This week's column:
"Knowledge is capable of being its own end." – John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Idea of a University
This was intended to be an essay examining the pros and cons of pursuing a college education. Our political leaders continue to insist that it is imperative that every American obtain a college degree, just as they insisted that every American become a homeowner. This parallel is chosen deliberately, both because it is distinctly possible that the ever-rising cost of a college education is indicative of another bubble—one never knows until it pops—but also because it demonstrates the superficiality of our policy recommendations. Politicians had heard that those who owned homes were more likely to be good members of their respective communities. What better way to improve the livelihood of all and sundry than ensuring that everyone could own his own home? Alas, as it turns out, the importance of home ownership is in the habits instilled during the process; the same characteristics of those who prove capable of working hard so as to save to buy a home redound to the benefit of the community. There is no shortcut to virtue. Attempting to circumvent the mean by which virtue was instilled was exceedingly foolish, even by the standards of American politicians.
So it is with the attempt to bestow college degrees upon everyone. As President Obama notes: "We expect all our children not only to graduate from high school but to graduate from college and get a good-paying job." The reasons for this are clear. Using old data, Obama insists: "On average during your lifetime you will earn a million dollars more if you get a bachelor’s degree." If Helicopter Ben causes the currency to hyperinflate, this may well be true. Yet the purpose of a college is not to churn our graduates who can make more money.