Skip to content

Should you Go to College?

October 7, 2011

Should you Go to College?

I wish employers would start to realize that “learning” and “degrees” are not synonymous, and would appropriately compensate non-degree learners who excel in courses such as those described above. But business leaders, superb at building better mousetraps, are often either naive about higher education and/or don’t want to incur the costs of separating good non-degree applicants from mediocre ones. – Richard Vedder, Cheap, Maybe Even Free, Higher Education, September 30, 2011

Yorktown University Hall of Fame member, Dr. Richard Vedder, is a very live wire. A trained economist with more than forty years of experience in higher education, Vedder is founder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, where he frequently contributes to the Center’s blog. One of the themes that Vedder comments upon is the high cost of a college education.

I want to comment here by distinguishing between low cost, even free, alternatives, to getting a college degree, and becoming educated. Becoming educated is not the same thing as earning a college degree. Most educations are obtained in spite of college.

Colleges in America have been around for several hundred years and have grown, like the U.S. Post Office, to be bureaucratic, formulaic, inefficient, abusive, lacking in toleration and instruments of service to the administrative state, what an earlier generation called “the powers.” As such, they are loathsome environments in which naïve students are manipulated to achieve a variety of self serving ends. After all that, they are organized to provide a college “degree,” not necessarily an “education.”

I was on an airplane awhile back and overheard two students. The student up a row and on my right went to The Citadel and the other on my left parallel to the other student went to a public university in the Midwest. The Citadel student asked, “What is your major?” The student on my left, an attractive coed, said, “International Marketing.”

Now there is nothing wrong with being interested in how companies market their markets throughout the world, but that is not an undergraduate Major subject that students should specialize in. Some self-serving member of the Faculty at the university where this student was enrolled had promoted his narrow specialization to grow enrollments in his undergraduate courses. The student at The Citadel which, even today after decades of decadence introduced by Yankees, represents a culture of true education and appeared dumbstruck that anybody could choose “international marketing” as an undergraduate major when there were more traditional subjects to study. The traditions of the old South do not respect “merchants,” and once upon a time, students at The Citadel could recite the five causes of the Civil War, discuss the merits of Lee’s Generals, and rue the increasing influence of Yankees. Up in Ann Arbor, Milwaukee, and out west at Berkeley, students discuss vegetarianism, environmental pollution, transgender as a lifestyle and international marketing.

In the face of such nonsense, Richard Vedder asks, why pay for that when you can engage in self-directed study using free or almost free resources. At you can complete an entire year of college for $999. If you’re really disciplined you can listen to a whole range of free lectures from MIT — absolutely free. And at Yorktown University, you can complete two years of superb college credits and earn the Associate of Arts in Business or Government for $16,500 and pay as little as $207 a month for four 3-credit courses.

While doing that, you can work in your Uncle’s garage, get a job at a local golf course, or start your own business while living a home.

The news this week is concentrated on the demise of Steve Jobs, a college dropout who nevertheless was self-disciplined and taught himself calligraphy, computer programming, the principles of design, marketing and Buddhism and some philosophy. Steve Jobs did not have a college degree, but somehow he excelled in whatever he set out to do.

If you were an employer in Tucson, Arizona looking for a motivated, self-directed, intelligent person to help you market you products in Mexico would you select the student with the degree in international marketing or Steve Jobs?

At Yorktown University we require proof of a college degree of our employees because we are an accredited university and the “products” we offer are education products. It helps to know how bad the university system in America is to appreciate what we do at Yorktown University. But, we don’t care where you earned that college degree. A good candidate from the University of Phoenix who is a Tea Party activist is more attractive to us than a graduate of the University of Colorado with a degree in Human Resources. We use a variety of standards to judge whom to hire, not simply a college degree. And I think many small businesses do the same.

The problem resides with large corporations and federal, state and municipal governments with Human Resources Departments. If you want to teach in a public school, or start on the management track at Wells Fargo, General Motors or Bain Consulting, you need a degree from a regionally accredited University. If you want to work for a big accounting firm or a Wall Street investment bank, you need a degree from one of the top five B-Schools.

Yet we know that not everyone is suited to go to Northwestern, Harvard, the University of Chicago, Princeton or Stanford. Many entrepreneurs first step on a college campus when they cut ribbons for major buildings that their fortunes financed.

So, what’s wrong here?

The problem is complex and has something to do with American culture, parental ignorance and how public schools push going to college.

