STEM Students

Remember When College Was Actually Helpful?

(WND News Center)—Decades ago in grad school, I got a part-time job shelving books in the campus library. One of the books I shelved was Phil Stong’s 1932 novel “State Fair.” This was later made into the campy-but-adorable 1945 film musical of the same title. Since I enjoyed the movie, I decided to read the book. I don’t remember much about it, but for some reason one thing stuck in my mind: the impact of a college education.

In a nutshell, a rural Iowa farm family attends the state fair, where the family’s two teenage children are tempted to abandon their high school sweethearts for the more exciting romantic possibilities of people they meet at the fair. Before attending the fair, the son (Wayne) worries that his girlfriend (Eleanor) has gotten too sophisticated for him. Why? Because she had just spent her first year at college.

That line – that Eleanor was now too sophisticated for Wayne because of her higher education – always stuck with me. At the time, attending college was the exception, not the norm, especially in a place like rural Iowa in the 1930s.

For generations, a college degree was the single-most golden ticket to rise into the upper middle class. In what used to be an agrarian and industrial society, those possessing degrees in higher education were viewed in some awe by lesser mortals who worked farm or factory jobs.

The reputation of a college education hasn’t waned since. This is a pity in many ways, because the quality of academics has declined to the point where many degrees have a negative value, not just in the area of study (victimology?) but in the staggering weight of student loan debt which – literally – can financially cripple young people for life.

Now everyone attends college, lured by the same promises made to generations past: that a degree was the necessary ticket to rise into the upper middle class. Attending college is now a far more equitable experience, both racially and socio-economically. The trouble is, the experience no longer lives up to its promises. Not even close. Academically, college is now just four more years of a very expensive high school.

“[A]s often happens when government do-gooders step in to ‘solve’ a ‘problem,’” observes Thomas Gallatin in a piece called “Higher Education’s Broken Promise?,” “their actions serve to make things even worse. A case in point: Thanks to low-interest loans, the cost of college has gone through the roof. Students are graduating with mountains of loan debt and are finding it difficult to get a good-paying job with which to pay off that debt.”

And this doesn’t even touch on academic quality. Those studying STEM fields generally find their education is worth the expense when it comes to post-graduate employment prospects. However, the vast majority of those attending college study something in the liberal arts, which translates to far worse employment opportunities. Too many colleges offer useless junk, such as courses in tree climbing, examining pop stars or television sitcoms, and demystifying hipsters … classes that somehow fail to prepare students for well-paying employment possibilities after they graduate.

“A recent survey of 60 million American workers found that a whopping 52% of college graduates within a year of finishing school are working jobs that don’t require a college education,” notes Gallatin. “To make matters even worse, 88% of these college grads are still working in jobs such as food service and retail even five years after graduating. These are the growing numbers of the so-called ‘underemployed.’ Ten years after earning a college degree, 45% still work in fields that don’t require college degrees. … As PublicSquare reported last November, 67% of 905 small-business owners said that today’s college graduates lacked ‘relevant skills that today’s business community needs.’”

Consider this video made by a young woman disenchanted with her college experience. The transcript reads: “So everyone pushes college college college, and I went to college. I have a master’s degree. I make very good money for my age. My husband did not go to college. … I’m going to throw it into perspective for you, and I say it not to brag, but to hopefully help. Help any of you. I have a college degree, he has a high school diploma. He went to trade school right after high school; he got her certificates and everything. … So this past July, he had already brought home – brought home! – more than my gross salary this year. Come December, he will have quadrupled my salary. Quadrupled it.

“If he decides to pick up overtime on a weekend, a two-day weekend … he brings home that weekend – just in those two days – more than I make in a two-week check. I have a master’s degree. He has a high-school diploma. So that reason right there is why I will not push college on anyone. If you think that college is not for you and you want to try a trade school, obviously look into it and see if you think you have what it takes, and then 100%, do it. DO IT. I don’t think that enough people are talking about this, and it is 100% worth it if you stick with it. He’s been doing it for eight years, so obviously he has made his way up the ladder; but if he leaves his job today, 100% guarantee he will make the exact same amount of money wherever else he decides to go. I cannot – I cannot – stress it enough. I can’t stress it enough. I am so jealous. Like, he doesn’t have student debt, nothing. And he’s quadrupling my salary in one year.”

A fresh breath of honesty, in my opinion.

Now, of course, Biden is desperately trying to purchase votes from young people by promising forgiveness for student loans, thus neatly transferring the debt burden from those who voluntarily took on the loans to those who had nothing to do with them. Still think college is worth it?

In an interesting flip, now it’s those who don’t go to college, but instead cultivate skills necessary for making society function, that stand out in the crowd. Intangible qualities such as honesty, integrity and a work ethic are becoming far more valuable than a Master’s Degree in Victimology.

In this brave new world, young people are going to have to find some other way to make themselves marketable. Unless they plan to study a STEM subject, they would do best to listen to the young woman in the video and learn a trade.

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