The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Is College Worth It? NYT Says Maybe Not

The New York Times offers some reasons why it isn’t. The debt burden and the opportunity cost in years of a college education are leading Gen Xers to rethink its value. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are modern role models for ambitious college dropouts, and programs like UnCollege are helping the young acquire skills and education outside the traditional classroom. Grants like the Thiel Fellowship, which pays students under 20 years old $100,000 to pursue non-college projects, has made life without a college degree more economically viable, at least for a select few with good ideas and lots of entrepreneurial energy.

The NYT article argues that passing on a college education can make sense in an economy that increasingly favors job creation over managerial work:

Even the staunchest critics of college concede that a diploma is still necessary for many professions — law and medicine, clearly, and in many cases, for a Fortune 500 executive, too. But that’s the point: how many more lawyers and middle managers do we need?

“College is training for managerial work, and the economy doesn’t need that many managers,” said Michael Ellsberg, the author of “The Education of Millionaires: Everything You Won’t Learn In College About How to Be Successful.”

Mr. Ellsberg, 35, graduated from Brown University and spent years trying to translate his expertise in post-colonial critical theory into a paying career. So his book tries to impart real-world skills, like salesmanship and networking, which he argues are crucial as white-collar jobs are being downsized or shipped to Bangalore. The future, he added, belongs to job creators, even if the only job they create is their own.

This piece definitely gets some things right. College remains a important investment for many, but for those who have the ambition, the capability, and the maturity to enter the job market without a college degree, skipping higher education is a reasonable option. We should be looking at ways to make it easier for those with the skills and the drive to follow this path.

Published on December 4, 2012 12:47 pm