Why is College (4 years, $160k) the Default?

A great post at the Creating Passionate Users blog titled “Does college matter?” She basically asks the same question I’ve been asking for a few months now: given the state of undergraduate education (she cites the new book Declining by Degrees: Higher Ed at Risk) and the fact beer is the overriding memory of college by most, why is it considered the default that after high school students charge off to a four year college? By the way, at a private college like the ones my brothers go to the tuition is $40k/year (everything included). Think about how one could spend $160k over four years to become a life long learner.

The conventional wisdom says that the specifics of what you learn are much less important than the fact that you’re learning the fundamentals, and you’re learning to learn–things you’ll need to maintain your skills and knowledge in a quickly changing world.

The problem is, you virtually never hear a student say that. It’s always the parents or someone speaking on behalf of the educational system. When was the last time you honestly heard (and believed) an actual current college student claim that the true benefit of their formal college education is in learning to be a lifelong learner? That’s just bull***.

Others claim that the benefit of a college degree is really more about socialization and independence. I’ve heard reasonably smart adults say, with all sincerity, that spending $80,000 [it’s more like $160k] so little Suzy could learn to live on her own was worth it. I think there are a thousand different, and often better, ways to achieve that. Suzy could join the peace corp, for example, or go on one of those “learning vacations” where you do an archeological dig. Hell, just a three-month long trip through Europe with a couple friends and a rail pass (or, as a friend of mine did, a bike trip across Turkey) is certainly going to do more for socialization and independence than a traditional college environment, and at a tiny fraction of the cost.

I have more thoughts on this issue but I am struggling to decide whether to post them publicly on my blog. Perhaps sometime in the near future I will share my idea for feedback.

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