Friday, October 5, 2012

The College and Education Bubble

It's no mystery that too many people are going to college.  With 29% of the country currently holding bachelor degrees or better, and unemployment a significant problem for them, especially if they just graduated, the conventional wisdom is that we need to re-think this obsession with college degrees.  Certainly, at a time that millions are out of work while millions of jobs in skilled labor go unfilled, the economy's long reliance on the college degree as credibility is passing.

With that in mind, Virginia Heffernan of Yahoo News offers her insights on How to Burst the College Bubble.  Heffernan's point is similar to many earlier criticisms of the college-degree-as-screening device made by people such as Charles Murray who wrote Real Education, and developed further with the work of Anya Kamenetz who published Generation Debt and DIY-U (Do It Yourself University).  In essence, the obsessive focus on college degrees has actually diminished the focus and value of education.  Heffernan looks forward - albeit quite quixotically - to a time when "you'd study not to get a credential .. but to improve your mind or acquire a skills, [much like] the reason you go to karate ... or yoga class."

The college degree as screening device has its merits - but employers could "devise their own tests to find valuable hires."  And the idea that a credential qualified someone, as opposed to a real demonstration of skill, would be lessened.  Or perhaps, as new platforms like Coursera propose, employers would emphasize the seat time on campus less than the acquisition of skills and knowledge.  Granted, there is still a legitimate argument for a classical education as the foundation of culture.  And the more well rounded people are, the more they generally contribute to society.  That said, we may be long overdue for a bursting of the College Bubble.

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