Experts: No Job Requires College Education
On Thursday, higher education experts convincingly argued that a college education is superfluous for today’s job market.
At the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, the America’s Future Foundation hosted a panel on “Bursting the College Bubble: The Status of Higher Education Today.”
Jenna Robinson, a fellow at the Pope Center, noted that “enrollment has increased fantastically” because “we hear that the bachelor’s degree is the ticket to the American dream.” Success begins with a BA.
Since so many people enter college, however, “universities have dumbed down their curriculum.”
Robinson cited the book Academically Adrift, which presents the finding that nearly half of college students had no “significant improvement in learning” by the end of their sophomore year. Some graduates “cannot write or orally communicate in an office at an acceptable level,” Robinson added.
Andrew Gillen, a fellow at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, explained that the “fundamental characteristic” of an economic bubble is “unsustainable growth.” In higher education, two areas are most likely to expand: enrollment and costs.
“Unless benefits increase sufficiently, higher costs should suggest sending fewer people to college,” he said. Evidence shows that, while costs and enrollment increase, only “one third of students are able to graduate and use their degree in a meaningful sense.”
Ron Henry, President of the Boy’s Initiative, argued that the only jobs requiring a college degree are those where the employer says ‘I want a college degree.’ As a partner in a law firm, he admitted, “we have to make arbitrary selections.”
Robinson said, “it’s not the degree that’s required, but the skills.” Gillen pointed to “credential inflation,” which pushes ambitious people into undergraduate and graduate programs learning skills they may never use.
Bill Glod, Program Officer for Philosophy at the Institute for Humane Studies, said, “I think there’s a definite benefit if the bubble is burst.” He mentioned college students – and even graduate students – who express no interest in their degree’s specialty.
Glod did argue that college degrees should still be required for jobs in academia, but the conversation tended to disparage college education in general. If college education proves largely worthless, who would hire academics? Higher education would be utterly superfluous.
Gillen remarked that “the Internet is providing the replacement.”
If college is largely useless, why did it become so important, and why does President Obama insist that everyone should be able to study at a university?
College began as a guild, a sort of trade union for teachers and students. In the late Middle Ages, teachers of philosophy and theology collaborated to form universities to teach in community, like the monasteries.
Unlike the monasteries, these guilds also trained people for public influence. Over time, they became increasingly tied to institutions of power, such as the state and the church.
In America, the first colleges were founded to train pastors and other religious ministers. Some colleges also began focusing on politics, such as Princeton under the leadership of John Witherspoon.
Pastors required religious instruction to teach the word of God, and the colleges aimed to provide that instruction. Statesmen also needed instruction- to gain the virtues of wisdom and prudence to adequately serve the people.
The progress of science also increased the importance of college. Through the state, the church, and the laboratory, college became a symbol of wisdom, power, and success. It remains so today.
Assuming the best, President Obama wants all Americans to be able to go to college because he wants everyone to have an equal shot at success. Unfortunately, colleges do not provide the high degree of education that they used to.
Bias, pandering, and incompetence render universities a pale shadow of the original Paris, Bologna, Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Not only do most students graduate without a knowledge of Latin, Greek, or Hebrew- they also fail to learn the importance of virtue and the foundations of their society.
One could argue that science has eclipsed these old disciplines, replacing wisdom with process, learning with calculating, knowledge with power. But the colleges also teach traditional disciplines, bereft of their history, standards, and flair.
Allan Bloom, in his book The Closing of the American Mind, discusses the downfall of the humanities. His story does not incorporate all perspectives, but it seems to encapsulate the malaise of the older disciplines. Science still commands respect, not because it is inherently better, but because its standards have not been rejected, as have the standards of the other disciplines.
But college need not wallow in confusion, and it should not be the only avenue of success.
Certain Liberal Arts colleges have returned to traditional standards, and defined a goal for the humanities.
Hillsdale College, for example, teaches its students the roots of the Western and American traditions. It does not disparage the East or the Americas, but teaches concrete historical ideas and events. It does not require students to agree with past ideas- only to know them. It’s standard has achieved wide recognition in the Conservative movement and beyond.
But Hillsdale students do not go there for a job- they attend for an education. Most skills required for the workforce do not depend on a college education. The ability to mix and serve drinks, deliver food, answer phones, and work in an office does not rely on your knowledge of Shakespeare.
If everyone were to know the classics and be able to express themselves well, society as a whole would benefit. But there is little evidence that today’s colleges are providing that, anyway, and these things are not necessary for the workforce.
The system will not change overnight, but debt is skyrocketing, and the current track is unsustainable. Expect radical change in education, and focus on marketable skills and true learning if you want to make your college experience worthwhile.