Irrelevant Institution

Over at the awful Forbes magazine, writer Stephen McBride opines thus:

Here’s some great news: one of America’s most broken industries is finally being exposed as a sham.  And make no mistake, the end of college as we know it is a great thing.
It’s great for families, who’ll save money and take on less debt putting kids through school.  It’s great for kids, who’ll no longer be lured into the socialist indoctrination centers that many American campuses have become.

He goes on to talk about the savings to be made and the investment opportunities (in companies which will rush to fill the void), but that’s not central to the theme of this post, other than to note that as college costs have ballooned, the return on investment has decreased while its concomitant debt has increased.  Simply put:  for a huge number of kids, college tuition is not only a gamble, but a bad one.

While I don’t quibble at all with the writer’s perspective on universities as propaganda outfits rather than places of learning, I have a somewhat different take on the whole thing.

I’ve written before on the wisdom of young people learning a trade prior to (or even instead of) going off to college, so I’m not going to repeat that thought.  Rather (and this is my difference with the above Forbes article), I think that colleges and universities have become less relevant to people’s education.  Other than careers which require intensive knowledge (engineering, medicine, bio-mechanics etc.), there’s very little a college degree can teach you that could not be equally imparted through a lengthy apprenticeship in that field.

And if any good has come of the Chinkvirus pandemic and its related effect on our lives, it’s that realization of how little a truly motivated person needs classroom instruction.  (As an aside, if the would-be student isn’t motivated to learn, college is absolutely the worst place for them to be, not only for the cost but also for the array of distractions extant.)

I can hear it now:  “Oh,” stupid parents will moan, “my little Jimmy / Susie / Jamaal / Shaniqua won’t learn anything from an online course because they’ll just play their online games instead.”

I’ve got news for you, O Stupid Parents:  your undisciplined and ineducable kids are already doing that, only they’re doing it in the lecture room.

The late, great and much-missed columnist Mike Royko once said (and I paraphrase because I’m speaking from memory) something like:  most people shouldn’t go to college;  they should become butchers or janitors.  Worse yet, he added, the problem with giving butchers and janitors college degrees is that they then go into business with the same intelligence level, only now they’ll be woefully under-qualified to be managers, because they should have been butchers or janitors.

Or, as Daughter so eloquently put it after her first semester at college:  “Most of these idiots belong in the grease pit at Jiffylube.”   After two years, she expanded that thought to include the professors.  (Lest we forget, this was a girl who taught herself Japanese at home while being homeschooled.)

And this is the problem with most college graduates these days:  they had no business going to college in the first place because they were either stupid or ineducable.  Now they can be found in the outside world suitably “qualified” by their degrees:  at best, they’re busy screwing up some enterprise in a middle-management position;  at worst, they can be found among the ranks of the rioters in Portland and Seattle.

So yes, I agree with McBride that most colleges will disappear, and good riddance.  The ones that survive should get a wake-up call, and realize that in business, nothing is truly irreplaceable — and yes, their beloved ivory towers are indeed just a business.

All I can hope for is that parents will point their kids at careers and activities that will not only be valuable as income streams, but that the kids will actually enjoy doing because they’ve discovered the psychological value of a job well done.

For the rest, there’s the grease pit at Jiffylube.  Good luck to them as they compete with hungry Third-World immigrants.


  1. Whatever “fills the void” will be aligned with the gov’t dictate, IOW, same ol same ol, just diff.
    While attending regular school in 11th and 12th grades I also attended a votech for “drafting” which got me my first professional job in the architectural field and cemented the mindset that this what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Of the 30 people in that 2 year class I’m estimating less than 10 stayed with it. Therefore, with a 2 year investment and zero cost (paid by the county property tax payers) people were able to decide if architecture was for them or not, rather than 4 years and the cost of a college degree.

    Then I worked off and on for the next 14 years under direct tutelage of various architects and engineers, and did some additional courses out of my own pocket in some circumstances and others paid for by the employers, to eventually become that which I have been for the next 34 years and still. I didn’t come from a wealthy family and I wasn’t willing to take on severe debt, but I did have time, and drive, so those were my primary tools for carving a future. Also during that 14 year apprenticeship I completed my 4 year military commitment, got married and started a family, and then started my own architecture and engineering business which continues to flourish. The only thing I ever begged for was the opportunity to try, and to learn. The rest of it, mostly 80+ hours per week of effort on my part, was the gateway to a mostly successful life.

    We home educated our son and set him on a similar path and now, at age 40, he is much like I was at that age. Their 6 yo daughter is now on a similar path.

    You have to discover what you really like. I mean REALLY like, cause you’ll be spending a lot of time at it over the next 50 years or so. Most people don’t invest the time and resources to do that and end up settling for whatever and being miserable at “jobs” til their last breath. Here I am, 65 years old, been working in my profession since 1972, and will continue to with a smile on my face til I am no longer able to. My work will outlive me and through it I have carved an identity. There is much wisdom in your words, Kim. That’s why I keep coming here, and was lead here way back when by Bill Beck.

