Jacques Steinberg over at the NYT probably sent half of his readership to the heart wing this morning after suggesting, very politely, that a college degree might not be the best for all. Many kids buy into the dreamy promises of the college industrial complex and then find themselves with a mountain of debt and a job that was pretty much what they could have found after dropping out of middle school. 15% of the mail carrier have bachelor’s degrees or so he tells us.
The NYT readership knows that the sky is blue, winter is colder, and everyone goes to college. To have their morning IV drip of knowledge carry the meme that college and college debt may not be for everyone means that everyone has gotten the message except perhaps the tenured few. I can pack up and go. My work is done.
But I’ll soldier on because, well, it’s what humans do when they find a comfortable rut. It’s like I have tenure is grousing about tenure.
So let’s examine the third rail exposed in this piece:
Peggy Williams, a counselor at a high school in suburban New York City with a student body that is mostly black or Hispanic, understands the argument for erring on the side of pushing more students toward college.
“If we’re telling kids, ‘You can’t cut the mustard, you shouldn’t go to college or university,’ then we’re shortchanging them from experiencing an environment in which they might grow,” she said.
She’s right. Absolutely right. Kids do grow in college. Of course they also grow if you give them jobs as ranch hands or stevedores. People grow into their molds just like jello. The difference is that the ranches and docks don’t ask their workers to take on such onerous debt and thwart them from enjoying many of the other goals in life: having a family, owning a home, wrestling with grandkids, etc. Many of the people on the college track don’t have kids until they’re pushing 40 and they’ll barely be able to get out of their wheelchair to play with their grandkids.
I’m all for college. I love the life of the mind. I’m sitting here yakking by keyboard instead of going to a NASCAR race. But at some price point, it’s a bad deal for people and that price point is getting closer and closer for many degrees. Even doctors are saying that the new Obamacare regs make it a difficult question whether to invest $300k in a medical degree. Lawyering is a lost cause. I’m guessing some engineering degrees still help. Lord knows we need better petroleum engineers.
We need to buy some college degrees. We need to invest something in education. Unfortunately the only way that the fat tenured royalty will get the message about their prices, though, is if society makes different choices. When kids go to community colleges or work on a fishing boat instead of buying into the dreamy world of Jane Austen and multigrain, cross-disciplinary theosophistic biolinguistics, then they’ll get the message. Jacques Steinberg may lose his job for his apostasy but I’m glad he’s getting out the message that apprenticeships and other options may be better for most.