What is education for?
Say you read something like this article. It’s about yet another failing for-profit college that saddles its students with large debt loads, delivers flawed – possibly useless – education, and graduates fewer than half their students, while making the founders super rich. It’s enough to make you wonder what education is for.
For that matter, I live next door to Columbia University, and for the past week, every day, there have been countless graduations with the requisite ceremonies on campus. Some of them are for things like Columbia college, to be sure, but others are much more confusing. There are countless “cash cow” MA programs at Columbia, with at least 3 in finance alone (one based out of the stats department, one from the math department, and one from the business school). And, whereas we “care about diversity” in many of our college programs, in many of these they are utterly dominated by Chinese kids who get specific STEM versions of student visas that allow them to stay in the U.S. for some months after their program ends.
What’s the actual point to all of this? And I say this as a former director of a post-bac journalism program myself.
And look, I definitely think we taught our students something in that program. But I’m still wondering why exactly we send people to school in such numbers, where 50 years ago we simply didn’t.
Here are some theories, each of which I could make the case for if I were in the mood:
- It’s a way to get these kids edumacated, for them to accumulate important knowledge. This is probably the least likely option.
- It’s a way to socialize our young people and help develop their networks and social skills, so that someday they can call on their friends to deploy insider trading.
- It’s a way to rank all people in the world for future employers.
- It’s a way to give day jobs to people who do important research.
- It’s a way to give day jobs to people who dedicate their time to gaming the US News & World Report college ranking model.
- It’s a way for foreign kids to get American educations and then American jobs.
- It’s a way for colleges to make money and enlarge their brands and endowments.
- It’s a way for companies to avoid training their workers and force them to pay for training before they get offered a job, now that unions have been decimated and nobody stays with a company for more than a few years.
Am I missing something? And is one of these any better an explanation than any other?