  2. I saw a recent article about fourteen colleges to close in New York state, likely more and likely forever. Used to be (let’s say over 40 years ago) a four year degree in almost anything was grounds for hiring someone. Today that is not the case. Couple that with enormous debt that is enabled by Uncle Sam and you have a huge problem. Times change and the virus accelerated these changes.

  3. You can thank the Supreme Court for the Griggs vs Duke Power decision that basically killed aptitude testing, except by the military which still finds it useful to assign people to jobs they can actually learn to do. Aptitude testing must have some relevance – they stuck me in IT. After the military, I found myself in the position of not being hirable for the job I was already doing (quite well, I might add) after this abortion was incorporated into my employer’s hiring practices. I took advantage of the GI Bill and finished my degree because there is no sense trying to fight this. I would say 95% of what I learned ended up being irrelevant, but dad was a Chemical Engineer and he said he used Calculus once in his career, so never say never.

    Some of the best and smartest people I worked with didn’t have degrees but they could do the job. Nothing of what was taught at that time about computers or programming languages is still usable – unless you want to help fix state unemployment systems spaghetti code written in COBOL.

    I won’t say it was useless. Statistics helped get me promoted, and understanding employment law helped me keep my wife from getting in trouble at her job once. The Japanese classes I took in Japan while in the militay were extremely useful, because there wasn’t much else available in the early 1970s.

    1. Is COBOL the reason NV’s Employment Dept still has people waiting for their first WuFlu check; and all this time we just thought it was due to Steve Sissylak being a terrible manager.

  4. I’m technically a millennial (but since I was born in the late 80s, I keep hoping to get reclassified) so my perspective on college is…exactly the same as yours.

    College is, by and large, extraordinarily useless. I went to a small Christian college and got a liberal arts degree. Which is useless. Not knowing what else to do at the time, I brilliantly decided to put off getting a real job a bit longer (okay that’s not quite accurate, I took a real job immediately after graduating, but it was big box retail and I made 8.50 an hour) and I went to another private university and got a Masters. In government. Which was just as useful as my undergrad degree but also gave me 36k in student loans while not giving me any better job opportunities.

    Deciding that what was needed was a complete restart, I wound up in the oil field for a few months, working nasty hours and living in a man camp, but also making the best money of my life. Then I switched over to selling cell phones for Death Star corporate, and made even better money. Couple years later I was running my own store and making even better money. None of my degrees were involved in the slightest, and they helped me not at all.

    I then made a complete career switch to database programmer and now, years later, I work from home, and make an excellent salary as the sole developer for a mid sized company.

    College was a complete waste of time. If you are going into STEM then you probably need college (at least for now), but most people shouldn’t go to college at all, they should go to trade school.

    And of the ones that want “white collar” work, most of the time you can learn all you need to know online and from books.

    Show up on time, avoid drama, keep your crap together, and work hard at whatever you are given. Man that does that will never lack a job.

    Just my 0.02 cents.

  5. Albert J. Nock, in “The Disadvantages of Being Educated”, discussed the transformation of colleges from places of education into trade schools. I don’t picture him as one to roll in his grave, but I’d bet he’d have something more to say about their further transformation into debt-building places of socialist indoctrination where kids hide from life for several years. It would appear that Gramsci won.

  6. If you are able to get in AND graduate from MIT, you will graduate debt free. That’s not to say that you will never write another check to the University. The Alumni Association knows more about you and your finances than you do. When the time is right you will hear from them. I can only assume Stanford works much the same way.

  7. As with all such things, the question “How did this come to be?” is crucial.

    In the US, it was the confluence of several factors:

    1) Draft deferrals in the age of Vietnam
    2) The demise of “employment for life”, which entailed the demise of the company management school, which would educate those who’d demonstrated themselves to be “management material” in the company’s own particular methodology.
    2.5) The concomitant demise of private business schools, which had no pretenses of offering a collegiate/university experience or education.
    3) Griggs v Duke Power Co, ( ) which rendered aptitude testing as a gateway to promotion and company education entirely radioactive. After this case, the Bachelor’s degree became a de-facto litmus test to determine whether one had management/executive capacity.
    3.5) Once the Ba/Bs was established as the litmus test, the MBA started becoming a thing….as the value of the Bachelor’s declines, Master’s or higher are becoming required. Case in point: my sister’s 1975 Bachelors in med sci/Physical Therapy enabled her to practice at a level that in 2020 requires a Masters + 45 CME.

    and, of course:

    4) Government…er….taxpayer subsidies for higher ed. Every academically qualified student is now understood to come with a package of money that universities will slit each other’s throats over in dark alleys.

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