There is a common belief among Americans that college/university education (especially in selective institutions) is a tranformative experience and essential for success in life . I think that this belief exists at least in part to justify higher white upper class success in comparison to the poor, working class and blacks. The assumption goes that upper class whites do better because they had the opportunity to go to (a prestigious) college. If the typical Harlem guy had the opportunity to go to Harvard he would magically come out as a smart, successful, got it together type of guy, well on the road to success in life just like his white peers from well to do families.
The reality however is that college graduates do better in professional work, not because having a college education magically changed them, but because the selective process naturally chooses people who will tend to do better in intellectually demanding work. Harvard graduates tend to do well, not because of anything that Harvard does, but because it gets to select the most intelligent, ambitious, hard working, organized and driven young people in the country. It produces the best because it starts out with the best. It is like being able to take the best athletes, train them a bit more, and then be able to field an all star team. What a surprise? In fact studies have shown that for people who are equally qualified, but with one went to college and the other did not, the results were basically the same in terms of professional success. People like Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, and Michael Dell all are college drop outs.
So what is higher education good for? It might be good for developing contacts in elite institutions if one is political in nature. It also should give meaningful vocational training. Or, in other words that it teaches students work-skills such as engineering, computer science, finance, medicine, etc. College is supposed to also enlighten students, to teach them how to think rigorously, to inquire, to open their minds. This sometimes happens, but far too often the college atmosphere is so charged and ideologically coercive that it actually narrow minds and infantilizes people. Too often students are afraid to voice contrarian opinions, and professors are either to political to tolerate dissent, or too afraid of controversy to provoke meaningful, and genuinely thought provoking discussions. Certain groups are so ready to be “offended” and make a scene every time someone expresses an opinion they don´t want to hear, that, a genuine diversity of views is rarely heard and open debate is impossible.
This is especially the situation that the humanities finds itself in. The humanities don´t really teach vocational skills, so they must impart upon their students something else, which is suppossed to be about opening young minds and developing mature sophisticaled thinking. Unfortunantely too often the richness and complexity of human experience, as expressed in the arts and humanities, is reduced to simplistic Marxist thinking about how everything boils down to white male oppression and noble non white male victims.
With the humanities on their way to junk, universities are reduced mostly to vocational schools for future professionals. Then one has to ask oneself if it really makes sense to spend 4 years of one´s life and up to $200,000 on an education that either teaches them narrow Marxism or merely gives them job skills. For the rich, of course, such expenditures are not a concern, but what about normal families in increasingly hard times? Maybe that $200,000 spent on that liberal arts college for a degree in History could be better spent at a community college, a state college, an online college, in self study, travel, internships, and general work experience. I can tell you that in most jobs having a university degree is helpful in the job selection process, but what really matters is having years of valuable work experience under one´s belt, and that is what employers look for.
I think that we may be moving towards a crunch time in which people increasingly find that paying huge amounts of money to go to private colleges to be indoctrinated is just not worth it. They want a vocational major at a state school, or to look at other opportunities, such as online education as a way to get what they want.