I don’t have the greatest memory where events of my own personal life story are concerned. As far as I can recall, my childhood consisted of A) my trip to see Star Wars when I was six, and B) the time that girl’s bikini top fell off at the public pool. After that, I don’t remember anything up until I had a particularly good Beef’n’Cheddar sandwich a couple of weeks ago, along with the resulting bathroom incident. (Mmmm… Arby’s. Traumatizingly delicious.)
But there is one other scene from childhood that I remember distinctly. My mom and dad were talking, and I’m not sure what the discussion was about–something about my education or future plans for the family. And I vividly remember my father saying, in reference to me, “Oh, he’s going to college. If I have to work two jobs, he’s going to college.”
The reason my dad said that was because, at the time, a college degree was still considered a ticket to a better life. It was worth any sacrifice to get one because that’s what got you past the velvet rope of mediocrity into the night club of Upper Middle Class-ness.
Well, a lot has changed since my dad said that, both in the real world and in the world of academia. So much has changed that I say now, with just as much conviction as my father had back then, that there is no bleeping way I will let my kids go to college. I would rather hear them say, “I’ve decided to join the circus,” than, “I’ve decided to go to Yale.”
For one thing, the cost/benefit ratio for a college degree has gone way, way up. Colleges are absurdly overpriced in a way you usually only see at a major league ballpark snack bar. And as their cost has gone up, their value has gone down. Thanks to our fantastic U.S. public education system, a great deal of college time is now spent on remedial catch-up courses to get students ready to squeeze in a little bit of actual college-level work in their senior year. As a result, degree isn’t the indicator that it used to be of one’s ability to do practical, intellectual work.
And speaking of practicality, the last couple of weeks have shown without question that the focus of colleges now is less about education and more about political indoctrination and social activism. It’s telling that the biggest campus freak-out happened not in a traditionally loony enclave like Berkeley or NYU, but smack dab in the middle of the country at the University of Missouri. The rot of the university system has penetrated through and through; there’s nowhere a student can go that’s not under the complete control of the left.
Unless they don’t go at all. The salvation of students who are more interested in learning than protesting may already be here in the form of online learning. The more we watch universities circle the drain, the more employers will appreciate educational alternatives where job seekers can prove they know how to do something other than scream Marxist slogans in unison. Online universities, certification programs, tutorials — they’re all already out there, and they’re already working.
By the time my kids get to college age, in about fifteen years or so, I think online education will be the norm. There will still be a place for residential colleges for rigorous programs like medicine or architecture. But for people who want to become graphic designers or financial advisers or computer programmers, there will be no reason to drop tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege fighting your way to class through crowds of ethnic studies majors protesting that the “P” in “NPR” is hurtful to people with urinary tract infections.
I think this generation is the one that finally killed the American college experience. My kids won’t be going.