Academia as Humpty Dumpty

Posted on Sun 05/12/2013 by

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20080318_mclaughlin_4_staffBy Tom McLaughlin ~20130510_SPRING_BREAK_COLLEGE_PARTY_LARGE

How can so many college kids afford to party during spring break? Plane tickets, hotel rooms, alcohol, food, marijuana, all cost a lot of money. Do their parents pay for it? Do they use their government Pell Grants? Their taxpayer-subsidized loans? And where do they get the time? Don’t they have to study? Don’t they have to write papers? Don’t they have work-study jobs?

Millions of our young people believe they’re entitled to party – not just for a week in spring, but every weekend or even every night – for years. Most take five or six years to complete a four-year degree and then graduate with six-figure debt and few if any job prospects in this “new-normal economy.”

Remember the “Occupy” demonstrations? Many participants were students who spent lots of time protesting capitalism and holding up signs demanding their student loans be forgiven, not to mention trashing up whatever city they were “occupying.” How did they find time for that?

College is hugely expensive now, and too few of us ask why. In the late sixties and early seventies, I was able to pay my own way through undergraduate and graduate school at state universities by working part-time and full-time jobs that weren’t particularly high-paying. I was a hospital orderly on the second shift while an undergrad. I went to classes in the morning and worked the 3pm-11:30pm shift and scrounged for study time. After that, I taught school all day and attended classes nights and summers for graduate school. I got no help from parents or from government for any of it other than the subsidies Massachusetts paid directly to its state universities. I got no grants and no loans – and graduated with no debt.

It is this writer’s considered opinion that the discipline and time-management skills learned by juggling work and school will be more instructive than whatever is learned partying in Fort Lauderdale, Virginia Beach or in dormitories. Keeping a foot in the real world of work helps a young person maintain some realistic perspective while immersed in the liberal/political/social, grade-inflated cocoon of the 21st-century college campus. Much of what is learned there must be unlearned anyway to succeed outside the bacchanalian dormitories and frat houses of academia, where serious students are impeded in their study by the non-stop partying all around them.

The late Harry Crosby, an acquaintance from the WWII generation, told me he got his undergraduate degree from the University of Iowa in the late thirties and he was able to pay for a whole year’s tuition, books and fees by working six weeks in summer. Then he became a navigator on a B-17 and got his graduate degrees on the GI Bill after the war. What has happened in the past four decades to drive up costs so much? Has a college education gotten so much better? I don’t think so. There’s plenty of evidence that it’s become much less rigorous. Students pay more these days – to learn less – as for decades, tuition and fees have risen an average of 7.5% annually – far in excess of the cost of living and with little or no justification from the so-called intellectuals on our campuses. Some of those geniuses at Duke University, for example, where it costs more than $50,000 in tuition and fees for one year already, are raising the fees still more to cover sex-change operations for students.

If you can’t figure out whether you’re a man or a woman, it wouldn’t seem likely you’re going to learn too much at a university no matter how expensive it may be. Many economists predict a trillion-dollar education bubble about to burst when millions stop making payments on their student loans. Will the academic establishment come tumbling down like Humpty Dumpty? Looks like a real possibility. As economist Herb Klein put it, “Trends that can’t continue, won’t.” But what will replace it? Expansion of community colleges teaching real-world skills and online courses away from the La-La Land of the modern college campus would be my guess.

If you’re graduating from high school and you don’t have a firm idea about what you want to do, my advice would be: don’t go to college. Join the military or get a job until you know what you want for a career. If college will help you get there faster, fine – then go. You may learn, however, that on-the-job training will get you there more quickly and much less expensively.

Contributing Editor   is a (now retired) history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam.

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