Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Is College Worth It?

Jack Hough makes an argument similar, in some ways to the one that Charles Murray has been making of late. College is no longer a sure economic proposition. That’s a crude way of looking at it, but given the state of things, we should also add that nowadays it often is not, in fact, a sound educational proposition either.

The question we need to ask is not simply whether, from an economic standpoint, whether college is worth the cost. (As a practical matter, that is a genuine question, even if, a true eduction is priceless). The question we need to ask is what can we do to raise the real, as opposed to monetary value of education. As our republic presumes the presence of an informed citizenry, improving the schools is imperative, or we’re sunk.

Discussions - 19 Comments

I'm sure the Dewey followers have many experimental plans to improve state controlled education. I'm thinking this is an good chance to try out the new American reversals: In old America you stay in school so you won't end up in jail, in New America school is jail.

it's the liberal arts degree that isn't a sound economic proposition. a BS is still a good move for those with the smarts and persistence.

College should be avoided. The corrupt philosophies and beliefs of college and university professors is destructive to student and country. There are so many ways to make a good living without a degree I would not recommend college except for more technical training. (Medical, engineering, etc.) I have a 19 year old son who graduated from high school 1 1/2 years early with a 3.85 gpa. He is brilliant. Even more important, he is good. Parents should fear higher education in this country. (My degrees are in Electronics Engineering and Education.)

With a lifelong interest in learning, a college degree, two years teaching in high school and continued education, I find this question troubling. I love learning but feel our schools today are not promoting learning. Instead they are sometimes just trivial, wasting students time with classes in crafts sex education too early, PE which results in the students who need it most sitting on a bench . But at worst the students are being indoctrinated. I have reached the position that I almost hate to see a good kid go to college to be told that our society is bad and evil and he or she must become a radical and write papers advocating all sorts of liberal causes. Perhaps it is time for an amendment requiring at least half the school day being only academics and when they have PE that it not be just games but also exercises. That would be a start.

Just one question for those who think a college degree is no longer worth having: would you advise your own children not to go to college?

What is going on in this thread? Is everyone really so afraid of liberal professors that they don't see any other problems with the institution? How about running an educational institution like a business! When the financial "bottom line" and number of degrees you can produce is more important (and, obviously, measurable) than educating students, you can bet people are going to start questioning its "value". I don't see any complaints about the universities corporate structure, though.



Instead all I see is paranoia about leftist professors who (my goodness!) might encourage your child to question the foundations of their morality, their understanding of themselves, and how they view their relationship to others. Mike, for example, seems so afraid of exposing his child to any "corrupt" teaching that he is proud of his son for keeping away - as if his son's "goodness" might be tainted by reading something by bell hooks or Michael Hardt.



I run in pretty leftist circles at a state university, where I teach in a fairly liberal department. I've never met a professor or GA who was attempting to actively indoctrinate her or his students. Sure - they want them to THINK and to actively reconsider why they believe what they do, but no one (and trust me, I know some serious radicals) wants a student to be forced into thinking a particular way (heh, I can see it now: "That's right students! I'm not asking you to recognize whether or not it seems like a contradiction to build a liberal democracy by decimating a group of indigenous people, I want you to just HATE AMERICA!!!"). I've had conservative Christian students and hardcore libertarian students who have done well and poorly in my classes because of their ability to write, think, and ask questions - not on their ability to answer a question the way I want them to. Lucky for you all, indoctrination is pretty contrary to what most leftist academicians want from their students. That is to say that, in my experience, leftist academicians hope to encourage questioning above everything else. To call that a form of indoctrination is to play semantic games.



So, like I said - I think the university's inability to detach itself from being forced to make a profit really contributes to its academic problems. And I think you all need to actually visit a college classroom and witness just how awful these perceived "radicals" are.