Let me begin with personal experience. I pursued a career in college education and thus did all that was required to earn the highest degree that our university system offers. I was very lucky, despite the fact that at university I was a failure—at least in terms of GPA. I hated most of my courses, despised my Social Science professors and completed a major in Political Science but took more courses in English Literature, Physical Education and Political Theory—all taught by exceptional teachers. In reaction against the liberal academics who dominated my university, I became a campus political conservative and spent most of my time promoting events by the major conservative speakers of that time. Between semesters I would read fifteen or twenty books that were mentioned in National Review or Modern Age. Consequently, when I sought a graduate school I looked for those professors whose writings I admired. I found a place where I knew there were some conservative Faculty members, applied, and was admitted—on probation. Much to my delight, the place was crawling with culturally conservative academics and I thrived. That was dumb luck. Nobody in my family had gone to college and nobody forced me. I followed my instincts. Fortunately, tuition back then was dirt cheap and by controlling my living costs, I could pay for tuition my first year in graduate school.

College tuition today—at least at established institutions—is no longer cheap, so we have to ask why not seek out low cost alternatives and why do students continue to pay the high costs of a college degree?

Here are the reasons why that is still happening—at least right now.

American culture is conditioned to “certify” who and what is best. In America today you “must” earn a college degree or you are certified as a failure. Students who choose not to go to college, but choose to work with their hands, learn a trade or start a business are disappointments. “What is Bill doing,” is a question asked at social gatherings. And the desired answer is, “Bill is at [insert the name of the local state university].” If you say, “Bill is learning how to fix cars at Joe’s garage,” the conversation shifts to the weather.

Yet, twenty years from now the Bill who went to State U may be working for the Bill who learned how to fix cars.

I like to read bumper stickers because they tell me something about the owners of the cars. Why do they place bumper stickers on their cars? They do that because they want us to understand that they are persons who value x, y or z.

A college degree is like a bumper sticker. It affirms our value.

Some people are really smart and don’t need the approval of others. News reports about the late Steve Jobs reveal that he did not seek the approval of others. He was guided by his own compass.

That, of course, is a character trait.

Bill Bennett made a splash with his “Book of Virtues” that focused on “character education.” After all, shouldn’t an education aim to develop our character? The ancient Greeks said that the end goal of statesmen is to make citizens virtuous. There are civic virtues, after all, that we require to sustain the principles of our regime.

What we have allowed to develop in America, however, is an educational system that specializes in “non-virtue.” Everything is taught and nothing is affirmed.

But, most people believe that if you earn a college degree, you have accomplished something of value.

Sadly, in real life—and death—that is not the case.

As Steve Jobs said, we are already naked just as we will be when we die and confront eternity. Shouldn’t we then act knowing that each day may be the last day of our lives?

That is what we call “wisdom.”

Unfortunately, wisdom is no longer a “learning outcome” at our colleges and universities.

Parental ignorance also plays a role. “My son will go to college” is said with determination by those who did not go to college. Most parents regret that choice, or resent the conditions that caused them to go to work—not college. So they want their children to do better and that means going to college. Of course, going to college is not a good idea for everyone. Some are better served by following their instincts. If they like music, let them try their hands at being musicians. If they like nature, let them try their hands at farming. What young people “love” may not require a college degree. Does that mean that what they love is deficient?

Most parents think so.

I asked one of our professors what his students should say to their parents if they choose art history as a Major and not accounting? He said, “I tell them that they should tell their parents that they will become better accountants, if they study art history and become cultured in undergraduate school. An uncultured banker, engineer or father lack the knowledge needed to pursue a virtuous life.”

Most parents push their children into careers, not lives of virtue. That is especially so in families with a tradition at one of our military academies, or parents who went to Harvard, Yale or Princeton. Two Trustees at Yorktown University went to the same Ivy League college and they say that their education was a “waste.” Several others went to another Ivy League institution and they give that college high marks. So, are the odds 50% that you’ll do well and be satisfied, if you get into an Ivy League college?

Fifty percent odds are not good if the gamble costs $200,000.

Sen. John McCain came from a distinguished family whose members went to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. At the time he became a POW, his father was Chief of Naval Operations. McCain was a failure at Annapolis, however. General Ulysses Grant went to West Point and thought it was so bad that West Point should be abolished.

If your parents are essentially ignorant about “your” life choice, why listen to them? Do you really want a “good” job? “Stay hungry, stay foolish,” was Steve Jobs’ admonition in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford.

Should I go to college? Ask a different question, should I become educated? The answer to the former question is “not necessarily.” The answer to the latter question is an emphatic “yes.”

Now how can you become educated?

The word “autodidact” means “self-taught.” Because of the technology of the Internet and printing, anyone can study any subject that interests them. But though autodidacts tend to learn a lot of different things, they do not necessarily become educated as a result of their self-directed studies. The truth of the matter is that if you are to become educated, you require a person who is educated to guide you.

That truth was why It used to be said that students who aspire to a graduate degree should not choose a university. They should choose a professor.

Find a professor who professes the knowledge you seek to know and learn from him.

Can you do that by taking the commoditized courses at Straighterline or Western Governor’s University?


But there are institutions, equally low cost, where real professors teach their students. In order to become educated you owe it to yourself to search for them.

They do exist, but you have to find them. Do yourself a favor. Do a Google search for “Worst Colleges.” Then visit

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: