What Good Is A College Education?
In a column about the debt burden of America’s college students, Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute makes this point:
Much of college “education” is a waste of time. I learned more practical law in six weeks of studying for the bar exam and a couple summers of working for law firms than I did in three years of law school. I spent much of my time at Harvard Law School watching “Married With Children” or arguing with classmates about politics, rather than studying (much of what I did study was useless). Even students who were high on drugs had no difficulty graduating.
(Higher education is no guarantee of even basic literacy. When I worked at the Department of Education handling administrative appeals, I was dismayed by the poor writing skills of the graduate students who lodged complaints against their universities).
I used to work for a polling firm, and found that people with a couple years of college were frequently factually dumber about the world around them, and more politically-correct, than people who had not attended college at all, in their responses to public-opinion surveys. An electrician with no college degree is far more likely to know who his Congressman is and to understand the economy than some liberal-arts college dropout.
Bader is, I think, largely correct. While most Americans still believe the middle class myths about college education being the ticket to a comfortable life, the reality has been far different even without taking into account the impact of the recession and the long term problems in the job market. A Bachelor’s Degree doesn’t really mean much of anything anymore except that you manged to go to college, stay for four years, and graduate. Unless you’re actually headed to academia or graduate school, it’s unlikely that you will ever use most of the knowledge you gained in your four years of college, and while there may be some unquantifiable value to having studied Proust, it surely can’t be worth the debt burden that the average American college student is left with at the end of their four years.
Of course, the other side of the myth that I noted above is that many employers attach far more importance to a piece of paper from a university. Even for an entry level position, it would be far more difficult for someone to get their foot in the door in corporate America right out of High School. Return four years later with a piece of paper from the state university, though, its a different story, even though it’s unlikely that much of what that person learned in college really has anything to do with the job they’ve applied for or the career path they would be headed on. If we can ever get past the myth of the inherent value of a college education, then maybe so many students won’t spend the most formative years of their life wasting their time.