Monday, June 11, 2012

Who needs a college education?

I have a Master's Degree. Absolutely nothing in my six-year college schooling gave me the skills needed in my chosen careers: military officer and airline pilot. In fact, most college graduates use very little of their college schooling in their post-college occupations. In almost all cases, the graduate's employer teaches its new employees all the skills they need.

Why, then do employers seek people with college degrees? Simply because we're all over-schooled and it's assumed that a person who isn't over-schooled is somehow defective. The possession of a degree is simply used as a discriminator to sort job applicants. Another way to look at it is as education inflation -- because everyone is over-schooled, the value of the schooling has fallen.

Purportedly to protect the public, some occupations require certification of specific skills. Such occupations include educators, engineers, attorneys, and medical personnel. These days, a college education is generally the only path to attain that certification. But, realistically, anyone with reasonable intelligence could be trained to fill any of these occupations through OJT. Yes, even a surgeon or an architect. (One of my great-grandfathers was an attorney -- he passed the bar exam by self-study in 1874.) All college schooling does is establish some standardization and documentation of the training and certification process.

If a college degree signifies anything meaningful, it is to identify persons with at least average intelligence who can set a goal and stick with it. Thus, it is a very expensive new-hire screening tool which saddles the graduate with debt comparable to a home mortgage. Surely there is a screening process that costs less than $100k.

Perhaps the most significant impact government schools from K through graduate school has on their students is more appropriately called indoctrination -- not education. We borrow $100k to pay for that? And, don't get me started on the popular pity-me degrees (eg women's studies, black studies, etc.) that have absolutely no value whatsoever in the real world other than to sow and feed feelings of hate and bitterness in the minds of students who have never learned to reason.

Instead of setting college degrees as a way to identify a person's value in society and the workplace, how about restoring the quality of education we had in grades 1 through 9 100 years ago before the "progressives" took over education? I have a copy of a letter written in 1925 by my paternal grandfather to my grandmother. I think he only had a sixth or seventh grade education. Yet, very few of today's college graduates have the writing skills, including grammar, spelling, and penmanship that Grandpa had. And Grandpa didn't have to borrow $100k to learn those skills.

There is no doubt that everyone needs a good education in order to be a productive citizen. That education must include reading, writing, mathmatics, science, history, civics, economics, and logic. With those skills, people are prepared to teach themselves virtually anything that interests them. In preparation for most occupations, a very good education can be accomplished in less than 9 years in schools patterned after a pre-1900 school. In most cases, everything else in todays schools (including at the college level) is fluff.

All that said, get the training you needs for the field of employment that best fits your interests and abilities and avoid debt in attaining that training. If college doesn't fit that end, avoid it. If one needs a college education because it's the only path to one's chosen career, by all means, do it, but avoid taking on debt to accomplish that goal. Otherwise, we all need to abandon the ideas that a college degree is useful or necessary for most occupations and that a person without a degree is defective or inferior.
"My grandmother wanted me to have an education so she kept me out of school." — Margaret Mead

"I've never let my school interfere with my education." — Mark Twain

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