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November 10, 2008



Your college teacher reference reminds me that, at the state university where I counseled, I participated in orientation sessions. When I began my presentations, I would ask the students why they were there (sound familiar?). The most common response was "money." Next, "a degree." Never did a student offer "to get an education" without prodding. Their motivations were often not good enough to sustain them through 4 to 6 years of hard work before they obtained a degree, much less a well paid position.


In students' defense: most colleges don't offer real "educations" anymore. A dizzying array of worthless liberal arts degrees have choked out real training on college campuses.

Women's studies, deconstructionist literary theory, and the politics of Che have long since deprived collegiate study of its educational value. The bigger their soapboxes have grown, the more today's "pedagogues" remind me of 1930's demagogues.

If only a college degree were worth something again, maybe its remunerative benefits would re-emerge as well. Alas (and, by "alas" I mean, "not alas") perhaps that might mean fewer people would attend. Imagine my disappointment. No seriously: you have to imagine it.

But, this is of course what happens to education when a society grows decadent. Men and women stops investing in useful knowledge because society allows the costs of their individual education to be spread, through federal subsidies and loan programs, across a wider swath of society. This, of course, allows an individual to seek a degree without engaging in any real cost/benefit analysis. And after all, if he's rational, why would he?

In a lot of ways, the federal government's posture on student loans is eerily similar to its posture toward Wall Street: keep liquidity too cheaply available; encourage mal-investment of capital, human or otherwise; bloat expenses; exacerbate over-leverage; minimize efficiency; reduce the quality of return on investment. Public education in the United States has each of these exact maladies in common with Wall Street.


Correction on that last post.
This is note for some readers who may be considering future careers for their children. Yes, there are many undergraduate degrees that are worth less today than ever before, and will continue to be so as the economy weakens. Furthermore, many students are led to believe that any college degree somehow leads to a rewarding career. Not true, nor has it ever been in my lifetime. However, there are still many opportunities for those who are relatively intelligent and willing to work. Practically all sciences, math, engineering, nursing, business, education, and of course technical trades schools have a lot to offer. As far as liberal arts, with exception of maybe music, I would steer clear unless using it as a foundation for graduate work. As a home school dad, I have researched this extensively and would be glad to discuss further with those interested.


Randy, I am in agreement with your analysis. Many of our beginning students had been ill advised; they should have been steered toward trade schools. Some endured years of stress as they struggled through courses they could not pass, accumulated loans they had no hope of paying, and lost years of potential income.
As Austin points out, a mal-investment of capital, both human and otherwise, characterizes contemporary state-funded education, as it does many large institutions. High schools are "hustled" and students misled so that the numbers, representing tuition, keep increasing. The Hungry Man invents many ways to feed himself. Many are devious.


Hey Randy,

yeah, I am excluding some of the more technical undergraduate degrees--such as the science and math oriented coursework you mentioned--from my admittedly negative appraisal of higher public education.

Nevertheless, I think it's worth mentioning that even those degree paths are going to suffer from some of the adverse effects of campus-over-population.

Because of the glut of students (or federal loans and funding depending on where you want to start your analysis) you're still going to get a declining value in those educational paths. The outer-limits of that value loss are certainly more confined, but they aren't totally immune from dilution either:

First, grade inflation will still continue to occur. This diminishes the 'signaling' value of the degree to employers, thus diminishing the degree's utility for recently-graduated job-seekers.

Second, even in these disciplines, as the volume of students increase, so will the number of adjuncts and TA's assigned to teach calculus, chemistry, physics, etc. Presumably, this diminishes the "real" value of the course as full-professors become a proportional minority among university faculty.

If you believe that larger class sizes reduce educational value, that will certainly occur as well.

Anyway, I'm not lumping non-liberal-arts degrees in the "useless" category. But, by the same token, I think it's also safe to say that by-and-large all degrees' respective utility is declining.


Yep Austin. I follow you on those points. Grade inflation/degree inflation are certainly factors to consider. Supply and demand drives everything. All the more reason to be realistic and strategic in selecting a career. Of course, more importantly, prayerfully and practicing faithfullness with the resources He has already provided.

Alex Marshall

So... maybe I have a higher appreciation of liberal arts degrees and federal loans than I should. Though I guess I am slightly biased, I'm working on such a degree and the only way I could afford to do it is via federal grants and loans. But, perhaps in my defense, I am planning to use this degree as a platform for grad school (so that I can turn around and teach the same material... maybe its not so great a defense). Anyway... I understand some of the frustrations and issues that have been mentioned. But I guess I would caution that conservatives (of which I am one, I think...) have a tendency to oversimplify things.

Other thoughts:
I heard a philosophy prof at Princeton (who, from the lectures I heard, was pretty phenomenal) that used the exact same policy you described. He said "everyone gets an A, come to class if you want to learn something." Apparently, his lecture hall was regularly full to capacity.

I really like what you said, Jim, about a place for compassion when dealing with circumstances outside of someones control. This kinda goes back to the oversimplification thing- I think many people do indeed put themselves in situations that come back on them economically. But I don't think, contrary to the opinion of many a conservative I've talked to, that this is universally the case. In fact, I would say their are a very large number of people who are in bad conditions because of bad economic decisions others have made or because of the lingering effects of injustices that are an unfortunate part of our history. Not saying that handouts is the right solution for these people. But am saying that some sort of more direct actions is probably appropriate for them.

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