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He continues: “How many people can honestly say that they’ve had an incredible, amazing, inspiring, novel-worthy life? I would argue that that most” individual accomplishments “come from adversity, from taking risks, and not from going through the steps everyone else takes. They come from selling all your possessions and moving to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language — as an example.

“I’ve grown more character, humility, and understanding for the pain most people in this world have to go through than I ever could have experienced in high school or by going through college.”

It’s not so much what college provides that bothers him, but what it forestalls. As such, there’s a greater incentive for him not to go. Maybe he’ll want university later on, in his mid- to late-20s. But not now, not when in three years he’s risen to office manager at Canvass for a Cause, a gay-rights nonprofit, with 50 people working under him, “all younger than me.” He earns more than most his age. And he’s keeping his options open. He’s toying with the idea of applying to billionaire Elon Musk’s project of colonizing Mars.

D’Amico-Barbour realizes that his motivations are conflicted. On his own, he loves learning about “esoteric things,” but were he to enter university he hopes his teachers would focus on job skills, the relevant, the practical. Recently, he says, “I went back again, took a few classes, and I succeeded for a second. But then it just slowly faded away,” and he quit.

Instead, at Canvass, he’s acquired a satchelful of skills. Mostly self taught, he’s learned “Excel algorithms, data collection, office management, organizational development, payroll, and leadership.” His eagerness to succeed has been rewarded with six promotions.

College, he says, offers subject mastery in things neither he nor anyone needs in life: say, a course in algebra or the history of the Beatles. Such erudition, he believes, is a waste of time.

“There is nothing I learned in my job that I did not need to learn for my job,” he says.


According to economist Stephen Rose, the “BA wage premium” is 74 percent more than a high-school graduate will earn in his/her lifetime (roughly $1 million). What’s more, college graduates have an unemployment rate half that of those without a degree. Sounds like a good investment.

Yet the demand for educated workers keeps falling, replaced by a projected growth in unskilled and semi-skilled labor, which — surprise — runs against constant calls for an educated workforce. While it’s true that jobs for workers with master’s degrees in bioengineering and education continue to climb, the biggest growth in coming employment opportunities will be for those with a high school diploma or less.

“More than two-thirds of all job openings,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics cites for the decade 2010–2020, “are expected to be in occupations that typically do not need postsecondary education for entry.” Two-thirds. These vocations provide “on-the-job training,” no prior experience needed: personal care; home health aides, including medical secretaries; carpenters, plumbers, ironworkers, laborers; and so on. More openings are slated for pet handlers, sports trainers, massage therapists, housecleaners, and dental assistants, each of which requires about a year of training beyond high school. There will be growth in veterinary medicine, medical diagnostics, and occupational therapy, some of these jobs needing a two-year associate’s degree.

These positions are low-wage, non-union, benefits-lacking contract labor — and, if the population remains the same for immigration and birth, each slot will become increasingly competitive. By contrast, how many university grads have I run into lately who are enduring unpaid internships, nowadays one of the few ways into professions bulging with applicants?

The message: If it’s a basic job that pays a basic wage, why go to college, indeed?

The notion that four years of college is universally desired (President Obama often uses the phrase, “send your kids to college”) exists as one of the more dubious inducements foisted on the young and the restless. How and where to go is implanted — and worried over — when kids are high-school juniors and sometimes much earlier. So says Mary Jo McCarey, head counselor at Clairemont High School.

“Maybe 15 percent of our kids have role models at home who support them to further their education,” says Clairemont High School counselor Mary Jo McCarey.

In a phone interview, McCarey tells me that her school provides ample materials to help kids decide on possible life paths. Among them is career and personality assessment software: find your aptitude, gauge your interests, see what’s available. “We tell them,” she says, “that it’s important to figure [out] what kind of career you want and understand how to get there — because nearly every job requires a skill, and after high school, you’ll need to go another two years.

“A lot dream — ‘I want to be a doctor, a pediatrician, a CSI, or crime-scene investigator’: whatever they see on TV.” But it’s the star they want to be, she says, not the professional played.

Do they know how to get there?

“They have no clue.”

Do their parents?

McCarey pauses, sighs wearily. Her voice has that landscape of frustration in it that arises after decades of explaining what few seem to grok.

“Maybe 15 percent of our kids have role models at home who support them to further their education.” For the rest of them, their parents may be “just as lost. [Some] don’t even talk to their kids.” McCarey believes that low-income families are primarily concerned with their kids’ earning money as of that bright June day when they graduate high school. These parents seldom “think of education as an investment, that [their kids] would make more money.”

