On one side of the debate over whether too many kids are going to college is the team of Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, and political scientist (what does that mean?) and author Charles Murray, who participated in an Intelligence Squared debate in which they argued college is just not worth it for many people, and worse still, it's taboo to discuss that cold, hard truth, so more and more people are going when they would succeed down other paths.
Calling the B.A. "fraudulent, destructive, and antediluvian," Murray described most schools in the second and third tier, and even some in the first, as "diploma mills." He listed his arguments for the three adjectives:
— Grade inflation is designed to perpetuate retention so that colleges can gain more revenue even as young people fail forward and take longer to graduate (spending more money).
— B.A.s used to be the marker of an educated person, but now, "if the only thing you know about a person is that that person has a B.A., you don't know anything."
— Except for majors in the hard sciences, which is only 12 percent of degrees, students with bachelor's degrees are unprepared to start work.
— It hurts 40 percent of the young people who start college and don't finish by setting them back at the start of the careers with debt and no notable skills to show for it.
— It creates inequality of opportunity by denying people who don't go to college the reputation that they are ambitious and capable. Therefore, students go to get a piece of paper, not an education.
— You think you're going to school for four years, but everything you need to know you can learn in two (apprenticeships are responsible for teaching the rest).
— The rational for a "physical plant" no longer exists. Does anyone use the library any more?
— Distance education enables quality professors to teach to millions, many more than the 150 or so who are sitting in a campus classroom.
Thiel called the college bubble as "pernicious" as the housing meltdown of last decade and the tech bubble of the 1990s, yet he said it's like touching the third rail to describe college education as not worthwhile for the majority of students. Thiel's main points.
— The quality of education has not increased, but the price has. The price of education has gone up by a factor of 10 since 1980 in nominal dollars. It costs four times as much inflation-adjusted as it did 30 years ago.
— Student debt totals more than $1 trillion. The amount of debt puts students at a disadvantage, forcing them into jobs that pay bills, but may not be right for them. For example, 50,000 students graduate each year with a legal degree, but only 30,000 law jobs are available.
— Seventeen million people in the labor force have college degrees but are doing unskilled work in the labor force.
Nobody is arguing that being educated is unhelpful, or that no one should go, or it's categorically a bad thing. Murray and Thiel argue that education is not an "absolute good," and too many people are going despite the value they get out of it.
Do you think college is worth it? Are you prepared for your job because of your college degree? What's the upside? Comment here.