Save the Sheepskins

My old man was the first member of his family to attend college.  Four years later, armed with a degree in accounting, he went to work for the Federal government where he remained until he retired.  There was never any doubt that his children would attend college as well.  That was The Way.  The mantra back then was, “Every American should have a chance to get a college education!”   Huge subsidies were bestowed upon public universities to make this a reality.

My brother’s tuition was $250/year.  Three years later, mine was $450.  (The light bulb was invented about the same time.)

Today, this so-called ideal is in serious jeopardy:

The rising cost of college — even before the recession — threatens to put higher education out of reach for most Americans, according to the biennial report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 while median family income rose 147 percent. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.

“If we go on this way for another 25 years, we won’t have an affordable system of higher education,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the center, a nonpartisan organization that promotes access to higher education. —

To quote Dick Cheney: “So?”

Is it heresy to suggest that maybe college isn’t for everybody?  That maybe youth is better served by such radical courses as trade school or apprenticeship, or immediate entry into the workforce?

95118877It’s not like education is the goal any more, if it ever was.  Most people go to college to get training in a money-making endeavor, and the jobs that pay the most aren’t always the ones that require a college degree.  Meanwhile, universities are turning our hordes of MBAs, lawyers, bankers, and others whose contributions to society are predicated on making the rest of us miserable.

Wouldn’t we (and they) be better off with more carpenters, plumbers, tailors, roofers, auto mechanics, and computer techies?  People who can handle 3-dimensional objects we use every day, rather than symbol-manipulators like financial planners and mortgage brokers who shuffle papers and make deals?

At one time I knew lots of college professors — I was on my way to becoming one myself — some who’d been slippering around ivied campuses praying for tenure for a decade or more.  Their consistent complaint was that most of the kids in their classrooms were utterly unfit for study, wasting time and money and in many cases, their own talents.  These lost souls would end up somewhere, white-collared and miserable, locked into a career they never wanted, the middle laps on the fast track to frustration.  Why?

Personally, my education hasn’t served me well in the world of work at all.  I have to set aside the skills I was taught in order to get by, which I barely do, to accommodate my colleagues and constituency.  “Seven years of college education wasted,” as Bluto Blutarski gurgled, doubtlessly sneering my way.  I should have kept playing music, but of course, there was no money in it.

Damn.  It didn’t even get me laid!

Maybe the collapse of the College For All Crusade is the flip side of the American automotive industry meltdown.  Let it crumble: it’s out of date, no longer operative, and from its ashes a better system will emerge.  And maybe the ones who actually attend university will do so for their personal values and enlightenment, rather than to indulge their financial ambitions.

(See yesterday’s Incertus for some additional insights on this issue.)

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10 Responses to Save the Sheepskins

  1. Linn says:

    great point of view.

    fantastic read.

    thanks for sharing

  2. Beardsley says:

    I retired from university teaching in 2000 after 25 years in the saddle. I taught all over the country, including NE, Washington DC, the Pacific NW, southern CA, MN, TX. The decline in the quality of students in every region, from the time I started to the time I retired, was noticeable, and all of us in the profession discussed it at great length.

    There are many reasons. You correctly identify one; i.e., that many of the kids in college today simply don’t belong there, and it’s doing nobody a favor by shoe-horning them in.

    But also, public schools don’t educate any more, the babysit, and they don’t flunk students, so you see semi-literate graudates who are then pushed into community colleges and upwards from there.

    You also have kids coming in who aren’t interested in anything but course work to prepare them for their jobs. Pre-law students don’t want to know Balzac from Prozac, let alone philosophy or art. (They don’t want to know law, either, they just want to be lawyers and make money.)

    I don’t know if I share your conclusions, but I appreciate your viewpoint,

  3. cara says:

    Between your post Squat and Beardsley’s comments, it does make sense to assume many students need to be in specific trade schools instead of spinning their wheels.

    Would it be safe to say that by pushing colleges so much, the demand has increased the cost but the pay out isn’t the same due to lack of completion of courses? So let it crumble?

    Thought provoking post. Thanks.

  4. Squathole says:

    Cara: I suspect what has pushed the cost up so dramatically is the simple fact that universities cashed on in a movement where they could get away with more, so they did. (The Times article has more thorough explanations.) But in so doing, they invited less qualified students, and watered down the educational experience, betraying the objectives, if not the mission.

  5. Ruh Roh says:

    A very academic presentation about a very academic matter indeed. But the reality is, so long as shuffling papers pays more than shuffling cards, people will go for their degrees. It’s about the money. Period. Duh.

  6. cara says:

    Very sad. I loved college though I couldn’t afford to finish. Plus, I would have made less money than I do now had I persued my chosen field but I would have been happier. Life sucks when it turns out backwards.

  7. ya’gotta’guessit says:

    But Squats, if a kid *doesn’t* get to go to college, (s)he will have difficulty extending their adolesence to the now-acceptable age of thirty!

    Trade & Technical schools don’t offer Junior years’ abroad, and being hung-over in roofing class could be dangerous…no, this just won’t work.

  8. Ms Calabaza says:


    great post. Not everyone needs to attend college . . . just like not everyone needs to buy a home.

  9. Madam I says:

    First glance at the title I thought you were referring to condoms.. Guess I should have finished college…

  10. One Man's Opinion says:

    Let’s see. Schools (most) are over-crowded with semiliterate students paying obscene tuitions with expections of salaries few will ever realize. Is that it; do I have right?

    Well clearly this is not working, so yeah, maybe it’s time to rethink this whole “higher education” thing. What’s wrong with trade schools anyway? And while it may not be considered “higher education” it’s an education none the less and at a much more productive level. IMHO

    BTY, squats, I like your analogy to the automotive industry. It’s time for change(s) in this country & I think we are on the cusp. Let’s just hope it’s change for the better not just different

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