Higher Education

I think universities sell and defend higher education very poorly. University is not where you go to get a good job. It’s not the place where corporate training gets done. It’s not just the next step after high school. It’s not where you learn and hone your craft.

It’s where you go to get a broad understanding of the world in all its mysterious wonder. It’s where you learn to think critically and question all of the prevailing wisdom. It’s where you learn to write competently, and argue your point confidently. It’s where corporations find the next group of eager young minds to mold into obedient drones. It’s where keen, intelligent, high performing high school students continue their quest for knowledge and understanding. It’s where artisans go to gain a much deeper insight into the history and breadth of their craft and its relationship to the wider world.

Once upon a time, the statistics showed that people who made above average incomes had university degrees. We have since mistaken cause and effect and believe that it was the bare fact of credentials that led to high income, not the deep understanding of a multitude of topics and a strong ability to describe those topics. Those university graduates gained those high incomes by taking raw, untested learning and applying it to the myriad tasks that high paying jobs provided. And they learned how to do the works that high paying jobs demanded. And they created the high paying jobs by being invaluable as smart, flexible, conscientious, curious, critical human beings.

The good job should not depend on the academic credentials of the applicant. (Generally speaking, I think doctors should have medical degrees, lawyers law degrees and engineers engineering degrees. There may be a few others, but not many.) Corporations should not be looking for drones, but invest the resources to develop the drones in their own image. There are numerous technical schools to provide job training. Industries can and should change so rapidly that only university graduates will be resilient enough to adapt quickly enough to manage the change.

Universities need to sell higher education, not job training. They need to defend learning and critical thinking, and not cave to the whims of industry and government. There’s a huge world waiting for anyone who wants to go looking for it, that should be the next step after high school. Artisans and craftsmen should be apprentices under journeymen and masters; whether hairstylists, actors, carpenters, beekeepers, that education comes from doing.