Rethinking College

Was visiting one of my daughters at college this weekend.  Chatted with a bunch of people.  My oldest goes to a top ten liberal arts school.  It’s very interesting to me how they have chosen to treat their students.  Instead of giving them opportunities to fail, and make mistakes with freedom, the school makes it tough.  Virtually every party I went to had a police presence at it.

I understand colleges being concerned about their students, but I think this policy is a bridge too far.

It’s symptomatic of other changes I have seen in the way the administration has decided to treat students since my daughter enrolled.  The administration is trying to control what they think, and how they behave.  “Big College” is no better than Big Government.

Glenn Reynolds has posted extensively on the higher education bubble.  James Altucher has said he will encourage his kids to skip attending college.  I am in between.

If a college has a great network that you can tap into, it may be worth it.  There are precious few colleges that can claim that kind of network.  I can think of three separate spheres.  The college with the best network in the US, perhaps the world is Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana.  I have seen this network work first hand and tried to persuade both of my kids to go there simply because of it.  The only other schools with national networks that work for you like ND’s are the Ivies.  The list simply ends there.

There are other schools with tremendous regional networks. USC, SMU, and Tulane are examples of schools where I have seen the network work like ND. If you want to live in LA, Dallas, or NOLA, go to one of those schools.  I am sure others can cite some more.  Please do in the comments.

Given what I have observed anecdotally, it makes it tough to cough up $50+ per year for college, unless there is a proven network to leverage post graduation.

Profile of Adam Smith
Adam Smith (Photo credit: Wikipedier year for a small liberal arts school that acts like a police state.  I just don’t think paying that much for college is worth it when a proven network isn’t there.

Liberal arts colleges have a huge head start over generalized state schools when it comes to the future economy.  My assumption is that we are transitioning to a gig economy.  People will work for themselves, in collaborative teams on one job at a time, one start up at a time.  They will need to be generalists in a lot of cases.  One of the advantages liberal arts schools usually have are great humanities programs.  For entrepreneurs, being a great critical thinker has massive advantage over someone that isn’t.

By the way, I am assuming that the humanities program isn’t taught with a far left agenda-and I know that is certainly a stretch.  What some people see as critical thinking these days is hardly that. I am thinking that humanities should be taught in the vein of Allan Bloom.  No political agenda, but explore the great thinkers of western civilization.

But, a student can get all they need in the first two years of college.  The last two years of my daughter’s experience haven’t really made her a deeper thinker.  I am finding the same experience for many of her peers, no matter what small liberal arts school they attend.  They would have been better off going to a professional curriculum after a humanities core.

For example, do the two year humanities core-then take a hard core engineering, business, math or science curriculum after.  The student would have the framework of classical western civilization concepts to apply to modern day technology and practice.

Suppose the student doesn’t want any of the above.  Take the humanities core, then move along to one of the soft majors.  At least they could apply well rounded thinking to their chosen discipline.

Colleges would begin to specialize in different things.  For example, a liberal arts school that was really strong in science, like Davidson, could churn out some really intelligent entrepreneurs if they taught the curriculum with an entrepreneurial perspective.  A school like Kenyon, strong in literature, could educate a different kind of entrepreneur.   While we certainly need lots of citizens strong in science and business, we also need people to communicate the value proposition and sell it.

As colleges specialized, costs would go down.  It’s the Adam Smith way.  Of course, we need to remove government subsidies as well.  We can also utilize cutting edge technology to teach our kids.  No longer should one teacher teach a captive audience of kids.  We can use Google+hangouts, Skype, and plenty of other apps to teach people more efficiently.  The real world isn’t one to many.  It’s many to many.  Once kids had the critical thinking chops to interpret the world, they could become acclimated to the way the real world works.

Clearly, we are thinking about new ways to educate our pre-K to high schoolers.  We also need to rethink the way we educate them in college.  The world is a fundamentally different place than it was ten years ago.

From my personal experience the last six years with colleges, I would lean towards the opinion of both Glenn and James.  Figure out how to be successful without it, or get through with the cheapest cost for the four years.  Unless it comes with a proven network, it’s just a credential.


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