The other day I had dinner with a married couple who were worried about their son. I have these conversations quite frequently although not always at dinner. They were worried about the fact that their son didn't always do what he was supposed to do at school and wasn’t getting great grades. They wanted to know if they should pull him out of his fancy private school and put him in public school hoping that he would get A’s there.
This sounded like an odd idea. I wondered why they wanted to do that, knowing full well the reason would be that they were worried that he wouldn’t get into college. This conversation must go on all the time in homes across the U.S. Everyone has been sold the idea that their kids must go to college. If a kid is bored with school and finds better things to occupy his time, parents panic.
But, this is about to end.
Today, there was yet another article about why. It was in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is not exactly a radical rag. The article is talking about one particular college and in it there is this:
the college’s administrators say that to achieve long-term financial stability, it needs to expand its enrollment, attracting more students even as competition from other colleges and universities increases. It’s a challenge many of the smallest liberal-arts colleges face.
To put this another way, with 4000 colleges in the U.S. many of them charging high tuition, anyone who can afford it will find that their kid can get into college.
The real question is whether they should go.
My daughter received a letter from someone with a business that related to hers. It was signed with the name of the woman who wrote it and followed by “Harvard class of 2016.” In other words the writer is a junior at Harvard.
Students in college today are not becoming history or philosophy majors in great numbers. We live in a society that now heavily values entrepreneurship and technical skills. You don’t need to go to college to do either of them. My company (XTOL) has launched certificate programs under the aegis of well known universities which are actually teaching real skills and where having a college degree isn’t necessarily required. This will become more and more common soon. Students will be able to learn what they want to learn without having to obsess in high school about AP tests and SATs. They will not have to go to college, and if they do go they should have a very good reason be going there, learn what they want to learn and leave. (Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg did exactly that.)
When I was the Chairman of Computer Science at Yale, one year each Chairman had to address the Freshman about why they should major in their subject. I gave a short speech. I said: “Major in Computer Science. Get a job.”
I was booed. No student at Yale in 1981 was concerned with such practicalities. That year most of our graduates went to work at this startup called Micrcosoft.
Am I recommending that kids shouldn’t go to college? NO. I am simply saying they (and their parents shouldn’t be worrying about this. Colleges will be dying to have them. And, because of that, kids will have the right to blow off high school, which I certainly encourage.