Rethinking higher education

There was a time when possession of a four-year degree meant something (“PC insanity may mean the end of American universities,” New York Post, June 1).  That was because relatively few people continued their education beyond high school.  But it was also because indoctrination was alien to academe.  Today, however, what’s going on is a travesty.

With the exception of science, technology, engineering and math courses, the social sciences and humanities have become venues for grievance studies of one kind or another.  Free speech is a one-way street, where only those expressing the views of the majority are allowed to be heard.  Others are either shouted down or disinvited.

The widely publicized premium attached to a bachelor’s degree is always stated in terms of averages.  I’d like to see more attention given to the premium attached to specific majors.  I question if majoring in the humanities, for example, has a greater payoff than majoring in STEM.  Moreover, I doubt that once student debt is factored in, those majoring in the humanities earn significantly more than those vocationally trained.

We’ve been wildly oversold on the value of a college degree.  In the final analysis, college is merely the most convenient place to learn how to learn.  It is not an absolute determinant.  Young people and their parents will undoubtedly continue to be attracted to brand name colleges and universities.  But lesser brand names will lose enrollment and eventually shut down.

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2 Replies to “Rethinking higher education”

  1. Agree that college is a weak/bad financial investment for many students, particularly those whose majors have little/no market relevance.

    But, disagree re your indoctrination/no-free-speech observation. It’s no doubt true that the prevailing views re social and political issues at the major universities are liberal, but I’ve seen little evidence that those with conservative views are subject to any limitations or discrimination (other, of course, than those who hold liberal views thinking less of those who hold conservative views, just as those who hold conservative views thinking less of those who hold liberal views, but that’s simply human nature and does not translate into any institutional adverse action).

    Rather, liberal views predominate at the major universities because — on most, although not all, issues the liberal view is more rational than the conservative view. That obviously reflects my personal generally liberal beliefs. Certainly, liberal views and conservative views both sometimes reflect knee-jerk gut reactions rather than informed, reasoned analysis. But, in the US at least, traditional views are much more likely to be conservative than liberal. It follows that US citizens who, on average, are more likely to have grown up in families with relatively conservative views than in families with relatively liberal views, implicitly tilt conservative rather than liberal whenever they encounter an issue that they have not thought about in depth.

    For example — I can deduct what I pay to my church to attend religious services but I cannot deduct what I pay to the Washington Nationals to attend a major league baseball game or to Amazon to buy a history book. This tax policy reflects a kneejerk conservative approach to what expenditures should be tax deductible. I submit that society is no better off — rationally speaking — from me attending a church service than from me attending a baseball game or reading a history book. Yet, we use tax $ to subsidize the church attendance but not baseball games or history book. Why? Because we have a kneejerk gut sense that going to church is somehow better for society than going to a baseball game. If we go off to a major university and the prof forces us to analyze govt policies re what activities tax $ should and should not support, it’s likely that we’ll decide that govt tax subsidies for attending church services doesn’t make much sense. If so, then going to college will have converted us from conservative to liberal. But, only because going to college has caused us to question beliefs that we held by default. Of course, the opposite also sometimes occurs — that is, going to college causes us to question liberal beliefs that we held by default and results in us adopting a conservative view re an issue. But, given that we start off with more unthinkingly-held conservative views than unthinkingly-held liberal views, it seems like colleges are “too” liberal when, in fact, colleges are simply forcing us to rethink unthinkingly-held views.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: Conservative views are not always officially censored, but students who do not go along with liberal ideology find it hard to make their voices heard. Professors with tenure too often don’t allow an open forum on contrary ideas.

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