Many of my Libertarian colleagues, who are among my smartest friends, don’t believe in going to college. A recent essay by James Altucher on his blog – titled “Seven Reasons Not to Go to College (and a Solution)” – is an example.
I’ve always argued in favor of college. And my argument went something like this: Most kids can only learn so much in high school because their hormones are raging 23 hours a day. And also, let’s face it, most of us are idiots at that age. Still, if you apply yourself and have good teachers, you can get a very solid base. If you have that, and you continue to have the drive to learn, it’s quite possible that you can develop expertise in certain specific skills (even law, if you live in California). Then you can get a great job or start a business and make great money and all of that.
But that’s very different from being well educated. Well educated means – in my book – that you have a superior level of competence in life’s three essential skills: thinking, writing, and speaking.
The first of those skills – thinking – is a sine qua non as far as being well educated is concerned. But learning how to think well isn’t something you are likely to do in high school. Unless, that is, you are brilliant and go to a school populated with brilliant teachers and students. (I suspect this was true for my friends who are anti-college.) For the rest of us, high school is an emotionally and sometimes physically challenged gauntlet of horrible situations and even more horrible people acting at their worst. There is a nearly zero chance to be able to learn how to think at a high degree of competence in such an environment.
The same can be said for the slightly less difficult skills of speaking and writing – which are essentially two versions of one skill: rhetoric.
But you can, if you apply yourself, learn to think and articulate your thoughts in college. In college you have – or can have, if you want – the freedom and privacy to do so… and plenty of smart and thoughtful people around to help you.
Having said that, I would admit that 90% of those that go to college don’t learn these skills. They waste their time doing the sort of idiotic things they did in high school. And perhaps that’s okay, because they are probably going to spend the rest of their lives being thoughtless and rhetorically impaired.
So… for the 10% that go to college to learn, it is worth every penny they pay and every hour they spend.
That was and still is, to some degree, my argument.
But I’m starting to change my mind.
The first reason (and James makes this point in his essay) is that if you are in college to learn anything technical or anything business related (anything except liberal arts), you are wasting your time. Because anything you learn will be outdated or simply useless when you get into the “real world.” You’ll get a job and you’ll have to learn on the job.
The second reason is that if you do go to college to learn how to think and articulate your thoughts, you are going to be in liberal arts. But liberal arts programs these days are factories for idiotic group-think ideas like Socialism and identity politics. It’s actually impossible to learn those subjects and learn to think at the same time because the two activities are antithetical.
And there’s a third reason (and James mentions this, too). College is absurdly expensive. Way more expensive than it should be.
I’m not in favor of Bernie’s and AOC’s solution – free college – because this would do absolutely no good. The 90% of the college population would learn less not more if they went for free. (You don’t value what you don’t pay for.) As for the 10% that can’t afford it… I’d be in favor of giving them whatever financial aid they can’t get. (Most of those with financial aid do pretty well.)
But here’s the thing…
I think the current state of college education is on its way out. Young people today are more than equipped to learn online. Not just to access information and listen to lectures, but to interact with professors and coevals in all sorts of ways. And they can do that without leaving home. They can do it at their own pace. And at a fraction of the current costs.
I believe that in the next 10 years, there will be all sorts of online universities that will offer a perfectly good college education (good enough for the 90% at least) for a fifth of what kids are paying now. There will also emerge all sorts of online programs to teach kids specific skills and technical knowledge much more efficiently. They will provide certificates rather than diplomas, but that will be good enough for most careers that they might want to pursue.