Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Education’

Is college a ticket to a middle-class income?

October 11, 2014

A liberal education is an excellent thing to have, and going to college is one good way to get it.

But college is not necessarily a ticket to a middle-class income, and massive college enrollment is not a rising tide that will lift all boats.

A higher proportion of Americans than ever before are going to college, and yet economic inequality is rising.  The more people who attend college, the less of a competitive advantage a college degree will provide.

I think that everyone who is capable of doing college work should have the opportunity to go to college, but this would not, in and of itself, create jobs nor revive the sluggish U.S. economy.

These thoughts were prompted by a couple of articles I read through links on the New York York 23rd web log.

Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor under the Clinton administration, wrote in an article reprinted in Salon, stating that in these days of crushing student loans, a college education is not necessarily of economic benefit to everyone and that there are other ways to qualify for good jobs.

Dr. Jorge L. Diaz-Herrera, president of Keuka College in upstate New York, responded in the Elmira Star-Gazette that a college degree does indeed give you an economic edge.

I think that’s a weak argument for somebody in his position.   I believe it is possible to get just as good an education at a small and lesser-known college such as Keuka College as at larger and better-known colleges and universities, but the cash value of the diploma as a credential will not be as great.


College is a ludicrous waste of money by Robert Reich for Salon.  Reich’s own headline on his blog was Back to College, the Only Gateway to the Middle Class.

College is not a ‘waste of money’ by Dr. Jorge L. Diaz-Herrera for the Elmira Star-Gazette.

Thinking Like Corporations Is Harming American Universities by Noam Chomsky.  The larger picture.

‘Don’t send your kid to the Ivy League’

July 25, 2014

A century ago, the Ivy League universities—Harvard, Yale and Princeton—provided an education suitable for those who were born rich.  Now they provide an education suitable for those who hope to get rich.  This is not an improvement.

The old thinking was that those born into the upper ranks of society should receive an education suitable for future leaders.   The universities taught them history and the classics to give a broad understanding of the world.  They also sought to teach mental and physical discipline to build character.  College athletics were part of the character-building process, not a producer of revenue.

ivyleague.jpg_largeThe great 20th century democratic dream was that this type of education should be made available not just to the children of the elite, but to everyone who wanted it and was capable of it.   I was fortunate enough to attend college in the 1950s, when this dream was at its zenith, and I received a broad liberal education (with some gaps, due to bad choices on my part).  I can’t prove it was of economic benefit, but it enriched my life.

Now higher education has become part of the process of sorting people into winners and losers.

President Obama says everybody should have a chance to go to college in order to advance themselves economically.  But of course if everybody goes to college, then a college degree will be worth no more in economic terms than a high school diploma today.  An Ivy League degree is what economists called “positional good”—something that is valuable only because not everybody has it.

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to an article in the New Republic by William Deresiewicz about how elite education has been corrupted by the quest for success.  Here are some highlights.

Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it. [snip]

I taught many wonderful young people during my years in the Ivy League—bright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it was a pleasure to talk with and learn from.  But most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them.

Very few were passionate about ideas.  Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development.  Everyone dressed as if they were ready to be interviewed at a moment’s notice.  [snip]

Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time.  I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class.  She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion. [snip]