Sunday, May 21, 2006

College Isn't For Everyone

John Edwards, former presidential and vice presidential candidate, is championing a new program called "College for Everyone." I think the title of the program is a slap in the face to people who don't want or need a college education. If we really needed everyone to go to college, we would just put it in with the K-12 education system and make it free. But we don't do that because the fact is that most people don't really need a college education.

Most people? I think that a college education is beneficial for making you into a well rounded person, but in most cases it is not essential for the work that you will spend the rest of your life doing. Why would we want to make decent people feel like they are failures because they didn't go to college? It is a noble pursuit, but so are a lot of other things that don't require a college education.

Half Sigma has had some thought provoking posts on this subject over the past year that have really persuaded me.


Reach Upward said...

This is a push to give yet more power to our higher education industrial complex.

We can look at statistics and say that in general, college grads earn more than those that didn't get a college degree, and that a higher degree generally means higher income. But have we ever stopped to consider whether our current higher education system is as beneficial to society as what it costs? Do our universities actually provide better members of society on a cost-benefit basis? I'm talking about more than personal income here.

You are right to note that not all jobs or life avocations require college degrees. I have a brother in sales that has no degree, but he's great at what he does. Would a degree make him better at it? I doubt it. Pedagogy is not the only (or even the best) way to learn.

When I went to grad school, a neighbor that I respect told me that he was proud of me. He revealed that the has a Ph.D, but that he didn't like to tell people about it because he wasn't that proud of it. I asked why, and he replied that I would soon discover that higher education, especially post-grad education, is the biggest circus on the face of the earth.

Not all valuable education is obtained through colleges and universities. In fact, I think we ought to question the value of the education they provide.

Bradley said...

Interesting anecdote about your neighbor. I wonder if the reason that college educated people tend to earn more is because they tend to be smarter. In other words, the reason they were worth more wasn't because they went to college but because they were simply smarter. College education has just been a proxy for that. It won't be that same sort of proxy if everyone goes to college and we will see those higher wages for college grads start to disappear.

Reach Upward said...

I don't believe that any general statement about intellectual ability can be made on the basis of a college degree. I'm thinking of many non-degreed friends and neighbors that have wonderful intellectual capacities. I'm also thinking about one guy that was in many of my same classes, with whom I studied, and that achieved the same grad degree I achieved. If this guy can get a grad degree, any below average chimpanzee that is sufficiently persistent can get one. A degree does not necessarily indicate superior intellect, nor does lack of a degree necessarily indicate inferior intellect.

Reach Upward said...

Here is a link to an interesting article about how "soulless" higher education has become.

Anonymous said...

"It won't be that same sort of proxy if everyone goes to college and we will see those higher wages for college grads start to disappear."

Well, as the joke goes: How do you get a liberal arts grad off your doorstep? Pay him for the pizza.

The discrepancy is between anything that could be called a profession and everything else. I know of more than a few poli sci or spanish grads who are now working blue collar jobs.

Problem #1 is that we ban employers from using IQ tests on the grounds that it it "discriminatory."

Problem #2 is that our secondary education system has been dumbed down to the extent that a diploma means nothing.

Problem #3 is that colleges have "liberalized" to such a great degree that they've lost focus on teaching students the things they need to learn. These days students basically make their own way.

There's still a place for colleges. If 90% of our workforce had college degrees we would be much better off as a country - but not as colleges are presently configured.