College: Crony Socialism at Its Worst

College is a giant freakin’ scam!

I don’t know what disgusts me more about college. The medieval muumuus it forces its graduates to wear at graduation? The fundamentalist progressive culture it maintains with all the subtlety and good nature of a rampaging elephant? Or maybe it’s the debt slavery it foists upon any poor soul looking to bring a worthwhile credential to the labor market?

So just in case you’re not quite sure how I feel about college, let me repeat myself.

COLLEGE IS A GIANT FREAKIN’ SCAM!

To show you how ridiculous the current business model for higher education is, let’s apply it to physical fitness. Here’s how physical fitness would work if we did it like we do higher education.

You want to get physically fit. Not just because you want to look better and live longer, but because doing so will entitle you to a massive reduction in your health insurance premiums. Some years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that health insurers couldn’t test a potential customer to determine how healthy he or she was. Doing so created a “disparate impact” or something. So in the aftermath of this ruling, health insurers began using the fitness certificate awarded by state-accredited gyms as a crude way to distinguish low-risk customers from high-risk customers. Those with the health certificate get low premiums. Those without it get high premiums.

Happily for you, there are thousands of state-accredited gyms across the country. Your state, in fact, has one of the best gym systems in the country. But they’re not cheap. And their gold-standard fitness program takes at least four years to complete.

After a month or two of hemming and hawing, you decide to take the plunge. You don’t want to go into debt to get physically fit, but that fitness certificate the gym gives you will guarantee you a lifetime of cheap health care. Studies show that those with a fitness certificate spend half as much on health care in their lifetimes than those without a fitness certificate. And, besides, the gym you chose has Dr. Oz, Bob Harper, Rich Froning, and Tracy Anderson on its list of instructors.

Not long after you begin your fitness program, however, you notice that something is off. For starters, the gym never makes note of your initial physical condition. It has no idea how far you can run, how many pull ups you can do, what your cholesterol numbers are, and what your BMI might be. How will the gym and you know if you’re making any progress? Grades. Just keep passing all the classes and you’ll become increasingly fit, the instructors assure you. “Besides,” they keep insisting, “it’s foolish to get hung up on a bourgeoisie definition of fitness. Our objective here isn’t to have you hit some arbitrary numbers that society has foisted upon its members. Our objective here is to give you something infinitely more important. We want you to leave our hollowed gym with total body awareness.”

Total body awareness. It sounds like a completely bullshit skill, but what do you know? All the cool people say it’s a valid thing. So it’s gotta be, right? And, besides, if you want super cheap health insurance premiums, you gotta prove to the health insurance industry that you have total body awareness.

So you shoulder on, even though the first two years of the fitness program have little to do with engaging in actual physical activity. Oh, sure, there’s Walking 101 and Stretching 101. But most of your time at the gym entails sitting in a classroom listening to lectures about physical activity. For instance, all first-year students are required to take the following courses.

Shirtless Men and Topless Women: How Hollywood Uses Partial Nudity to Transmit a False and Dangerous Definition of Fitness

The Intersection of Race and Perspiration: How Lack of Neighborhood Playgrounds and High Gym Fees Deny Fitness to People of Color

Taking all these frivolous classes is more than frustrating. “When the hell am I going to start doing some freakin’ exercise?” you frequently mutter to yourself. The only thing that makes it tolerable is that these frivolous classes aren’t very demanding. Everyone gets an A, even those who show up sparingly and spend their time in class feverishly pecking away at their cell phones.

Finally, you make it to the third year of the fitness program. You’re psyched. You get to pick a specialty. You pick CrossFit training. You’ve always been a big fan of Rich Froning. and you can’t wait to take one of his courses. But when you look at the course catalog, you notice that Rich doesn’t teach any courses on your level. He only teaches advanced courses for people who already have their fitness certifications. And the same goes for the other famous instructors at the gym. Instructors for your third and fourth years will be the same nobody instructors you had in the first and second years.

