Monday 27 October 2014

What alternatives to party-slacker college?

Most colleges for most people nowadays are a minimal excuse for slacking and parties; and this is worse than merely a waste of time and resources - it is bad for the students and it is bad for the colleges.

The students end-up having forgotten more in three years than they have learned, with a pack full of bad habits and an ingrained sense of entitlement; the colleges are destroyed by the basic dishonesty of the system - they become certificate mills that sell fake qualifications in exchange for fees - rationalized by pretend work, wholesale cheating, and pseudo-skills.

Yet parents feel it is mean to deny kids the 'experience' of college, and so do their kids - so what is an alternative?

If the party-slacker experience is considered to be an essential part of (ahem) growing-up, then the parents could pay for a solid year of this - maybe a year of travel and work 'abroad', of voluntary or church service, a year playing computer games, or being a writer or a dancer, or walking in the hills, or playing football or cricket - or whatever.

Then a year (or maybe two) of serious vocational training to prepare for a basic, realistic, get-able job that pays above minimum wage (thereby providing a more valuable education than that attained by the majority of graduates).

This would be much cheaper than three years at a residential 'college' pretending to learn; and might potentially be of some minimal value to the student, the parents, and 'society' (whatever that is...).



Adam G. said...

The cheapest solution is simply not to pay for your kids' education.

No college is a party college when you have to work to pay the rent and study to keep your scholarship.

Perhaps in other countries the government subventions for students are enough that Old Man Want doesn't keep them sober. But here, if parents simply didn't subsidize their darlings, that would be enough.

JP said...

Then a year (or maybe two) of serious vocational training to prepare for a basic, realistic, get-able job that pays above minimum wage (thereby providing a more valuable education than that attained by the majority of graduates).

In a recent interview, Charles Murray said that automation is going to hit white-collar jobs a lot harder than skilled blue-collar jobs. I tend to agree. Yet it will be quite a while before upper middle class parents encourage their offspring to become electricians rather than doctors, lawyers, or accountants.

JP said...

@Adam G.,

What they will do is rack up a bazillion dollars in loans and then put off having kids because they "can't afford it".

Adam G. said...


that could be I guess. Back when I went to school you couldn't get that much in the way of loans if your parents refused to co-sign or if you weren't impoverished, but perhaps that's changed by now.

josh said...

My oldest child is five and this is already keeping me up nights. It's all well and good to point out that college doesn't do what it claims to do, but will my children's lives actually turn out better for not going?

Bruce Charlton said...

@josh - I am talking about the majority of students in the majority of colleges over the past decade or two - these comments do not apply to all students, all colleges or to people in 13 years time.

JP said...


I have much the same concerns about my young children. I feel it is somewhat unrealistic to expect them NOT to go, since undoubtedly all their friends will go. Also, they have enough raw intelligence to benefit from the experience. My goal is to encourage them to study sensible things and to go to an affordable school so they aren't saddled with huge debt. On the downside, the one thing I remember very well about being 18-22 is my stubborn refusal to heed my parents very practical advice along these lines about college. (Happily it turned out for the best even though I studied an impractical subject at an expensive institution.)

Bruce Charlton said...

Some other alternatives (in the UK) are to do a vocational professional qualification such as medicine, engineering, architecture or the like - these are generally much more intensive, and the students learn actual skills (they can actually do things when they qualify that they could not when they arrived - this is very unusual in UK universities); attend a local college and live at home - like almost everybody used to do until he 1960s; to enrol at the Open University or some other national equivalent; to attend the (private) University of Buckingham where there are mostly small classes and by working through the summer you can graduate in two years...

Nicholas Fulford said...

Anything that is information oriented can be off-shored - unless restricted by national security.

I work as a senior developer-analyst, and I still make decent coin as a permanent employee at a good company that still has a semblance of employee loyalty. That, however, has largely disappeared as trade agreements have opened up a race to the bottom. Someone like me in India will make 10 to 12 percent of what I get paid. The result is that the upper middle class of professionals who are information workers will be in significant over-supply in Canada - where I live. The effects of this include a diminished tax base, a wider rich-poor gap, and a diminished tax base. The uber-wealthy can move abroad and place their operations in countries with the lowest employment and environmental standards. As soon as one company starts, others fall into line to reduce their costs to compete.

The fallout is terrible, with underemployed and overly educated youth working at Walmart, fast food restaurants, and any job, at any rate to be remotely working in their discipline.

If I were advising a high school graduate today, I would encourage them to consider trades in areas that are not easily off-shored.

One of the major problems today is over-educated and under-employed young males with ambitions thwarted. The intelligent and ruthless ones will always find a way, but not necessarily one that is legal or ethical. And then there are those who will be looking and not finding a purpose and vestment within their local and national societies. These ones are the most vulnerable to being radicalized. Add a little despair, some anger, entitlement and testosterone; and they are ripe to "break bad".

I have no idea how to address this problem, and neither do governments. It is a major national security issue that results in lone wolf actions, (two of which we have had in Canada in the last week or so.) Fortunately, most lone wolves have a limited ability to inflict large amounts of damage, but occasionally, as in what happened in the Canadian federal parliament last week, one man comes steps away from being able to do horrendous harm. (This man was steps away from being able to take out the Prime Minister and some senior cabinet ministers. If he had turned left he would have bounded straight into the government caucus meeting and low and behold could have inflicted truly significant damage.)

We need appropriate education for our youth. We need them to have a sense of purpose and hope, and the opportunity to realise these. As it is, my people of my generation are hanging on to their own careers and jobs with a fierce tenacity. Youth today can look forward to waiting longer to start their professional careers, need higher qualifications, have lower job security, and more debt load when entering the professional work force. On top of that they will have to pay greater amounts for retired old fogeys like me as we retire and live to 80 or 90. At least with skilled blue collar work there will always be a local demand.

How these young men must curse my generation.

My generation has lived off the fat of the land like a band of orcs.

What actually surprises me on my daily commute on the bus which stops at the University of Guelph is that a substantial number are hard working and optimistic. Many of them have an equanimity about this and are strangely and wonderfully optimistic - in my albeit limited dealings with them. I sense amongst the few a tenacity to find and do something that they deem important. They seem far less materialistic than my generation. This may very well be a biased sample, and I am always drawn to talk with those that carry a sparkle in the eye, so I will assume a selection bias. Even so, it is refreshing to see a significant sample in whom my having a sense of optimism is not misplaced. Perhaps the few can overcome the many who succumb to despair - perhaps not. Only time will tell.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - In the UK there are a lot of people who have been given a grossly inflated idea of their intellectual ability due to truly enormous grade inflation, unfailable exams, endemic and tolerated cheating, and the massive - threefold - expansion of higher education especially universities in two decades (from a point when they were already bloated).

Because these inflationary trends are pretty much ignored, individuals (and institutions) consistently over-rate themselves, and have false expectations, and people become extremely angry when the subject is raised - yet the conclusions are objective.

It is quite possible that the low level graduates who go into low level jobs are quite well matched - except they have wasted maybe an extra five years - and loads of money - before starting that job.

At the top end, the people who become lawyers and doctors etc find that the average salaries of these elite jobs have roughly halved (despite years of extra training and exams) - and (financially) they would have been better off working in an office or as a high school teacher.

The baby boom generation (and onwards) were the first, probably the first in human history, to be brought-up godless; and with no objective basis for morality, beauty or truthfulness. The results are predictable - hedonic short-termist selfishness, and cowardice.

However, the real situation is likely to be much worse than it appears - since what we have is being propped up, year on year, by hidden inflation and borrowing.