The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Off to College...or not

Not long ago President Obama suggested that as a nation we provide free education for anyone who attends a community college. For the president this program would be an extension of the K through 12 public education available to all Americans. We'd simply be adding another two years of public education and providing our young people with a higher education head start.

Sounds good...until we look into it more deeply. The first question that comes to mind is "What will it cost?" We can be sure of one thing: like every government program the cost will always be grossly underestimated. Believe me, the per-student costs of a community college are substantially higher than that of your local public elementary, middle or high school, and once the government starts to foot the bill for all those additional students, the costs will skyrocket. Why do you think the cost of a college education has grown at a rate that far exceeds the rate of inflation? Once the government got into the student loan and grant business, our institutions of higher education came to realize the sky's the limit. At many colleges and universities the amenities provided to students rival those of expensive resorts. And today the typical college professor enjoys a most comfortable salary. Full professors average near $100,000 while entry-level assistant professors typically earn close to $70,000. Not bad for what many educators consider a part-time job.

About 20 years ago I worked at a private Catholic college. One morning in early May, as waited to pour my first cup of coffee in the faculty lounge, I asked a tenured professor of English if he were looking forward to the summer. His response, "Oh, yes indeed. I always enjoy the summer. I go from doing nothing to doing absolutely nothing!" Was he joking? Of course, but not completely. He arrived every morning before his first class and left immediately after his last class. He spent most of his time between classes in the faculty lounge. He had taught the same courses for years, perhaps decades, and quite likely hadn't had an original thought since becoming a tenured professor. In fairness, he was certainly not typical of that college's professors, but neither was he alone in his attitude. My point is that many educators are paid very well for very little work.

Another, perhaps less obvious, objection to the president's plan relates to its benefits. What will it accomplish? In other words, will it really achieve anything worthwhile? The prevailing wisdom states unequivocally that if someone wants to succeed in our society today he must get a college education and earn a degree. I admit I once thought the same, but not any longer.

Virtually all public and too many private colleges and universities no longer mandate the kind of liberal arts studies that result in a well-educated graduate, an adult ready to assume the responsibilities of a good, productive citizen. When I graduated from high school (over 50 years ago), every leading college and university required students to complete a course in the development of Western Civilization. Today very few, if any, of these schools do so. (See the National Association of Scholars report: The Vanishing West: 1964-2010.) Many of these institutions have also eliminated foreign language requirements, as well as mandatory courses in subjects long considered an essential part of a liberal education. The study of history has sadly become history, and we wonder why so many seemingly educated young people cannot name the nations we fought in World War II or in what century the Civil War took place. But even more disturbing they are completely ignorant of the roots of our American experiment. I suppose this is to be expected since in most institutions the few remaining liberal arts courses have been tainted by an extreme form of political correctness that does nothing but promote leftist ideology. And for this the student's parents and the taxpayers pay big bucks.

Too many of today's 22-year-old college graduates are poorly educated and unqualified for the rapidly changing job market. They know all about micro-aggression, discrimination, the wonders of multiculturalism, and the irrelevance of dead white males, but know virtually nothing of the real world in which they must compete.

If a young people were to ask me today for career advice I'd probably suggest that they would be better off spending their scarce resources -- their time and money -- learning the skills of one of the many trades in such high demand. A few years ago I might have suggested a stint in the armed forces where they could learn not only valuable technical skills but also the basics of leadership and management. Sadly, today's military is at the forefront of political correctness and I'd be hard-pressed to recommend it to anyone. No, today I'd suggest that a young person consider becoming a welder, or an electrician, or a computer programmer. Indeed, good coders are highly sought after (and highly paid) by companies who couldn't care less whether or not their employees have college degrees. (It's remarkable how many of these firms were started by college dropouts.) 

Even better, I'd suggest they develop a long-term plan to achieve entrepreneurship, to start their own company, and learn the necessary financial and management skills. Additionally thanks to the Internet, anyone can round out their education by studying the liberal arts online and do so at their own speed while avoiding the ideologues of the left. This, too, I would recommend.

I'd also remind them that their most important task in life is to love God and neighbor, to find their way to salvation. And, trust me, you don't need a college degree to do that.

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