The other day, I was arguing with a friend about education and whether college specifically was any use. “It’s really just the next bubble,” I said, repeating an argument a mutual friend had made to me before.
“First the Internet bubble, then the housing bubble, now the college degree bubble. We’ve been told for years it’s an automatic way to make more money, but it’s getting more expensive to buy in now and there’s less of a reward. At some point, people won’t be able to pay off their college debt anymore. That’s when the bubble bursts.”
I said, “Look at our friend with the master’s in English from the University of Texas, unmodified. He went to Austin for a four-year degree, and now he makes more with his commercial driver’s license that took him a week to earn than he can with that. Look at our friends with masters’; there’s not enough professorships available.”
“It’s a racket,” I said.
And she didn’t entirely disagree, she just asked me, “Why do people go to school?”
“They actually go because they want to make money,” I said. “They should go because they want to meet people in the same career path as them who can help them out later in life. Pre-electronic social networking.”
“They go to have sex,” my friend said. “Lots and lots of sex.”
“That’s probably true,” I said,” but don’t let Rush Limbaugh hear you saying that.”
And she clarified that yes, while a lot of people do indeed go to college in order to drink a lot and do things they don’t remember but would regret if they did, the fundamental reason people go to college is so their ideas can have sex with other people’s ideas. She recommended me a book by Matt Ridley, which is now at the bottom of an ever-increasing list.
“People don’t go to Harvard to get a Harvard education; they go to meet other people who go to Harvard,” my friend said.
“Maybe,” I allowed, “But only so they can get a job later.”
Again, she said that was probably true for some, but the real educating anywhere doesn’t take place inside of a classroom where you’re punished for failing. You learn more about the way something works when you fail and see how it doesn’t.
So that was her argument. Ideas are like that, and you don’t go to college to get a good GPA, which only helps you — for the most part — to your first job and with scholarships. You go to college to meet people with other really good ideas, whose interests coincide with your own in some way so that your thoughts inspire theirs, and vice versa.
“There’s nothing ivory tower about that,” she said. “And it’s not English or math or science, it’s anything. College isn’t right for some people because people with their interests and ideas aren’t going there. They’re going somewhere else, interning, apprenticing, whatever.”
“A coffee shop and a library card would be cheaper for most people in college now,” I said.
“True,” she said. “But the spring breaks are less fun.”