The College Conundrum

Via Instapundit comes this NY Post article, which opens thus:

When parents and teachers urge kids to go to college, they visualize the success stories: kids who graduate on time with marketable degrees. If every student fit this profile, college would be an outstanding personal investment. Unfortunately, most students don’t fit this profile, and their returns are mediocre or worse. Indeed, plenty would be better off skipping college in favor of full-time employment.

…and then goes on to list the five worst things about college in the U.S.

I will never forget my homeschooled kids’ first impression of their college classmates after the first week of classes.

Daughter:  “OMG! They are so stupid! They have no idea what they’re doing or why they’re there!” Pause. “Most of them are gonna fail, big time.”
Son&Heir:  “When you said that most people shouldn’t go to college at all but go out and get jobs straight out of high school, I thought you were just being an elitist. But you’re right. At best, most of them should be in trade schools or something.”

As for the five most horrible things about college (as enumerated in the article), I can’t argue with any of them — although I would add “spring break” to the list. The worst, in my opinion, is the degree of conformity — not just to the societal “everyone has to go to college” meme, but mostly to the conformity of thought being imposed on the hapless students by their professors and by their peers.

I have to confess that I was not exposed to this pressure when I was on campus just about a decade ago. With but a few exceptions, my professors were always receptive to my sometimes-contrary opinions when I expressed them in class (perhaps because I was, in many cases, older than they were). And I never associated with other students to any degree, so I can’t talk about peer pressure. (I did, however, manage to open a few eyes among the chilluns with my forthright opinions.)

And my original thesis has been, if anything, reinforced by events, as witnessed by the appalling unemployment rates among recent graduates. Most people shouldn’t go to college. Even with the dumbing-down of curricula, emphasis on “soft” Humanities courses and the loosening of academic standards overall, most kids are still failing whenever the courses are just slightly more difficult than high-school level, or require even a small combination of intellect and hard work. The plethora of “-Studies” courses, taught on marginal subject matter and delivered by tutors only marginally more intelligent / capable than their students, have simply amplified the degree to which colleges are failing in their mission.

And the kids, along with society, are paying the price. The Post article has it exactly right in its conclusion:

What’s the alternative [to the current situation]? Simple: Dry up the funding. Since we don’t get much per tax dollar, we should cut taxpayer support. This would have obvious drawbacks if college were a fine-tuned system for turning unskilled youths into skilled adults. In the real world, however, cutting spending doesn’t just save taxpayer money; it also puts a brake on credential inflation. Waiter, cashier and cook are already common jobs for college graduates. As long as we keep churning out more college graduates, this problem is only going to get worse. Instead, we need to admit that far too many kids go to college. Cutting government subsidies is the quickest way to make them reconsider.

Amen to that.


  1. As someone with a child (a 22 year old “child”) still in college, I’d like to say AMEN!

    One of the many arguments the wife and I had concerning the oldest child was my belief that he was more trade school material versus her belief that he was a true scholar. Despite being a C average student in high school. He’s not dumb by any means, but he just absolutely would not concentrate or take school work seriously. After wasting my money for 3 years at various local colleges, dropping out or flunking, he finally took welding classes at the community college and got himself a good job. Which he could have started straight out of high school and saved me a ton of money. He’s happy with it, too.

    The youngest is struggling too. Not sure why, other than he won’t apply himself. One thing about all the high school kids who have issues once in college is that high school is a joke. Plus they never teach kids how to study. So once these young idiots finally run into a tough academic course, they have no idea how to study or learn or even just rote memorize the material. I ran into that wall 30+ years ago, my youngest is at that wall now. And God forbid he ever listen to his old man telling him how to study.

    Anyway, for kids who are slightly smarter than average, graduating high school is mainly an exercise is staying awake and sober (or drunk and asleep, I managed Magna Cum Laude in that fashion). College is the first place in their life where they really hit something challenging and they are completely unprepared for it.

    As for govt. spending, there’s scholarships for everyone out there. Except young white men whose parents earn a decent living.

    Sorry for the early morning rant. Been reviewing last year’s expenses and seeing just how much money I flushed down the toilet.

    1. No need to apologize. On this website, rants are not only allowed / accepted, but welcomed.

  2. My main complaint about college, especially in the soft areas, is that the students lack the experience to filter the nuggets of gold from the river of bullshit, and most of the professors of those subjects went directly from college to teaching so they also lack that experience. In my case, I thoroughly enjoyed the Philosophy classes I took at the time (taught by a self-described devout Communist), but looking back I can see that most of what she taught was drivel.