Now you’re pissed. Why take a tough specialty like CrossFit training or Ironman training if you never get to work with a famous instructor? So like a lot your fellow students, you opt for a less demanding specialty. You decide to specialize in shake-weight training. Sure it’s a joke of a specialty. But in the end, you get the same fitness certification as the guy who can run a marathon and lift 300 pounds over his head.

At long last, after four insufferable years, you’re finished. You don your cap and gown and some old dude in a cap and gown hands you your fitness certificate. Are you more fit than when you began this journey four years earlier? Who knows? The gym doesn’t test you on the way out. And health insurers can’t test you either (thank you, SCOTUS). What you do know, however, is this: you have a piece of paper that proves you have total body awareness and the health insurers can no longer screw you over with exorbitant health insurance premiums. Woo-hoo! What a blessing—especially now since you have over $25K in fitness loans to pay back.

Let’s Test My Theory

Absurd, isn’t it? Someone is considered physically fit because some accredited gym gives him or her a piece of paper? And to get that piece of paper the allegedly physically fit someone only had to take a certain number of courses? He or she didn’t have to do a hundred sit ups or run a sub six-minute mile or have a total cholesterol level under 200?

It is absurd. But this is precisely how we do higher education. We consider someone intelligent because some accredited college gave him or her a piece of paper. And unless there’s some killer post-college exam a college graduate must take to enter a profession (e.g., the medical board exam, the bar exam, the CPA exam, etc.), we really don’t know how intelligent the typical college graduate is. But employers use a college degree as a crude measure of intelligence (thank you, SCOTUS). Those with a college degree are assumed capable. Those without are assumed less capable.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-education. And college is not a total joke. In fact, there are plenty of Professor Kingsfields out there who embrace the life of the mind and hold their students to exacting standards. And there are plenty of college students who seek out rigorous instruction in rigorous fields and do superbly. But these remarkable souls are surely the minority. How else do you explain the proliferation of remedial math and English classes on campus today? How do you explain the grade inflation that has all but rendered the GPA a meaningless gauge of student achievement? How do you explain all the time students have for protests, football games, and drunken hookups?

The bottom line is this: the college-industrial complex’s definition of education is seriously flawed. It says that college is more than a trade school. I say it isn’t. It says it’s main purpose is to provide students with “critical thinking skills.” I say bullshit. The attribute of critical thinking skills is as phony as the attribute of total body awareness. And if it isn’t, why don’t colleges measure it? Why don’t they give their students a critical thinking test on the first day of college and on the last day of college? Aren’t colleges curious about how their degree programs affect the acquisition of this supposedly awesome skill?

Look, what do I know? I’m just some old fart who got his meaningless degree thirty years ago.

But, hey, humor me. Let’s have a test. Let’s unbundle the college experience. Give students the option of just taking the 12-15 courses that pertain to his or her major. Call it college-lite. They won’t get a degree; they’ll get a certificate. And let’s see if employers notice a difference between certificate holders and degree holders. If employers come to prefer degree holders over certificate holders, my college-lite idea will die a natural death. We’ll have definitive proof that all the football games, all the frat parties, all the walks of shame, all the sit-ins, all the protests, and all the seemingly useless course requirements really do enhance one’s ability to think critically.

Ain’t Gonna Happen

Okay, groovy freedomists, don’t expect my college-lite experiment to take place anytime soon. The college-industrial complex doesn’t want competition. It likes the billions of tax dollars that its current business model sucks up annually. It means more jobs and higher pay for administrators and tenured professors. So it will fight tooth and nail to maintain the accreditation system that locks in the status quo. Keep those Pell grants and federally-backed student loans coming in, baby!

So what do we do about it?

First, understand that people in the public and non-profit spheres are not above using the coercive powers of the state to hobble their competitors. Crony socialism is just as real and as detrimental as crony capitalism.

Second, fight crony socialism. If no bank is too big to fail, why is the college-industrial complex’s current business model too big to fail?

Finally, third, feed the beast as little as possible. Take up a trade if you don’t mind getting dirty. Start a business if you can handle stress. If you rather get a degree, don’t go away to college. Live at home, work part-time, and go to the local state school. And take advantage of whatever is available to reduce the cost of a degree. (Jaime Donovan provided some great examples of this in her guest post earlier this week.) Remember: You need and deserve an education. You don’t need and deserve to go deeply into debt for an overpriced credential that in most instances benefits the college-industrial complex more than you.

