Thursday, September 27, 2012

No More Homework

"For many students, college is less about providing an education than a credential - a certificate testifying that they are smart enough to get into college, conformist enough to go, and compliant enough to stay there for four years."
Megan McArdle "The College Bubble"
It's interesting to read this in print in 2012. I came to the same conclusion in about 1992, a while after I'd finished spending a miserable four years in what felt like a worthless (albeit expensive) extension of high school. When I was young, attending a four-year school wasn't really a choice - not to go was de facto proof that you were either an idiot and/or from a poverty-stricken family. Two decades later, leaving college still feels more like a jailbreak than an accomplishment, even though I now have a greater appreciation of the value of a higher education, because I realize how it should be used - as a way of gaining the specific skills that one needs for a particular career.

Were it up to me, you'd take a year or two off after high-school and test the waters of the job market, perhaps with some paid internships. After finding out what you really wanted to do with yourself, and/or what you were good at, you'd go to college (if you needed to) to learn the skills that required in order to do it well. Not only would this return college to in educational role, rather than a credentialing one, but it would allow prospective students to better judge the value of an education (and thus how much they should be willing to pay for it) and perhaps to have an understanding of the overall trajectory of their chosen field. Looking back, it's what I think I should have done. As it stands, I have an undergraduate diploma that, truth be told, is more valuable for the paper that it's printed on that it is as a measure of my fitness for the careers in which I've found myself. First job I landed with it paid less than the receptionists made, and it's been more or less useless since then. The good fortune of landing in the Puget Sound area when the high-tech bubble meant that jobs were available for the asking (and companies expected to have to train) did much more for me than the time, money and effort spent on my Bachelor's degree.

Eventually, the fact that only a select few students actually need college diplomas will likely catch up with the college industry, and we'll see another house of cards come down. And this won't be a bad thing. There are enough random screening tools in the job market as it is. No one will miss one that's overpriced and needlessly time-consuming.

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