@ Matt--

I agree that the corporate structure of the university does much to take away from learning. Market forces will shift many towards the latest fad, which often has little to do with seeking the good and the beautiful. But the ultimate irony of the leftist professor? Chomsky sells. You can condemn the profit based structure, but it seems that when it is a matter of how one wants to live, the most radical professor will choose the fumes of the very institutions that they question. Even at my small (and rather conservative) campus, there are classes dedicated to the paradigms of race/class/gender. While this is in ways appropriate, I do not think many in the university are intellectually honest about the matter, or that these are even the most important matters themselves. These particular problems are the result of appetites and vices that all mankind is guilty of; it is easy for you to call what is at stake a matter of "semantic games" because so far, this narrative owns academia. There are some of us who have had to dig if we were ever to find out that America is an exceptional place. And while the basis of our civic life warrants introspection, the creeping relativism so popular today comes from that notion hyper-extended ad nauseum: someone who stands for something isn't one of the modern day lotus-eaters, the enlightened Last Man who sees the 'prejudices' of history for the crazed irrationality it truly is. Nietzsche's Zatharusta told them their chests were hollow, and they couldn't have been happier! The questioning goes beyond critical inquiry to a point where a student would never be required to make any judgment at all.

I often wonder what they will put in all the new buildings if enrollment does dip significantly. Mabye it will force them to put the accent on the individual because they are so few students left. I agree with what you say Matt, but on the other hand I have seen a lot of people I knew and grew up with who adopted the views of teachers or professors. Young people emulate, so it happens on both sides without there being some obvious agenda. I think though that questioning climate change theory and asking about the endgame of multi culturalism drew some odd looks in my experience. I suppose the same would be said if I questioned the war or the military in a right winger's class. My real criticism is of the public high schools and below where the state dictates curriculum, cops roam the halls checking cars and lockers, and free speech or individual though is often cause for outrage. The kids are encouraged to keep you head down, mouth shut, memorize a few pointless facts for a big state run test and never do anything that requires effort from the teachers or administrators.

Instead all I see is paranoia about leftist professors who (my goodness!) might encourage your child to question the foundations of their morality

Matty, it is not the role of college professors to do any such thing. In any case, when you start to question the foundations of your morality get back to me with this self-absorbed adolescent twaddle. Until then kindly stop embarrassing yourself and irritating us.

leftist academicians hope to encourage questioning above everything else.


Matt, you cannot be this stupid so I can only conclude that you are dishonest. "Leftist academicians" are extremely selective about what it is they think can be questioned. Try writing a paper which questions the leftest world-view of your precious leftist academicians, for instance by arguing that modern genetics shows that different races possess different intelligence levels, and let me know how much "encouragment" you receive.

There are no more close-minded bigots in this country than the leftist academicians. You only think they are open-minded because you parrot their beliefs and you think this makes you open-minded also.

Mike, you have a son who's both "brilliant" and "good"? Congratulations! You should make a bumper sticker about it so more can know of this.

While I think that many colleges out there offer a very pedestrian education with TAs and textbooks, there are several fine colleges out there that offer a real classical education. The solution is choosing the right college, not avoiding college all together, which would be foolish and ignorant. It's also an obvious straw man to argue that professors aren't consciously and loudly screaming about how much they hate America. Anyone in education knows that the selection of readings, focus of lectures, and biases that creep into the classroom are the "hidden curriculum" or whatever jargon is currently used to label it. Anyone who denies that most universities are filled with left-leaning professors who are teaching post-modernism, cultural and moral relativism, and whatever other -isms that are currently fashionable and work to undermine the idea of truth itself needs to get his/her head out of the sand. This has been going on for decades. Moreover, Matt actually admits to undermining traditional morality of his students. What place that has in a history, biology, political science, sociology, or any course is simply befuddling. What would one want to do that? Who gave professors that mission? What effect would that have on society? What are they trying to replace traditional morality with, if anything? Relativism? Anarchy? I suppose the same can be said of trying to undermine the "hegemony" or "oppressiveness" of traditional religion as well? I would think that professors and teachers would want to see universities as a place of passing on inherited and new knowledge and reinforcing the religious and moral beliefs of their students. Why isn't getting students to "think" seen as perfectly consistent with reinforcing sound individual and social virtues and mores. Somewhere along the way, professors got it into their minds to give their students "the other side" of the story, which usually meant tearing down the traditional. Classically, education was an opportunity to reinforce the beliefs and traditions of a culture such as in Rome, Greece, etc. Now, it is seen as hip and innovative to attack all these beliefs. Students should be taught to look at all different sides of an issue as well as to be able to defend their beliefs under scrutinty through debate and disputation. But, education should teach students how to defend their upright and virtuous beliefs, not to tear all of them down. When I taught for 10 years, we scrutinized everything with great rigor, but I never saw it as my mission to undermine my students' moral and religious teachings from their parents or traditions. I promoted the idea of objective truth and encouraged students to defend these truths logically. Of course, it was my mission to arm them for the battle that the professors would wage on their beliefs and morals. And, I trained them for the real purpose of a university - education in their chosen fields and courses.

