William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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OH GOODY – AT 10:45 A.M. ET:  We keep hearing that the next bubble to burst will be the higher-education bubble, as more and more students, and their paying parents, wonder about what they're getting for $52,000 a year, or at least the diminishing part of the year when students are actually in school.

Heather MacDonald, a terrific conservative researcher and writer, reports on some students who've had the guts to choose a profitable alternative, at least for a few years:

The New York Times seems concerned that teens in the fracking belt of eastern Montana are opting to work in the new oil-field economy right after high school rather than going straight on to college. A front-page story warns: Taking a job is “a lucrative but risky decision for any 18-year-old to make, one that could foreclose on his future if the frenzied pace of oil and gas drilling from here to North Dakota to Texas falters and work dries up.”

Some of the best students this country ever produced were the veterans who came back from World War II and then went to college.  They were mature, determined, focused, experienced in life, and weren't there for beer parties.  Take that, New York Times.

Let’s see. Where is a teenager more likely to learn the basic and transferable virtue of showing up every day and on time, not to mention how to get along with a boss and fit into an organization — as a communications and binge-drinking double major at Missoula State University, or as a mechanic fixing broken rig equipment? Too many high-school graduates are reflexively going to college as it is, without a clue what they are doing there or how to take advantage of higher education. Mandatory stints in the private economy before college enrollment could do wonders for study skills. If, by deferring or maybe even skipping college entirely, students were foregoing their one hope for immersion in Western civilization, there would indeed be grounds for regret. But colleges’ own curricular decisions have long since destroyed their right to present themselves as a gateway for precious knowledge of the past.

Dead on.  For many, college is a waste of time.  At the "elite" colleges it's often an almost criminal misuse of time.

It is unlikely, of course, that if some subset of teens were regularly interning at Planned Parenthood or Marriage Equality after high school, the Times would point out the risks of not attending college right away. The Times’s story is interesting as a “state-of-the-economy” report, but it appears to be inspired more by alarm at the implicit challenge to the college-industrial complex, with its hordes of student-support bureaucrats preaching about diversity and playing key supporting roles in adolescent psychodramas.

COMMENT:  Wonderfully stated.  I think a few years of real work after high school would be a good thing for many, if not most students.  And working with your hands, under rough conditions, can be the most useful work of all.  At the end of the day you actually see what you've accomplished.  After that, you can attend Diversity University and Tofu Bar, and teach the professors.

December 28, 2012