    Thankfully as a Comp Sci major most of my teachers had real-world experience, the vast majority of them were either on their second career (teaching after working in the field) or part-time teachers and full-time computer people, so they understood the practice as well as the theory.

  3. Part of the problem is the conflict between identity and activity. It appears that most parents exhort, “Think about what you’re going to be,” when it really should be. “…what you’re going to do,” or better yet, “…what you’re going to make.”

    I wanted to build ships, but had to settle for riding around on them. I don’t, and never did, think of myself as a sailor.

  4. Technically, you are wrong and you are being an elitist, Kim.

    You and your kids are probably no smarter than the average schlub – you’ve just been better educated. Parents think public education is about learning. It’s not. It’s about indifferent union slobs being paid to babysit. I didn’t home school my kid – I tutored her. By the time she was in grade nine she had mastered high school advanced math and English. When she went to high school, she snoozed through it with honours.

    Most people know our schools are dumbed down – but I think very few are actually aware at how bad it has gotten. With PROPER education most kids will do well at college. As it is, kids are going into college not having basic math, reading and study skills.

    1. When I was in public school many years ago they didn’t bother with kids incapable or unwilling to learn. Back then we had mental hospitals and reform schools. I saw several classmates shipped off to both.

      Now the nuts and criminals get to stay in school with the normal kids. And if it disrupts class, or gets the school shot up, that’s a price they are willing to pay.

  5. “I thought you were just being an elitist.” There’s nothing elitist about a bell curve. It’s pretty objective.

    My homeschooled daughter had the same experience as your kids. We had lots of fun talking about the “English” papers the class peer reviewed. They were atrocious. My daughter graduated Summa Cum Laude, and came out philosophically intact. We talked a lot about the indoctrination during the course of her time there, too.

    My son (whom you met), was not interested in college, so I encouraged him not to go. He’s currently installing satellite TV, married with a house, and with only the house debt. I’d call that a win.

    “Plus they never teach kids how to study.” I had that problem. Straight A’s in a college prep HS. First year of university was more or less a repeat of senior year in HS. Weet thinks, “This will be a piece of cake!” Second semester not so much. A graph of my grades shows just where I figured out I needed to learn to study, where I was figuring it out, and where I HAD figured it out. It’s a sobering graph.

    1. Oh, yes. 1st quarter freshman Calculus. A 5 credit course (read: 30% of the total course load). I hit that…and bounced.

      My standing joke is that I graduated “cum Diplomae”. In the middle of my class, with a 2.5 GPA. Of course, it was in Aerospace Engineering…

  6. Many of the people I know from HS aren’t using their college degrees, and this is 25 years later.
    There’s still a whole lot of growing up that happens between 18 and 21, and pushing a kid who really doesn’t know what they want to do yet into making expensive decisions is basically a legal scam.

    It would be better for HS grads to get a job, join the military, volunteer a couple of years overseas, or do something else besides college, if they’re uncertain what they want to do. There’s nothing like doing manual labor for a bad boss to give one drive and focus should you go back to school later.

  7. One thing about four years in the military is that you come out with GI Bill benefits, which helps a lot with college. And yes, many 18-year-olds don’t have the drive, discipline, or maturity to go directly to college.

    1. There’s a strange belief that if a kid doesn’t go RIGHT to college, they will utterly lose the ability to learn, that all the hard earned study skills will just disappear forever.
      So, the kid goes to good old FU, and is encouraged to flit around and expensively “find themselves”- if STEM isn’t his thing, there’s a host of squishy studies willing to take his money and fill his head full of nonsense. Now you have someone who’s not really employable, but has a massive amount of student loan debt he has to pay off.
      It’s a scam.

  8. If you were paying attention, the cost of a college education skyrocketed about the same time the Federal gov’t began to underwrite and guarantee student loans. It’s simple supply and demand. As the supply of money increased the colleges demanded more and more of it to attend.

    Having said that, I have no issue with sending my two little Gizzipettes to public universities. One wants to teach either special education or early childhood development while the other is interested in data analytics and computer security. Both of these should position them well for gainful employment in the workforce.

  9. It’s another bubble economy- akin to Dot Coms in the 90’s, or housing in the 00’s. People are going into serous debt for a future benefit, but the benefits are becoming less and less.
    When the general realization hits that there’s no advantage in getting a Nothing Studies degree, that you’re in the same place as HS grad in the job market, only with a six figure student loan debt you have to pay off, then the crash will come.

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