Conservatives should welcome the decline of academia as we know it. I, for one, will celebrate its death by engaging in the same activity that characterized my four years at what some call its pinnacle– drinking a lot of Coors Light.
There is still nostalgia among conservatives, especially older ones who have forgotten what college is really like, for the idea of higher education as a rigorous venue for intellectual growth, an environment of exciting and vibrant ideas shared by wise, caring educators dedicated to the pursuit of truth.
Today, it is nothing of the sort.
For the vast majority of traditional, liberal arts students, college is a four-year blur of cheap alcohol and tawdry hooks-ups, with their few sober moments characterized by interaction with pony-tailed TAs spouting off about “patriarchal paradigms” and trying to pick up on cute sophomores. Worse, this bacchanalia will saddle the participants with a couple hundred thousand in student debt that they get to carry off into real life, where they will discover that the only thing their degrees in Comparative Norwegian Feminist Literature qualify them for is exciting careers in the world of artisanal coffee retailing.
Call it the College-Progressive Complex. The first part consists of the schools themselves, with their herds of administrators, professors and impoverished grad students chasing the brass tenure ring. Think of it as a liberal tick, sucking blood and growing fatter off the efforts of Americans who actually produce something while contributing nothing to society except the clearly secondary contributions of those few in the fields of science and mathematics.
The other component of the Complex is the progressive element. Colleges and universities serve as a reservoir of leftism in society that serves several functions for those trying to turn America into a less blonde, less macho Sweden. First, it provides a taxpayer-subsidized lifestyle for millions of liberal voters to enjoy without actually having to produce anything. No wonder university types vote 95% for Democrats – they are voting themselves a salary and a sinecure. It’s welfare for people with graduate degrees and “Coexist” bumper stickers.
The Complex also provides an infrastructure for developing progressive ideas and a stage for agitation. It provides leftist access to the vulnerable minds of the future leaders of the nation, making the Complex a tool for the indoctrination of progressive obsessions that people in the real world would reject out of hand. Try talking about the importance of transcending traditional gender roles to an iron worker – he’ll probably think you’re hitting on him.
Sure, there are some relevant areas of study within the Complex, generally ones involving numbers. Rule of thumb: If it doesn’t require that you know calculus, it’s a phony major. The hard sciences are just afterthoughts today – Chemistry is boring and hard, but Oppressions Studies is so cutting edge! Yet, it is unclear why research and the training of scientists and mathematicians and such could not be done more efficiently in the real world. Bill Gates is famous for not being a Harvard alumnus – many of the high tech visionaries dropped out of school and found their own way out in the – gasp! – free market.
So, how does the Complex work? It’s actually kind of brilliant. It convinces otherwise intelligent people that their children must have a sub-par, dubiously useful product and then charges them through the nose for it. The government helps by providing loans at subsidized rates, but which can never be discharged. Make no mistake – the government is in on the scam. Every time the Complex hikes its fees, the government increases loans, which sparks more price hikes, in a vicious circle that leads to 50 year olds carrying $100,000 in non-dischargeable debt.
Except now the higher education bubble (to quote Instapundit Glenn Reynolds) is bursting. People are starting to see that maybe getting that piece of paper isn’t worth carrying around an anchor of debt for the next three decades. It makes no sense to go into hock when there is no job waiting at the other end of the tunnel. No, that’s not a light down there at the other end – it’s an oncoming train.
Look at how law school applications are in free fall. I hire lawyers and train them myself. They usually have about $200,000 in debt. To service that debt, I’d have to pay them about $133,333 per year. Do you think I pay a kid with zero experience $133,333 a year? There are far too many graduates and too few jobs, so I can hire a new lawyer for $50,000 – which is less than I made when I started 20 years ago. And that’s one near the top of his class at a prestigious school. Supply and demand is awesome for me; for young people, who largely voted for Obama, not so much. They get the hope but those of us who are established in liberal-approved fields like the law get to keep the change.
So, we have a higher education system that 1) empowers our opponents, 2) costs too much to both individuals and taxpayers, and 3) provides a crappy product 4) for which there is little market. What can’t go on won’t go on, and we conservatives need to help the Complex to die, preferably without dignity.
Let’s start by rejecting the insane notion that everyone should go to college. Fortunately, the old idea that your kid is a failure (meaning you, as a parent, are a failure) if he didn’t go to college is fading away. There are plenty of successful folks out there who avoided the schooling scam. In fact, getting some real life experience actually doing something useful is now the guarantee of a good career that college used to be.
Electricians, technicians, plumbers – people like that can't not get a job for good money. Let the smug gal with the sociology degree sneer at the auto mechanic pulling in $75,000 a year as she hands him his grande Javan Sunrise. Maybe her tribal tatts and self-esteem will keep her warm when she and her roommates can’t pay the gas company.
While common sense and caveat emptor will put two rounds in its chest, technology will put the coup de grace in the Complex’s head. A decade from now, why will someone bother sitting in a huge lecture hall listening to some second-string professor drone on and on when he can download a lecture by a Nobel Prize winner for free? “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller” is going to be replaced by logging in when and where it’s convenient.
The centuries-old lecture hall model will crumble. Distance learning is coming, and while the big name schools like Harvard will always have suckers lined up to park their kids for a four year vacation, the mid- and low-prestige schools are going to dry up and blow away. One piece of the puzzle, credentialing (which is all higher education is about anyway), needs to be worked through, but once folks like me who hire people realize that there is little meaningful difference between on-line degrees and in-person ones, the levee will break.
And we conservatives should rejoice at the resulting tsunami that will wash away one of the left’s most powerful bases of operations. Sure, the savings will be welcome and seeing liberalism lose its bully pulpit for zombifying future generations is gratifying. But the real joy will come from watching millions of the College-Progressive Complex’s inhabitants forced to actually produce something besides fascist speech codes and dissertations like A Three-Hour Cruise to Male Oppression: Gender Identity Issues on Gilligan’s Island.
Now fetch my latte, professor.
Kurt Schlichter (Twitter: @KurtSchlichter) has been published in the New York Post, Washington Examiner, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times and elsewhere. He was personally recruited by Andrew Breitbart and since 2009 his work has been frequently published on the Breitbart.com web sites.