John Chuckman



“Why College Degrees Are Becoming Useless”


It just ain’t so.

Some college degrees are useless for sure, but not degrees in general.

The useless ones, for the most part, are obvious, such as most BAs in English or journalism or history or education. They are useless simply because there are ten of them for every possible job, and the institutions use virtually no discretion in continuing to admit people to such programs.

Then there is that whole class of “created” subjects for which there is virtually no job market: women’s studies, black studies, aboriginal studies, film studies, etc. Perhaps, the first people “out of the gate” got jobs as some other institutions started up or experimented with such programs, but after that it is pretty much a dead end.

There is an old bit of economic analysis in education that is often forgotten. Education has both an investment component and a consumption component. Some courses and degrees are serious investments for the future (in what economists call human capital) while others are consumption, much the same as a watching a television show or reading a mystery. Perhaps enjoyable, but bringing no future returns.

American education has created an entire industry in manufacturing degrees to please young people’s egos and to fill their own coffers. The consumption component of education has been given a major role.

Grade inflation in public schools, vague parental dreams and expectations, over-generalized talk about the value of an education, truly second- and third-rate institutions created by state and local governments as political measures, and a kind of artificial democratization of the whole idea of higher education – these all contribute to the situation.

Hard-nosed academic studies have never been democratic. They are, if you will, just naturally the domain of the more able, although even our highest-quality institutions have always admitted and graduated some who do not belong,

George Bush being a perfect example. Such people are called “legacy” admissions because the whole cynical intention of admitting them is to earn the institution a nice pot of money in gratitude from a rich family. Of course, once you admit a George Bush, you must graduate him regardless of what he does. Ditto for the Royals in Britain at places like Cambridge.

Of course, the American tradition of sports being used as a financing tool by colleges is very corrupting to education. Young men with sports talent are given free places regardless of their academic ability because their contribution to the team will bring in alumni donations.

But that is a totally cynical practice. These young men should be paid money for their effort, not given admission. It is the pathetic “Hoop Dreams” phenomenon.The American military, too, plays a role with its education benefit there to entice a flow of recruits, who, in many, or even most, cases are not truly college or university material. It is a kind of force-feeding of colleges in order to fill uniforms.

Higher education today has a great deal of cynicism and corruption built into it, but it remains the responsibility of each potential student to exercise the old caution, “Buyer beware.”

Failure to do so yields a lot of debt, little or no prospects you could not have had otherwise, and a sense of frustration.


 Response to another reader’s comment:

Some good points.

Trades for now remain good opportunities.

Yes, the trades are going to fade – some far quicker than others – but then so are many of the professions and higher-end careers.

Every career from financial advisor to engineer and even to doctor and lawyer is slowly on its way out with AI.

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