Who is College For?
Gabriel Conroy’s brings up one of our continued debates about whether everyone should attend college or not. This is my thoughts and on the debate and the point and purpose of a college education.
1. McArdle (BA, MBA) made the claim that there is a snob factor in the idea that “everyone should attend college” and in every Democratic Party idea to make college more affordable and more universal. She is not the first and she will not be the last people to accuse liberals and the Democratic Party of being snobs for wanting to make college more affordable and universal. The most interesting thing about the snob complaint to me is that it always comes from the populist right or the libertarian right. Other proponents of the snob attack are Rick Santorum (BA, JD, MBA), and Sarah Palin (BA). I have yet to see someone from the left of the Democratic Party make the attack that it is snobby for the Democratic Party to want to make college more affordable and universal especially if they represent minority communities.
2. This makes me wonder if the college debate is just another factor in the neverending and hyperpartisan culture wars. All the people with the snob attack generally are seen as representing white, working class people without college degrees. This is the group that the Democratic Party has lost over the last few decades. We’ve debated whether the Democratic Party should make a play for this vote or just concentrate on their current coalition. This turns Obama’s plan into something potentially tactical if my observations are true and a decision to focus on the current coalition of likely Democratic voters which includes minorities and the educated-professional class.
3. Why is it that that the white-working class seems more opposed to more affordable college educations as a policy goal compared to other working class groups without an education? Is this just a cultural fear that colleges are nothing more that places where people become Park Slope liberals who care more about the next season at BAM than hunting? I can’t find it now but I remember seeing research showing that college just tends to reenforce existing political beliefs. 18 year old liberals remain liberals at graduation and 18 year old conservatives remain conservative. Tom Cotton did not become liberal because of his time at Harvard. Neither did Roberts, Rehinquist, Scalia, Thomas, or Alioto become liberal because of their elite educations.
4. My guess is that the real worry is about brain drain and the old saw about “How do you keep them on the farm once they have seen Paris?” The Democratic poor tend to urban and it is highly likely that their progeny will just return (or stay in cities) once they finish college. The Republican poor tend to be exurban or rural and here brain drain is a real factor and possibly an unsolvable one. That being said, I think people still leave rural communities for better opportunities with or without college degrees.
5. The only way to prevent overcredentialism is to have good paying jobs that can be done without a college degree. We currently can’t decided whether a college degree is needed for many jobs or not. There are still plenty of manufacturing jobs in the United States but they have gone from being unskilled to skilled labor. This NPR story states that many manufacturing jobs require community college level math to be done on the job because the products produced are more complex and the equipment used is more advanced. We are long past the days of someone making a living by inserting the same bolt again and again at Henry Ford’s factory. Perhaps we can turn these jobs into apprenticeships with some math classes on the side to put workers up to speed.
6. One of the big reasons I am opposed to tracking and apprenticeship training is that I feel like it will just become a proxy for class and race. Middle class and above people will always be the ones who go to college but not people from working class and/or minority backgrounds.
7. My go to example for this is Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. The book studies several women from move-in day until after graduation at Indiana University. The really rich women majored in stuff like Event Planning or Fashion Merchandising. The authors sarcastically described these as business-lite majors because they did not require Calculus or other math classes. The really rich women ended up getting jobs because of connections from friends, family, and Sorority sisters (the authors noted that really rich Boys were able to do the same). Upper-middle class students tended to go to professional school (Law, Medicine, etc), and working class/first generation students generally failed because they picked the rich kid majors but did not have the connections or aesthetic tastes to get jobs in Event Planning. I would be more amendable to vocational programs and tracking if someone could devise a way to get the really rich/party hard students with business lite majors out of college.
8. One working-class student in Paying for the Party ended up majoring in Classics and being very good at it. She applied to grad school but only got into one and without much scholarship offers because she went to Indiana University (because it was more affordable) and was competing for grad school spots against students from more elite colleges and universities. We should be doing more to help people like this women succeed and I am not sure why pushing her to a vocational career is helping. Our would be Classics scholar ended up going to Law School.
9. There still seems to be a lot of sniggering jokes about arts and humanities majors spending their twenties meandering about finding a career. I actually don’t see what the problem is with having people needing to spend a few years meandering before they find their calling. We are living until our 70s and 80s and if someone takes until 27 to find a career path, they are still going to spend 35 years or more working in said career. I don’t think spending a few years of your twenties as a Bohemian in hipster neighborhood X is a sign of decadence, it is a sign of a wealthy and advanced society. But this kind of wealth always seems to make people nervous. There are many more horrible things in the world than someone trying to be an artist for a few years while tending bar before settling on an office job/career.