What if . . . College Had No Clothes?

CJ Westerberg, May 6, 2011 9:14 PM

University has no clothes.jpg

Then . . . What Would High School Look Like?

"The University Has No Clothes," by Daniel B. Smith, is an interesting mash-up of perspectives answering the ubiquitous question, "Is a college education worth it"?  
Do check it out.  What came to mind after reading this article was not a question
about higher education, but this one:

If college wasn't the goal (or primary short-term goal), or the only "mainstream"
acceptable goal . . .

  • How would K-12 be different?
  • How would middle school be different?
  • How would high school be different?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this - - -
Some excerpts and links below.

 - C.J. Westerberg

The University Has No Clothes

The notion that a college degree is essentially worthless has become one of the
year's most fashionable ideas, with two prominent venture capitalists (Cornell '89
and Stanford '89, by the way) leading the charge.

Pity the American parent!   Already beleaguered by depleted 401(k)s and gutted real-estate values, Ponzi schemes and toxic paper, burst bubbles and bear markets, he is now being asked to contend with a new specter: that college, the perennial hope for the next generation, may not be worth the price of the sheepskin on which it prints its degrees.

As long as there have been colleges, there's been an individualist, anti-college strain in American culture - an affinity for the bootstrap. But it is hard to think of a time when skepticism of the value of higher education has been more prominent than it is right now. Over the past several months, the same sharp and distressing arguments have been popping up in the
Times, cable news, the blogosphere, even The Chronicle of Higher Education. The cost of college, as these arguments typically go, has grown far too high, the return far too uncertain, the education far too lax. The specter, it seems, has materialized. . .

It's no surprise, given how the Great Recession has corroded public faith in other once-unassailable American institutions, that college should come in for a drubbing. But inevitability is just another word for opportunity, and the two most vocal critics are easy to identify and strikingly similar in entrepreneurial self- image. In the past year or so, James Altucher, a New York-based venture capitalist and finance writer, has emerged through frequent media appearances as something of a poster boy, and his column "8 Alternatives to College" something of an essential text, for the anti-college crusade. The father of two young girls . .(snip) . .  "The cost of college in the past 30 years has gone up tenfold. Health care has only gone up sixfold, and inflation has only gone up threefold. Not only is it a scam, but the college presidents know it. That's why they keep raising tuition." 

Like Altucher, Peter Thiel is a venture capitalist with strong misgivings about college. Unlike Altucher, he's a billionaire and Silicon Valley royalty.  In 1998, Thiel co-founded PayPal, and six years later, he made the first angel investment in Facebook.  (In The Social Network, he is the imposing figure who conspires to oust Eduardo Saverin from the company.)    . . (snip)   . .
 . . .   In higher education, he believes he has identified a third bubble, with all the hallmarks of a classic speculative frenzy -  hyperinflated prices, investments by ignorant consumers funded largely by debt, and widespread faith in increasing returns. . . . (snip)

 . . . .Their advocacy has made Altucher and Thiel no few enemies. Jacob Weisberg, of Slate, has called the Thiel Fellowship a "nasty" and narcissistic idea that will retard the participants' intellectual development and funnel whatever altruistic energies they have into getting rich, like Thiel. Altucher has received voluminous hate mail as the result of his media appearances and blog posts, including one from a fan who threatened to murder him and then eat his remains.

But the skepticism is spreading, even among foot soldiers on the academic front lines. In March, "Professor X," an anonymous English instructor at two middling northeastern colleges, published In the Basement of the Ivory Tower, an expansion of an Atlantic essay arguing that college has been dangerously oversold and that it borders on immoral to ask America's youth to incur heavy debt for an education for which millions are simply ill-equipped. Professor X's book came out on the heels of a Harvard Graduate School of Education report that made much the same point. The old policy cri de coeur "college for all," the report argues, has proved inadequate; rather than shunting everyone into four-year colleges, we should place greater emphasis on vocational programs, internships, and workplace learning . .

Read full article here.

Related articles The Daily Riff:

7 Reasons to Say No To College to Your Kids

College:  Another Institution to be Wary of?

The Most Important Higher Education Study in Years: "Trust Us" Won't Cut It Anymore

 Harvard:  "A" Students Tend to Become Professors and "C" Students Wealthy Donors 
(Larry Summers)


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  • Pete

    Of course a post-secondary degree or at least, further education, is a good thing. The problem is that because a college degree has become the necessary component of the middle-class lifestyle we have focused on just that- the college degree. we have let our lust for credentials overcome our need for good learning. Our economy has also changed to the point where a traditional, 4 year college degree for everyone has become antiquated. Going off for 4 years, living in a dorm and finding yourself seems like a silly requirement for entering the middle class. And now we have added debt to the equation. We really do need to overhaul the whole idea of college. Let's face it, ,many people write term papers in the comment sections of online readings and they are getting NO CREDIT! That makes no sense. If you are reading this you know what I am talking about. Masses of people are online educating themselves and learning more about life than many college students sitting in classes reluctantly doing what their professors ask them to do. I am not advocating for some kind of progressive, open-university concept but I merely illustrate this point to show that learning has leaped out of the institutions and has taken on a life of its own. That alone should force us to rethink the university.

    But before we get too down on the current universities we should remember that many of us out here self-educating are college students and/or can thank our college experience for allowing us the resources to further our own individual educations.

  • Keishla Ceaser-Jones

    A few things...

    1. I think it is convenient for those without a college degree to declare that it is not necessary.

    2. Yes. College is too expensive. Just because it's expensive doesn't mean it's unnecessary.

    3. I would say that until the JOB MARKET stops requiring college degrees for certain jobs...then it's a value. I mean...sure. I could teach myself to be an accountant from online resources and books. I could pass the exams. But who will hire me? Not everyone wants to be a VENTURE CAPITALIST or ENTREPRENEUR!

    4. "College for All" sure that's a faulty plan. It should be "College ACCESS for all." The problem isn't that too many students are going to college. It's that too many students are being left without quality vocational training to fill certain job markets. Then they go to community college for 2 years...don't get a specific certification, and can't find work. That's a problem.

    Until education ceases to be a key to a door that some people can't access....then you shouldn't discourage it.

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