Monday, May 23, 2011

Is College Right For Everyone?

Having criticized Diane Rehm in my last post, I want to applaud her for another program she hosted recently on the issue of higher education, entitled "Is College Right For Everyone?" 
President Obama has called on every American to receive at least one year of higher education or vocational training by 2020. For most young people, that means heading to campus in the pursuit of a college degree. But for a small, influential group of educators and economists, pushing the college experience is wrong. A recent report from Harvard backs them up. It found that only one-third of future jobs will need a bachelor’s degree. The report’s researchers said it’s time to offer stronger alternatives.
I have written on this blog for over two years that I think that the notion of 'college for everyone' is a wrong-headed notion. All of my previous posts on this can be found here.  In December, 2008, I wrote the following:
The NYT reports on something I mentioned a week or two ago, that college is going to get increasingly more expensive and out of reach of the average family.

This is such a reversal of what we have experienced for the last 50 years, with more and more people going to college, that it stuns the sensibilities. But I've been feeling it even as our youngest child finishes college this year. Tuition and other college expenses are rising, even as wages are stagnating. Even borrowing for college becomes more and more difficult. I'm glad that I've got all my kids through, but I'm feeling sorry for those who will be coming along in the next decade. Timing is everything.

To my mind, this is merely one expression of the way in which we're actually getting poorer as a nation, something that has been happening as our manufacturing disappears offshore and the rich begin sucking up a larger percentage of the national wealth.

Add to that the fact that we have actually sent more kids to college than should probably be there. That may sound elitist, but there are many young people who would be better off working, going into the military, or doing apprenticeships in industry. In other words, doing something productive.

College is, in my opinion, actually quite non-productive for many people. Consider: how many graduates in sociology and psychology do we need in American society? If I heard this once, I've heard it a dozen times, "I majored in psychology in college, but now I'm working at (fill in the blank)." Really, did learning about B. F. Skinner's rats help anyone do their job better or raise their kids better?

We'd be a better society if our kids learned more in, and actually finished, high school. Most college these days is just glorified high school anyway, with the exception that kids can go and be sheltered from life, have pretty much a free ride, binge drink and party and sleep around and sleep in late while having no parents around to tell them what to do. They go into class to listen to professors drone on about this or that subject while surfing the internet and FaceBook on their laptop computers. Not all kids do this (for example, my own) but far too many do.

Have we as a society substituted general education college for decent, entry-level jobs or appreticeships for our young adults, just to keep them busy and 'out of trouble' for four or five years? It doesn't look to me like we can afford this any more.

One more thing: you don't need to be in college to keeping learning. All you need to do is read books, which is a lot cheaper than sitting in a classroom and listening to some professor give you a condensed version of that same book, just from his perspective. There are books (most of which you can borrow for free from a library) that teach you more in a week than a semester course costing thousands of dollars.

You can also learn a whole lot from just living life and paying attention to what's going on around you.

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