Some Straight Talk About College and Costs

"You can never have too much education because it is the key to economic success." I have challenged this notion for decades, following in the large footprints left on this topic by Illich, Holt, and others. However, when Paul Kruguman, a liberal op-ed writer for the NY Times and an economist writes, as he did on March 6, 2011:

The belief that education is becoming ever more important rests on the plausible-sounding notion that advances in technology increase job opportunities for those who work with information—loosely speaking, that computers help those who work with their minds, while hurting those who work with their hands.

Krugman then notes how this belief flies in the face of technological reality: "...any routine task—a category that includes many white-collar, nonmanual jobs—is in the firing line. Conversely, jobs that can't be carried out by following explicit rules—a category that includes many kinds of manual labor, from truck drivers to janitors—will tend to grow even in the face of technological progress." This is borne out by U.S. Department of Labor statistics: Among the top 10 occupations with the largest employment growth, 2008-18, only 2 require 4-year college degrees—accountants and post-secondary teachers. Overall, among the 30 jobs listed on this chart, I see just 8–10 out of the 30 jobs listed as requiring 4-year college degrees or higher.

Krugman notes how going to college is no longer a guarantee for a good job because "high-wage jobs performed by highly educated workers are, if anything, more "offshoreable" than jobs done by low-paid, less-educated workers."

The article also discusses how the middle-class is spending more and more money trying to get their children into, and graduated from, college at the same time the U.S. market for college graduates is probably shrinking. This is hardly news—in 1971 Dr. Ivar Berg's Education and Jobs: The Great Training Robbery (Beacon Press) warned about growing numbers of disgruntled college graduates who were overeducated, underpaid, and underemployed (sounds like Egypt today where 83% of college graduates are unemployed and have been well before the recent unrest)—but now that college debt has become a major source of income instability and disappointment for many it is finally being discussed in the mainstream media.

Homeschoolers and unschoolers have long questioned going to college as the primary goal of learning and perhaps now the time is emerging when our various reasons for not going, and the different paths we take to employment and learning instead of the conventional college path, will no longer be considered extreme reactions but sane responses. As Krugman notes, "So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education isn't the answer—we'll have to go about building that society directly." I urge you to read Krugman's opinion piece, Degrees and Dollars, and to start a conversation with your friends and neighbors about what college is really worth today.