some podcasts are fine, but they are not pertinent to my media-consumption needs. I didn't even listen to "Serial" because podcast-listening people were so damn annoying about it. I am not alone in this.

You want to be relevant? Take pride in being yourself. You are special. You are entitled to your share of happiness. Shoot for the stars! Dream the impossible dream!!!

In the words of the late, great Judy Garland, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself without a podcast, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else who has a podcast.”