At Rural Revolution, Mrs. Patrice Lewis writes in Are Millennials in trouble? about a young couple named Nathan and Mandy who graduated from college as a married couple with $60,000 in student loans and haven’t been able to find jobs in their field. They can’t buy a house and they can’t start a family. Mrs. Lewis presents a good discussion about the foolishness of the Everybody Must Go mentality relating to college and then she makes an observation about the Millennial generation:
If I could make some possibly unfair assumptions about Millennials, one of the problems is they’ve never been told “no.” They’ve never been told it may not be a good idea to major in English or Psychology when there are no English or Psychology jobs available. They’ve never been told NOT to “follow their heart” when it comes to studying useless subjects in college and then wonder why they emerge with $60,000 in student loan debt that haunts them for years to come.
One of her commenters, MC, gives an excellent response (highlighting mine):
Unless it’s changed a lot in the last 15 years, it’s not just a matter of not being told “no.”
It’s a matter of being actively, aggressively encouraged to do stupid things like attending college without a plan (“I don’t care what you study, just GO!”), change majors half a dozen times, or study something useless (I recall all those lectures from the English department about all the great jobs for English majors…).
Who’s doing this?? Silly parents, or a predatory banking and/or education industry?? Maybe both…
It’s a matter of more than spoiled kids. It’s also a matter of teaching them to have sense enough (and enough faith in their own common sense) to resist the barrage of propaganda they’re subjected to.
Because, to a frighteningly large subset of society, we are, if not slaves, then nothing more than “human resources.”
The problem is that in our modern society, the job market is more credential-based than it is skill-based, at least for higher status jobs. For example, it doesn’t matter how good a teacher you are, you can’t teach without first getting a four-year university degree and a state teaching license. Skill is secondary to credentials, and our university degree programs prepare people to be credentialed but don’t prepare them very well with actual skills. This is so for several reasons.
First, students have to take a lot of mandated classes in the “diversity” subjects. These classes rarely present a balanced discussion of women’s issues or racial issues nor do they provide students with actual skills. Instead, they are a form of societal welfare for the far left. Radical (usually Marxist) politics is de rigeur for these professorships; you will be hard pressed to find any diversity of social or political thought among most college professors.
Second, degree programs have to prepare students to pass credentialing exams. The percentage of students who pass these exams reflects back on the program, so naturally there is some “teaching to the test” at the expense of teaching real skills.
And finally, there are simply too many people going to college. The last two towns I lived in were Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti; in both these university towns, nearly everyone with a job has or is working on a degree. Your barista who serves you your morning latte, the secretary at the DMV, your garbage man – they’ve practically all got degrees.
Do you really need a degree to pick up trash? Of course not, so why did the garbage man get a degree? Because he was told relentlessly that getting an education would get him ahead in life, but in truth the only people who are really helped by getting a degree are people with a certain level of intellect and drive. The average person simply doesn’t have that level of intellect and drive nor is that a problem. The world only needs a handful of English professors; it needs far more trash collectors and baristas.
In a clear and concise essay which I recommend reading, Making the University Irrelevant, Henry Dampier explains:
It isn’t so much that the concept of the university is a bad idea. It’s just that what the university has become in the United States has departed from anything which might be recognized as a university in past times.
Most parents see universities today as places that prepare their children for ‘careers’ which in previous times might have been called vocations. The actual methods by which masters taught apprenticeships vocations have been largely made illegal or otherwise out-competed by various subsidies from federal and state governments. University education and vocational education have been conflated for at least the past century, even before the laws that made it more challenging to enforce apprenticeship contracts, dating back to the 1930s.
Professors are ill-equipped to provide vocational training because of the way that markets function. Markets are eternally calibrating to real-world conditions. If the market participants do not continue calibrating their operations to the conditions of the real world, they are pushed out of the market by stronger hands. Professors, especially when they are insulated from competition, have little incentive to match what they teach to the conditions of reality.
Our children will be heavily pressured to go to college by the media, all their teachers and guidance counselors, and most of their peers. We parents should educate our children about taking an honest look at their skills, the demand for various jobs, and the amount of time and money that a degree costs and then making realistic life decisions.
Further related reading on college, work, and family formation: