College as a way to babysit 18-year-olds is not very efficient for anyone involved

Quote of the Day for Sunday, June 5th, 2011:

Naomi Schaefer Riley, writing in the June 3rd Washington Post, on the value of a modern college education, and the disconnect exposed by PayPal’s Peter Thiel when he recently thumbed his nose at the university system:

Executives at U.S. companies routinely complain about the lack of reading, writing and math skills in the recent graduates they hire. Maybe they too will get tired of using higher education as a credentialing system. Maybe it will be easier to recruit if they don’t have to be concerned about the overwhelming student debt of their new employees.

Employers may decide that there are better ways to get high school students ready for careers. What if they returned to the idea of apprenticeship, not just for shoemakers and plumbers but for white-collar jobs? College as a sorting process for talent or a way to babysit 18-year-olds is not very efficient for anyone involved. Would students rather show their SAT scores to companies and then apply for training positions where they can learn the skills they need to be successful? Maybe the companies could throw in some liberal arts courses along the way. At least they would pick the most important ones and require that students put in some serious effort. Even a 40-hour workweek would be a step up from what many students are asked to do now.

If tuition continues to rise faster than inflation, and colleges cannot provide a compelling mission for undergraduate education, we may move further away from Obama’s vision of education and closer to Peter Thiel’s.

It seems to me there are few areas of public life more dysfunctional than the la-la land of higher education (well, maybe the K-12 public school system…). The “Obama vision” referenced here is the widespread vision, shared among the cultural elite (especially the professorial class), of universal higher education, which, like most every “progressive” idea, sounds wonderful – if you are naïve enough to believe the utopian hype without bothering to think through the nuts & bolts of the details, and understand their consequences.

The reality is that as the reach of “higher education” spreads deeper into society, both the relative and objective values of higher education plummet toward irrelevance – much to the detriment of most of us, but especially of the least capable in society, who find more and more vocational possibilities being pushed out of reach in the credentialing game, and yet much to the benefit of – surprise, surprise – the professorial class, who find themselves with ever increasing power in the marketplace, and the liberal governing class, who see higher education as the next frontier for state domination over the intellectual/spiritual/religious formation of its subjects, having already accomplished a virtual monopoly over the formation of youth from near toddlerhood through adolescence.