College is rarely "worth it"--it's way overpriced for what it is. But have you noticed that almost no one pays retail?

Wow, John M. As usual, very unique and original insights and criticisms. How did I not see those coming?

What pushes the price of a college education so high? Granted, hardly anyone pays the full price, being subsidized somehow. Do all the various subsidies push the declared price up? The school need not have a conscience about charging outrageous sums because of the unlikelihood that students will have to pay the full price or at least not right now.

I am teaching a summer class at the cc and have at least four students who are working the loan scam. The pattern for that is to attend once or twice and then never appear again. They fail, but must not be held accountable by the lender. I do not know how the system works. One of the four is even trying to pressure me by email to record her as having attended when she came twice and has not turned in an assignment. (In my responses, I am trying to get her to think about traditional morality without accusing her outright of evil intent.) Our college is trying to crack down on such fraud and I am waiting to be told what constitutes "attendance" this semester. The official definition has been changing over the last year.

On the other hand, I have one quite bright student in this course who was dropped from my roster, but keeps coming to class. He is working, paying his own way, but couldn't pay his tuition until his next paycheck cleared. You see that sometimes at a community college, because students can afford the going price. I signed a waiver for him last night, which suggested that I was allowing him to join the class late, when he has never missed a moment of it.

That young man should be going to a good four-year college. If there is a good four-year college, which Hough and Murray cause me to doubt. He is wise enough not want to take on an enormous debt, so he'll take the relative bargain of community college courses. He inspires me to make the most of his every dime. I wish I were better.

Kate, you are right about the cause of the exorbitant cost of college. When the government starts subsidizing any formerly private commercial transaction (e.g., selling corn or medical services), it practically invites the seller to inflate the price (and reap more profit), knowing that he can both collect the subsidy value from the government and continue to charge the customer the "market" rate. It's easier for sellers to get away with this if, as Prof. Lawler noted, most buyers don't pay full retail (and, of course, if buyers continue to demand the thing, like college or medicine or corn syrup).

If (or when) there are enough buyers that complain about price or access (e.g., in health care, especially), the perverse logic of this system is to increase the size of the subsidy -- an action that is, of course, political, not private or market-based. And this, in turn, only encourages the sellers to exploit their political good fortune again, by upping the price further to maintain (or increase) the artificial profit to which they've gotten accustomed.

Potential and actual fraud is enormous under these conditions (e.g., not only non-students taking out student loans, as Kate notes, but also the ginormous overbilling of Medicare and Medicaid). And, yes, the government can authorize various Inspectors General to investigate and punish cases. But the fundamental fraud lies at the level of policy ideas. Government should, as Jefferson said, simply protect us from injury (i.e., keep the courts open) but otherwise get out of the "industry and improvement" business, leaving that to us.

I like to call my students' attention to the mundane fact of USB drives' and notebook computers' becoming only more useful, plentiful, and affordable since their invention. But (as we offer praise and thanksgiving to Invisible Hand), I also ask them to ponder how it is that practically no other sector of the economy is this way.

@ Craig: How presumptuous you are. The bottom line is that at some point (er, the 1960s?) college became a remedial education aimed particularly to remedy an American upbringing. Well, look around -- the wages of that idea are pretty clear.

@ Matt: Is your professorship as bullish as your forum posts?


Nice post. Thanks for sharing useful information.

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