DISCLAIMER: (And we disclaim things so infrequently, you know this is big.) This post references and links to a story that originally appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a paper that treats even hints of copyright violation the way Genghis Khan treated Central Asia. The R-J and reporter Richard Lake provided much of the raw material for this post, as did the unfortunate MySpace page of the post’s protagonist.
Time for a painfully simple exercise. We’re going to give you a series of words – concepts, really. Then say whether each is good, or bad. Look at each one irrespective of anything else. Here’s an example:
Clean air - good or bad?
Don’t overthink it. It’s not “clean air, but what about all the manufacturing jobs that will be lost if the parts of particulate matter per million rises a tiny fraction?” It’s simply, “clean air”.
Understand? Answered it? Then let’s go.
Puppies - good or bad?
Ending terrorism – good or bad?
Education - good or bad?
Slow down there, Ace.
After years of real-world examples, there’s no getting around it – all levels of government spend far too much taxpayer money to put people in classrooms where they’ll neither do anything productive nor develop the capacity for doing anything productive.
(People are going to misinterpret this post, and they’re going to start by misinterpreting that line. We’re not saying elementary schools shouldn’t teach basic math and grammar. We’re saying college is more often than not a waste of time.)
In the last century, college/university has gone from a place where you learn a profession, to a mandatory rite of passage for kids with good grades who come from white-collar families, to a mandatory rite of passage for everyone, to a necessity no less fundamental than food and water.
That’s wrong on several fronts. Amassing debt before entering the real world isn’t necessarily bad, but the debt has to have a purpose. Seeing as this post is about education, let’s use a SAT analogy:
Borrowing money to buy a house : borrowing money to buy lottery tickets :: borrowing money to study engineering : borrowing money to study sociology.
No matter how hard we hammer the opposite point, some commenters are still going to miss it, and lament that we’re downplaying the importance of education. Again, we’re not. But the unalloyed word “education” isn’t always an absolute good.
Meet J.T. Creedon, student government president at the College of Southern Nevada. Guess how many years he’s been going there.
10. That is not a typo.
He’s 28 years old.
(We can only speculate as to how many of the people who voted for him wouldn’t have voted for John McCain for president because he was “too old.”)
Education, ideally, is a financial investment for the educatee: make little money for 4 years, so you can make a lot more money for 4 decades. Sure, there are purists who don’t concern themselves with such philistine values, and who argue that the trivium and quadrivium are ends in themselves – and that education for its own sake is our very purpose here on Earth. This argument will be valid the moment classrooms build themselves and professors forgo salaries.
The economic argument occasionally carries weight among the purists, if they can use it to serve their own ends. Money becomes suddenly important to some people when the possibility of losing it presents itself.
The legislators and executive officeholders in Nevada, like those in a lot of states, spent far too much taxpayer money during the good years and now face a budget crisis. In Nevada, education makes up 28% of the state budget.
To hear the pro-”education” forces, if you want to deny unlimited funds for students, teachers and administrators; or even get the percentage down to 26 or so, that means you want children to be illiterate and innumerate.
First, tens of millions of kids already are illiterate and innumerate, with no incentive for them to read, write, add, divide and calculate square roots. Read Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (especially MySpace, where we’re pretty sure you need to be convicted of a felony to open an account) or the comments on any site other than Deadspin if you don’t believe us. Most of these kids’ parents aren’t exactly qualifying for Rhodes scholarships themselves.
Creedon is exactly the kind of person that a blanket funding policy attracts, and helps render financially impotent. Creedon had only moved to Nevada when – well, when he was an age at which most community college students are a year from graduating. Now at 28, he’s not close to done. From the Review-Journal:
(H)e’s probably going to leave for an out-of-state university.
“I really want to go to a place where it’s a little more stable for the next two years,” he says.
He’s applied to universities across the country, from New York to Texas to Washington state. He’s received one acceptance letter and waits to hear from the rest. He also applied to UNLV, but that’s just his safety net in case he doesn’t get in anywhere else.
Again, 28. An age at which:
- Steve Jobs had already sold millions of computers, taken Apple public, and ceded operational control of it to a professional CEO;
- George Harrison had embarked on a solo career, because the Beatles had already broken up;
- Steven Spielberg had directed Jaws, then the biggest-grossing movie in history;
- Theo Epstein was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Boston Red Sox;
- Thousands of other people were doing something productive.
But hey, Creedon’s getting an education. Given that there’s a positive correlation between duration of post-secondary study and real-world success, those eventual 12 years in the classroom will certainly make Creedon a bigger star than Jobs, Harrison, Epstein and Spielberg combined.
We don’t mean to use an outlier as indicative of an entire group. Instead we mean to show that Creedon’s no outlier. His eventual diploma, should be ever earn one, will be in history and/or political science. That puts him square in the majority of unproductive, barely employable college graduates, but 95% of students at his college never graduate (necessitating the rare bold/italics/underlining hat trick.) Our educational system doesn’t merely turn these dropouts out by the myriad, it does so for obscene prices – both in terms of taxpayer wealth confiscated and of student loans incurred.
The president of Creedon’s actual college – not merely that of the student government – has that analytical flair that academics are famous for (again, from the Review-Journal):
Already, the college had to turn away 5,300 students in the fall.
“Had we been able to accommodate those students, our enrollment would have been much higher,” (Michael) Richards says.
They should phrase Richards’ statement as a true/false question in one of the community college’s introductory math tests.
What makes J.T. Creedon reprehensible is…well, several things and they’re difficult to rank, but what struck us hardest was his insistence on taking the moral high ground of concerning himself with the nebulous well-being of others, rather than looking at the financial necrotizing fasciitis case in the mirror. He publicly advocates securing ever more funding for students such as himself – oblivious to the reality that his own example is as strong an argument as any for gargantuan financial cuts.
This world would be a far better place if people took care of their own business first. J.T. Creedon is welcome to save the world from a shortage of overlearned, underexperienced waiters and retail clerks. That he feels an obligation to do so while taxpayers continue to wean him, well into adulthood, is his problem, and ultimately society’s.
If your kid says he wants to go to college, or even merely thinks that that’s what you’re supposed to do when you get out of high school, part of being a parent is assessment and counsel. J.T. Creedon could have spent $3000 to enroll in truck driving school a decade ago, graduated with a commercial license a month later, and at the absolute minimum made $600,000 since then.
Heck, J.B. Hunt would have paid for his schooling, requiring only a one-year apprenticeship and allowing Creedon 9 years of freedom. But truck drivers never get on TV, nor do they have the luxury of organizing protests. They’re too busy delivering the food and drink that parasites require to survive.
Creedon could have learned to deal blackjack in even less time than it takes to learn to drive a truck. He could have done so for far less money, but with similar earning potential. (Albeit without ever seeing daylight nor breathing clean air. We live in a world of tradeoffs.)
Society can’t function without physicians and pharmacists. Nor without contractors and carpenters. But it’ll do just fine without directionless leeches.
This was Part I of a two-part series on higher education and how it pertains to the financial life of either you or the 20-something in your life. Part II, which is a lot less depressing than Part II, goes live Monday.