We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
“Would you rather have a Princeton diploma without the Princeton education, or a Princeton education without a Princeton diploma?”
Austen Allred, via 6 Forces Disrupting Higher Education. It's a cute question, but I don't know what a "Princeton education" means. It could mean any one of a hundred things. I have a better idea of what a U of Chicago education means.
Depends on what you're trying to do. For advancement the piece of paper will be better. For personal satisfaction the education is preferred, assuming its a liberal arts education from over 50 years ago not the modern rot.
The statement is one I've heard Bryan Caplan use in his talks. Basically, that it is trivial, assuming you are nearby, to sit in on classes without enrolling. However, you don't get credit or grades so few people do this.
I watched the lectures of a Georgia Tech EE class on Time-domain Transmission Lines. I learned a lot, but no way to document my knowledge, even as I can demonstrate it by discussion. Similarly for watching the 'Development Economics' lectures at Marginal Revolution University. And I've learned a lot from well-done "classroom" lectures at a Youtube 'Jim Pytel' on industrial tech/instrumentation.
Knowledge, but no magic parchments or certificates.
If we shift away from the villeinage of the last couple centuries, i.e., training to be "hired men" and return to independent owner/operators and entrepreneurs, then the knowledge will again be more valuable than the transcript.
Found an interview where Bryan Caplan discusses this quote in greater detail
Russ Roberts: But I want to move on. I want to move on to the Sheepskin Effect, and I want to introduce it with a quote from your book, which is a great quote. It says,
Imagine this stark dilemma: you can have either a Princeton education without a diploma, or a Princeton diploma without an education. Which gets you further on the job market? For a human capital purist, the answer is obvious: four years of training are vastly preferable to a page of paper. But try saying that with a straight face. Sensible versions of the signaling model don't imply the diploma is clearly preferable; after all, Princeton teaches some useful skills. But you need signaling to explain why choosing between an education and a diploma is a head-scratcher rather than a no-brainer.
And I think that's a fantastic example that forces you to think about it. You, of course, have a Princeton diploma, a Ph.D. from Princeton, in economics. I want you to make that case. Lay that out a little bit more clearly than I just read it quickly. What's the issue there? Why is that a head-scratcher rather than a no-brainer?
Bryan Caplan: Well, because when you pose a hypothetical, people at least think about it. They are saying, 'Well, which one would be better?' And say, 'Well, on the one hand, I could have that Princeton education, but then people wouldn't know that I had it. And, how would I get people to actually give me a chance or opportunities based upon that?' Say, on the other hand, 'If I had that Princeton diploma, then that would open a lot of doors; but maybe they would find that I was a fraud. Hmmm. Which is better? Which is better?' So, that's the sense in which it's a head-scratcher: Just that you do have to think about it, and there's arguments on both sides. And it's confusing. And it's interesting that it's confusing. It's interesting that it's not something we're going to say, 'Well, doh, of course it's better to have the education, because then you know stuff and you know how to do things.' Whereas, you know, if you are on a desert island, you say, 'Would you be better to have a diploma in Survival Studies right now,'--that you would without the survival skills--or the survival skills without the diploma? On the desert island, you go of course, 'I want the survival skills.' Duh. 'I'm talking about food.' But, in society, it is a [?] question, because education is so much about convincing other people that you are worthy of opportunity. Convincing them that you are worthy of receiving training. And the actual job.
Good answer by Caplan. Other factors include how much you are teaching yourself, as most geniuses are autodidacts. Most of us aren't geniuses, but self-teaching is critical anyway. Being exposed to brilliant minds is efficient, but being 19 and exposed to minds that think they are brilliant but are not can interfere with learning. I think the distinction between a UChicago and Princeton degree is interesting, but would narrow it even more and ask what discipline we are talking about. If it's physics and most math/chemistry/geology, you likely can't do that on your own, you need instructors who can prevent you from going into blind alleys. Other subjects...eh, you might learn as much from reading the tea leaves of social trends in the field.
If you have been learning real things anywhere for fifteen years after graduating from high school - at work, at community college, from your cousin Al, then you want the sheepskin for the credibility it confers. If you are 18 and fascinated by the potential of robotics to change underwater construction then you should get the education (though MIT or CalPoly might be better).
If I get the Princeton education, but not the diploma, do I get to spend four years networking with the Princeton student body? Do I get to drink beer with the guys? Do I maybe date and maybe even marry one of the gals? Because that is what I really want. That credential might be important but as long as I can get the education and keep returning to campus for alumni events, well that's a pretty damn good part of Princeton.