I do think that college can still be a good deal as long as you are careful to choose a major that will re-coup the costs of your education in a timely fashion. That will probably mean a STEM degree in something like computer science or petroleum engineering. I myself have the BS and MS in computer science, and I think that those are excellent choices for a man to deliver on his obligation to provide for a family. But it was a much better deal back when tuition was very low, and salaries were very high. Plus, public schools used to me much better at preparing you to go to school to learn STEM subjects. These new problems: underperforming public schools, college debt, and a weak job market, it makes sense to consider alternatives to the mainstream education system.
Here’s an article about homeschooling – an alternative to brick-and-mortar schools – that was posted in the Wall Street Journal.
Today in the U.S., some two million children are home schooled, growing at an annual rate of 7% to 15% for over a decade, according to the president of the National Home Education Research Institute. The term “home schooler” once implied “isolationist religious zealot” or “off-the-grid anarchist who makes her own yogurt.” Today, it also means military parents who hate to see their kids keep changing schools; or the family with a future Olympian who ice skates five hours a day; or your cousin whose daughter is gifted but has a learning disability. The average home schooler is no longer a sideshow oddity.
“I could never ever teach math,” more than a few parents told me in horror at the very idea of home schooling. Or science. Or a foreign language. But mostly, it was math. Here’s my secret: I can’t teach math either. Once they start calling them integers instead of numbers, I recoil as from a fat, angry snake, which is why Alice takes an online math class, with great lashings of help from her father.
But the biggest thing people want to talk about is socialization. Everyone is worried that I keep my child in a crate with three air holes punched in it and won’t let her have friends until she gets her AARP card. There’s a long answer, of course, but I’ll sum it up this way: Homo sapiens have walked the Earth for at least 130,000 years and, in this time, they learned to be human from their elders, not from their peers. Mandatory education in the U.S. is less than 150 years old. Learning to be a productive adult human by spending a third of every day with other kids might be a good idea, but it’s too soon to tell. I’m still unsure that the people best equipped to teach a 14-year-old boy how to be a man are other 14-year-old boys.
In fact, home-schooled kids are just as socialized as other children. They certainly seem to grow up to be, and feel, fully engaged. One study, by a Canadian home-schooling group, found that 67% of formerly home-schooled adult respondents said they are “very happy,” as opposed to the general population’s 43%. Another study, published in the Journal of College Admission, found that home-schooled students perform better on their ACTs, have higher college GPAs and are more likely to graduate in four years.
So how far would you go with alternatives to mainstream education? Well, the smartest engineer I know doesn’t even have a college degree in computer science – or the student loans that often go with them.
Just look at these numbers: (links removed)
Across the nation, graduates are tossing their caps into the air and investing their hopes of success in their sheepskins. Not since the Magna Carta has so much faith been put into a piece of paper; indeed, belief in the college diploma seems these days to outpace belief in the document that binds a man and a woman. For the past couple of generations, conventional wisdom has said that a college degree is the golden ticket to a great job. For a time, because of the simple laws of supply and demand, this was true.
In 1947, when just 5 percent of Americans age 25 and over held at least a bachelor’s degree, the supply was low, making demand for degreed employees higher. However, with easier access to college through taxpayer-funded student loans, today’s bachelor’s degree has become yesterday’s high-school diploma. Now that over 30 percent of Americans 25 and over have a college degree—and the President has called for that figure to grow to 60 percent—the supply is up, which might help explain why 53 percent of recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed.
What’s more, the burgeoning cost of college means that even for those who do land good jobs after graduation, payoff on their investment will be diminished and take more time. The graduation rates tripled between 1980 and 2010, rising 37 percent between 1999 and 2010. Two-thirds of bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with debt in 2008, compared with less than half in 1993. The average debt for last year’s college was $24,000, while the total outstanding national student debt has passed $1 trillion, more than the nation’s credit card debt. Not surprisingly then, the national student loan default rate is on the rise, too, hitting 8.8 percent for the 2009 budget year. Even the number of Ph.D. holders on public assistance has made recent headlines.
College still works for people, but you have to choose your major more carefully – or just choose to focus on practical skills and then attend a trade school. It’s probably a good idea to put more emphasis on getting work experience at an early age, no matter what you do after high school. Work experience is very important for getting a job, which is why the liberal fixation on higher minimum wage rates hurts younger workers. Sometimes, online degree options can be more cost effective than regular school, but again work has to be done to see where the jobs are and what skills are required before you make a decision.
People sometimes ask me whether this is it for civilization, and I point to new discoveries and feedback mechanisms like these alternatives to government-run or government-regulated schools as an example of how we can get things turned around. What taxpaying parents need to realize is that they have to start thinking practically about laws and policies that promote freedom in education. We have to vote for more choice and competition, and lower taxes, so that we can buy what we want instead of letting an ideologue who has spent his or her entire life in a bubble decide for us.