Yesterday I stumbled upon this interesting spoken word video on Youtube called “Why I Hate School but Love Education.”  It’s a valuable contribution to the debate about higher education: What’s the value of a college degree, and are today’s college students getting what they pay for?

The political Left generally argues that everyone needs to attend college.  It’s tempting to jump on this bandwagon because we realize that many employers screen out applicants based on whether or not they can check the college box.  We want all of our fellow citizens to have the maximum opportunities to succeed.

But is college necessarily a stepping-stone to success?  Obviously, the answer depends greatly on what your goals are.  The speaker in this video puts it this way:

I’m not saying school is evil and there’s nothing to gain

All I’m saying is understand your motives and access your aims

One theme of the video is real learning versus credentialism.  The speaker emphasizes that school can be just a series of papers, projects, and exams, while “education” or real learning is the attainment of skills and the broadening of the mind in preparation for where life takes us.  Education doesn’t have to take place in a classroom or on a college campus. As Michael Polanyi would point out, some knowledge is “tacit knowledge.”

Perhaps the proof is in the pudding: 53% of today’s college graduates are jobless or underemployed.  

Everyone who wants to go to college should be free to apply.  But some people – including some of my friends and family members – didn’t make that choice and have turned out fine.  They’re contributing to society and pursuing their own version of happiness.

It’s difficult for college attenders to hold institutions of higher learning accountable.  Are they delivering what we paid for?  Are they fostering an environment for real learning or are they simply selling meaningless diplomas or “credentials?” 

One factor that gets in the way is the federal policy that floods the market with student loan subsidies.  This allows for more and more money to be put into the college machine, but skews market demand for degrees artificially high.  Often, it’s the colleges who benefit from the subsidy, while their graduates spend years paying back debts and scratching their heads (like the speaker in the video) about what they really learned in the 4 years they studied, wrote papers and took tests.

There’s one gratuitous line in the video hating on former President George Bush, which makes me wonder if the author of this video knows which side of the debate he’s on.  He speaks strongly in favor of charting one’s own path, pursuing one’s own dreams, even avoiding taking paid work in favor of being an entrepreneur.  He sounds like a conservative to me.  He’s saying that not everyone needs to go to college to be successful or become a contributing member of society.

Just because college has a high price doesn’t mean it has a correspondingly high value.  It’s an individual choice, and each person should weigh the pros and cons in light of their goals in life.