Don't Get That College Degree! ….. Ummmm ….. Really?

July 6, 2009

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An op-ed piece  from Jack Hough at the New York Post has been floating around the interwebs recieving a lot of eyes in the past few days. (Please read here.) In it Hough controversially claims that a four-year college degree has come to cost way too much to reap far too little “for the average student, family, employer, professor, and taxpayer,” and that the obvious solution is to not go to college. He goes about justifying this potentially dangerous claim by comparing what could only be described as apples and monster trucks.

He compares two people, one who goes to college and one who doesn’t, who both start with the same amount of money in their pockets. Johnnny GED invests his money while the other invests it in college tuition. In the end, Surprise! Johnny GED has almost three times as much as fancy-pants college grad with his liberal arts education. So there! Obviously this means that college degrees are worthless. Thanks, Jack, for saving me those precious four years.

Not only is this argument horribly reductive, its logical segue to that of an education based on instantly available and freely chooseable accumulated knowledge  is completely non-sensical. In a time where the United States is falling more and more behind countries like Japan and India in the production of quality college graduates, suggesting that people should forgo higher learning based upon increased cost and unproven results is the last thing we need.

Yes, Jack, I will admit that our current system is not perfect. I sat through many a 500-person Econ lecture, staring at a myriad of backwards-turned baseball caps and sleeping sorority girls thinking to myself, “Thanks for bringing down the curve.” The fact of the matter is that a lot of my success in college came in context. Yes, I tried hard, but those who skated through on beer fumes and questionable weekend couplings didn’t help in making me look academically admirable. The problem? In the end we were given the same degree.

I get it. That degree is expensive and employers are hiring more and more people who aren’t really qualified for their pay grade, but is that really the death of higher education altogether? No. I wish there was a better way to prove the fruits of a four-year education, but most professions are simply not set up to be tested. Graphic design graduates would probably balk at the idea that they had to take a standardized test to prove their graphical designy worth before getting a job. Doctors? Maybe. Accountants? Sure. But as a cinema major, I don’t think such a thing exists, nor should it. My knowledge is not necessarily applicable in the sense that I can tell you the thematic and subtextual thread between all of Jean Piere-Mellville’s 1960’s noir crime films. But everything that I learned is applicable across any number of practical considerations from technological awareness, to problem solving, creative applications, writing, et cetera, et cetera.

So yes, colleges are expensive. Yes, they produce a lot of people not qualified. If we do away with our current system of higher education, however, we will have even more people who will be able to skate by on very little effort and claim to know a lot because the barriers to entry will virtually be erased. College does provide great knowledge from amazing minds to a lot of people who go on to be the leaders of health, technology, business, the arts, and all other sectors in the US and the world. We can’t afford a higher percentage of people to scoff at the idea of working for an education and instead believing that knowledge should be as instantly accessible and as cheap as a 99 cent MP3 download from iTunes. The last thing America needs is more entitlement with even less effort put in. If anything, efforts should be made to make the quality of education more intense, diverse, and rich — not available on demand.