One of the strangest problems McCarey has witnessed is how uneducated and college-averse parents — who do want their children to graduate high school — suddenly don’t want them to go to college. “It [a college degree] is a slap in the face. Their attitude is, ‘What I do — if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for you.’” There’s no need for university if one’s sights are set on lawn maintenance or the night shift at Burger King.

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Comments

shirleyberan Aug. 14, 2013 @ 12:48 p.m.

I Love This Guy. Tell It Like It Is. Nothing wrong with learning on your own, duh. And how much debt to the bank are you willing to take on without a job, maybe not even prepared to work with college behind you. Can also be institutionalized stupidity - how many doctors do you know who understand integrative medicine or homeopathy?

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Stephen Gallup Aug. 15, 2013 @ 9:47 a.m.

Here’s another thought-provoking article by Tom Larson, whom I recall also wrote about real estate just before everyone realized that had become a bubble. The guy who runs the Instapundit web portal often links to news items reinforcing his theme that higher education is the next such fiasco.

The topic has my attention, since I’ve got a bright middle-schooler whose friends all want to go to Harvard--and think she’s weird because she doesn’t. She doesn’t because she knows I’d be opposed even if it were free. And yet I think education can be a great thing, even for its own sake, apart from whatever it does for one’s earning potential.

Learning, of course, is always possible, via books, DVD courses, etc. A proper formal education, seems to me, would involve close relationships between eager young scholars and eminent greybeards who’re ready to share their perspectives. The reality in most cases is huge lecture halls with tests graded by TAs, and ever-increasing tuition fees to support expanding administrative staffs. Most kids seem to think going to class and completing assignments is enough. To be honest, at that age I did too.

Another argument for going, especially to the name-brand schools, is the prospect of forming alliances with that rare fellow student who’ll end up inventing the next Facebook, i.e., it’s the chance to piggy-back into a lucrative opportunity. Yes, but to me that still seems like a long shot, in view of the cost.

Factor in the inevitable courses that will be an absolute, blatant waste of time, and the reality that many graduates have poorer earning potential than a plumber or heavy-equipment operator, and it’s very hard to see why college should be in every kid’s future.

But on the other hand, the alternative, with its lack of obvious direction, can be scary. As Davis mentions in the article, life gets in the way of pursuing an education. That’s the best argument for going after it early, before things become too complicated. And even though it may otherwise be meaningless, having a degree does indeed mean a lot to employers. If you don’t have it, you’d better have some other accomplishment or quality that’s just as impressive.

Sure hope we get this sorted out before my daughter finishes high school.

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Aug. 16, 2013 @ 4:29 p.m.

It's not about earning potential. It's about being an educated person.

Yes, earning potential has always been higher for college grads, because more doors are open to the educated. But higher earning shouldn't be the goal of education, it should be a pleasant result of being educated. See the difference?

Fact: less than 7% of grads work in a field related to their major.

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Aug. 16, 2013 @ 9:51 a.m.

College used to mean something. Everybody who went studied Latin and often Greek. They studied They read the classics of Western Civilization in literature, philosophy, history, natural science, and theology. They studied mathematics. They came out well rounded EDUCATED people capable of thinking and feeling at a higher level than non-college grads.

Then colleges became super specialized with only lip service paid to core education. And then the silly majors started to work their way into the system... women's studies, ethnic studies, musical theatre, communications, et cetera. (There might be a place for those as part of a whole, but not as an education

So now, the only serious work being done is in the so-call hard sciences. But it's being done by a bunch of narrow minded wonks who aren't well versed in philosophy, literature, history, and theology. So they have no perspective for their work.

And college professors... once they were people devoted to the cause of knowledge. Now they're a pack of vultures fighting over the corpse of funding. They work short hours for long money, and their career advancement is based on publishing papers (of often dubious value) rather than on teaching. Half the time, their classes are taught by graduate students.

I haven't even started on the booze-crazed, sex-crazed culture of most campuses.

Why would anyone want to go $100k in debt for the above?

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Reader2 Aug. 16, 2013 @ 2:22 p.m.

I love biographies so, for the record- Rosa Parks was educated although, technically, also a drop out:
Rosa's mother Leona McCauley, "a teacher, taught Rosa at home until 1924, when at the age of 11, she was sent to live with her aunt in Montgomery, Alabama, to continue her education. Rosa attended the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, an all-black private school where Rosa performed janitorial work in exchange for tuition. She began high school at Booker T. Washington High, but was forced to drop out to help take care of her ailing mother and grandmother. In 1932, Rosa met and married Raymond Parks, a local barber and civil rights activist. Raymond was a self-educated man with a desire to gain as much knowledge as he could. With his support, Rosa returned to school, and in 1934, received her high school diploma." (US History.com)

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