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12 Comments

  1. Miss Jaime Donovan

    This article says that any college will do as many executives didn’t go to selective colleges http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB115853818747665842

    If it gives you the pay wall try to clear your browser and go there again or type into google search “any college will do.”

    I’m sure it is nice to go to an elite college but if you and your family can’t afford it then do what you’re able to. Be that branch in that family tree that says no to debt.

    Set a legacy of no debt for your children and future generations 😀

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Jaime. Right on! There’s a classic study of students who got accepted to Ivy League schools but went to moderately selective tier-two schools. It found that they did as well professionally as their Ivy League counterparts. In other words, college is important, but it’s not that important. Smart, ambitious people will do well in life no matter what college they attend. Say no to student debt. And say no to the college-industrial complex’s propaganda. Here’s a link to an article about that classic study.

      Who Needs Harvard?

  2. I attended a fancy college and a less-fancy school for my terminal degree. The fancy college gave me access to people who are helping me a lot now.

    However, I don’t think a fancy college should be a prerequisite. In my LLC, which is not yet hiring other people, I’m already considering what my actual requirements are for hiring. So many workers (college educated or not) are not worth the pay or pain. The piece of paper means little.

    I am encouraging my young relative to enter a trade. He’s definitely intelligent, but he is not great at performing like a monkey (I am), which means the high price tag won’t be reduced for him and will most likely waste his time and money. My favorite present for his graduation was a copy of Early Retirement Extreme. I hope he reads it. I hope he learns from it.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, ZJ. Yes, yes, yes! We as a society got to do better when it comes to our non-degreed brethren. The trades are honorable work. You’re not a loser if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree. I have my current position in part because I have a piece of paper. When I was interviewing for the job my future boss told me she really liked someone else but couldn’t promote him or her because he or she didn’t have a degree. That’s nuts. Sure, I had two degrees, one in journalism and another in public administration. But the job was for someone who could handle a lot of database and programming work. So I and the poor soul who lost out were both qualified, but I got the position because I had a piece of paper. Doesn’t seem right. Thanks for stopping by, ZJ. I love the way your mind works.

  3. Really great truths in this post. I’ve found myself wondering a lot about what to do with my children when it comes to college. Growing up it was just assumed that I would go on to higher education and so much of it was a waste. While there are certain jobs that require specific degrees, I’m not sure I want them to go into any of those fields. I’d much rather they go to college to take only the courses that are helpful to their individual aspirations.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Amen, Harmony. Here’s the basic higher education business model:

      1. Resort-like dorms and amenities
      2. Farm system for the NFL and NBA
      3. Star professors and abused adjuncts
      4. Administrative bloat
      5. Forty courses required for a degree. Less than half of these required courses pertain to a student’s major.
      6. Grade inflation and insufficient course rigor. Great for retention goals and gives students plenty of time to party.

      Who benefits the most from this business model? Administrators? Star professors? Construction firms? The NFL and NBA? It certainly isn’t the average college student. Like you said, Harmony, I’d much prefer a business model that was more considerate of a student’s aspirations and wallet. And what really gets me is that the college-industrial complex is so disdainful of Wall Street. From where I stand, though, it’s just as greedy. Thanks for sharing. It’s always great hearing from you.

  4. I love this analogy! I went to a small private college for undergrad, only because my dad worked there so I paid a small fraction of the tuition. For grad school, I waited until I had an employer who was willing to pay most of the cost. I was able to finish that degree exactly 10 years after getting my BA. To be honest, I only got my MBA because my employer was pushing for it. I really don’t use it for my job. Sometimes you just have to play the game….

    It’s a sad state when employers complain that they can’t find qualified applicants. What does that say about what is taught in 4-year programs? Even they admit there’s a problem, yet they are determined to hire people with degrees over those without.

