Service of College
May 12th, 2011
To promote the children’s book winners of the 2011 Christopher Awards, I was looking for mommy bloggers who cover books on an electronic database. Of 570 mothers who post about issues relating to children, families and parenting, there were 14 identified with books. This analysis is unscientific. It could mean that bloggers didn’t check off “books” or respond in any way to the list collector’s query for details. Still, there were generous numbers of bloggers associated with new products, arts and crafts and other suitable subjects.
Nevertheless, my mind jumped to two articles I read last week: Caleb Crain’s New York Times book review, “Lost in the Meritocracy,” about Professor X’s “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” and Daniel B. Smith’s New York Magazine article, “The University Has No Clothes.”
Before I continue, I remind you that I am a volunteer director of a mentoring program for graduate students, for years have been a mentor to college and grad students and as a foundation board member I direct development for programs and scholarships for college and grad students in the communications industry.
Back to the articles. Crain wrote that Professor X makes a range of points but a salient one was “What grade does one give a college student who progresses from a 6th-to a 10th-grade level?” Crain notes: “Professor X can be caustic about the euphemism and somewhat willed optimism that sometimes befog discussion of how to teach unprepared students. To relieve his and his students’ unhappiness, he proposes that employers stop demanding unnecessary degrees: a laudable suggestion, unlikely to be realized until the degree glut has dried up.”
And then there’s the cost. Wrote Crain: “In 1940, there were 1.5 million college students in America; in 2006, there were 20.5 million. In X’s opinion, a glut of degrees has led to a spurious inflation of the credentials required for many jobs. Tuitions are rising, and two-thirds of college graduates now leave school with debt, owing on average about $24,000. A four-year degree is said to increase wages about $450,000 over the course of a lifetime, but X doubts the real value of degrees further down on the hierarchy of prestige.”
In his New York Magazine article, Smith focuses on two college-educated successful men leading what he calls the “anti-college crusade.” According to Smith, James Altucher, father of two girls, a finance writer and venture capitalist thinks “higher education is nothing less than an institutionalized scam-college graduates hire only college graduates, creating a closed system that permits schools to charge exorbitant prices and forces students to take on crippling debt.” Smith quotes Altucher: “‘The cost of college in the past 30 years has gone up tenfold. Health care has only gone up sixfold, and inflation has only gone up threefold. Not only is it a scam, but the college presidents know it. That’s why they keep raising tuition.’”
The second anti-college crusader in Smith’s article, Peter Thiel, was the first Facebook angel and a PayPal founder. Smith wrote that he “contends that American colleges have transformed from rigorous scholarly communities into corporate-minded youth resorts, where some presidents command salaries of more than $1 million and competition centers on outdoing one another in acquiring high-end amenities (duplex-apartment dormitories, $70 million gyms).” Thiel thinks that middle class parents consider a college education as an insurance policy that ensures that their children remain in the middle class.
According to Smith, Altucher said his goal was to reduce demand and therefore tuition cost. Theil’s mission was similar, backed by a fellowship he’s funding in a program he’s calling 20 Under 20. The winners get both $100,000 each and mentorships with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. They must also stay out of college for two years.
Do you think that the pictures painted by Professor X, Altucher and Theil are dire, bleak and wrong or spot-on? Should employers require college degrees for most jobs? Do you see a connection between the exorbitant cost of college, countless students unprepared for university-level work, crippling debt resulting from four years of college and most mommy bloggers covering every topic under the sun but books?