Invisible Adjunct , reflecting on Britney Spears’ short-lived marriage, posits:

I’d like to suggest that the case of Ms. Spears serves as a timely reminder of the enormous value of higher ed: can anyone deny that this young woman would have benefited from a college education?

Peter Northup, for one, can. After engaging in some economic analysis showing the that trade-offs of skipping a multi-million dollar career for an undergraduate education might not have been a sound decision for Ms. Spears, he gets into the philosophical argument:

I’m guessing IA is actually making something like the claim that this particular embarrassment is simply evidence of the sort of person Britney has become, and that college would have benefited her by making her a different sort of person–the sort who, among other things, doesn’t have Vegas weddings.

The problem is that this is a much, much harder claim to make. What does it even mean to have preferences about preferences? Of course, on some level we do it all the time: I’d like to be the sort of graduate student who writes his papers diligently instead of blogging about Britney. But I think this because of who I already am. Making a consequentialist, preference-based case about character formation–Britney would be better off as not-quite-Britney, Britney-but-less-shallow–comes near to incoherence.

He also takes on John Stuart Mill’s famous bit about it being better to be an unhappy Socrates than a satisfied fool.

Chris Lawrence snarks that Spears would likely have attended LSU and thus missed whatever benefits might be associated with a college education.

I’m very much with Peter on this one. I remember a column that came out a couple days after Herschel Walker left Georgia for the USFL [Damn, you’re old. -ed. ], signing a then-enormous 3-year, $3.9 million contract. Many people were saying Walker should have stayed in school, as was the norm in those halcyon days. The columist joined that chorus, writing an open letter to Mr. Walker to the effect,

Herschel, you need to stay in school and finish your education. Sure, you could blow out your knee and lose that $3.9 million. But with that criminal justice degree in hand, you could land a job with the FBI making $30,000 a year. You’d only have to work 130 years to make it back! Just 130 years!


Minor math error corrected. What’s a few zeroes, more or less?

FILED UNDER: Education, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark-NC says:

    Well – 130 years anyway!!

    As for Britney, she is independently wealthy and can retire now and live in luxury if she wants.

    The “marriage” was probably little more than a publicity stunt – like kissing Madonna – and it seems to have worked perfectly!

  2. James Joyner says:

    Indeed–she’s gotten three OTB mentions out of it already!

  3. John Lemon says:

    The real question is would higher education (the professors) benefit from Britney going to college?