    It’s not just blue collar jobs that can get by with a 2-year program instead. Most office jobs could get by with an Associate’s degree from community college. Almost everything is taught on the job anyway.

    I’d love to see things change but don’t see how that’ll happen, unless there’s a revolution due to all the student loan debt. I really feel bad for younger generations and am so glad I’m done with all my schooling. It’s got to feel a little hopeless for them at times.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Kate. It’s so frustrating. I had 18 years of formal schooling (1st grade through grad school). And you know what that education qualified me for? Nothing. No employer gave a rat’s tail about my degrees in journalism and public administration. And they didn’t give a hoot about my critical thinking skills either. Those vaunted pieces of paper only qualified me for entry level work. It wasn’t until I taught myself about databases and programming that I finally had some worthwhile skills. Recently, I asked my cousin’s husband if there was anything he learned in grad school (MBA, Dartmouth ’85) that he still used today. He said maybe one or two things. There’s got to be a better way. Too many people are paying too much for a piece of paper that only gets them a job interview. I think you’re right about the revolution. It’s the only way things we’ll change. I fantasize about millions of college students refusing to enroll in any courses that don’t pertain to their majors. What would the colleges do? How do they justify forcing kids to take 40 courses when 20 would do the trick? But for some reason today’s college kids would rather occupy the dean’s office than un-occupy a bunch of bullsh*t courses. Sigh.

  5. “COLLEGE IS A GIANT FREAKIN’ SCAM!”

    This statement couldn’t be more accurate. Now mind you, I don’t think that the very idea of higher education via college MUST be a scam, but it certainly is in its current form.

    I also must say I enjoyed the physical fitness analogy – I’m going to save this for my own kids when they start asking about college!

    In my own personal experience, I’ve decided that instead of investing in a piece of paper that says MBA I’ll invest the tens of thousands into my own business and my ROI has greatly outpaced that of my friends who took their hard earned cash and gave it right back to an institution of higher learning.

    I will give credit to where credit is due, as far as business models go universities seem to have done quite well at it. I mean just look at the pretty buildings they build!

    #TPOHappiness

    • Mr. Groovy

      Thank you, Wes. You made my freakin’ day. At least one more person in this world understands that college is a scam. Here are the things I remember from all of my higher education.

      1. The definition of a dinosaur: An archosaurian diapsid reptile with a perforated acetabulum.

      2. “If you want to know what someone will do in the future. Look at what he has done in the past.” This pearl of wisdom came from an academic adviser.

      3. “Honest graft.” This is what politicians in the early 1900s called pay-to-play/crony capitalism.

      I didn’t use any of these bits of information in any job I had during or after college. I think if most college grads are honest, they will admit that little of what college taught them has had any benefit for their current jobs.

      So why waste your time and go into massive debt for something that is largely useless? Meh. If only students would start boycotting BS classes and sporting events rather than the latest villain to rankle the feelings of our perpetually aggrieved SJWs. I know that ain’t going to happen, but one can dream.

      Thanks for stopping by, Wes. I really enjoyed your comment.

  6. I graduated from a really expensive culinary school. Just two years of what boiled down to theory cost me my soul. I’ve gone out of my way to talk people out of making the same mistake and have been successful multiple times.

    I never made more than $12 an hour in an industry that I was a part of for nearly 15 years. Everyone I stayed in contact with who refused to give up now have health problems, they’re losing their hair prematurely, substance and alcohol abuse are rampant, and they’re working 60+ hours a week just to call themselves a chef and if they’re lucky, they’re bringing home roughly 50k a year.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Sadly, Matt, you’re not the only who has gotten savaged by the college-industrial complex. I was lucky. I went to college when it was still cheap. So I got the useless degree without the debt. But the really sad part is that nothing’s going to change. For the cool people—those who write laws, populate Wall Street, produce news, create entertainment, and run higher education—college “works.” And because it worked for them, everyone who wants a ticket to the middle class is going to take 4 or 5 years of drivel and saddle himself with 30K in student loan debt. Meh. A pox on the college-industrial complex. Thanks for stopping by, Matt. And thank you for recognizing that college is a scam. Spread the word, my friend.

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