A lot of people have picked out what is broken in college, but I think perhaps a more core issue about college is a simpler one – that we are sending people to college immediately after high school.
The problem with this practice, as I see it, are numerous. To start with, people leaving high-school aren’t the people I want in college. Imagine the following scenario. You finish college, you learn a trade. After being in your trade for 10 years, you now know the types of things that it would be useful to learn. This is true not only of your trade, but of your philosophy of life. You would have more in common with the people whose books you read in English class. You would understand the ethical difficulties faced in a work environment. You would see the value in understanding things at a deeper level.
I think the idea that we are using right now – that you do school then work and almost never in the reverse order, is one of the main problems of academia. This would also kill a lot of the problematic bias of academia. Kids don’t care, or even know enough, to know when they are being shoveled a pile. However, as an adult, you are much more prepared to push back when someone is pushing a worthless ideology on you. You are also more likely to take your money someone where they aren’t doing that.
Since an adult would know what they needed from college, they would be better able to recognize if they are getting it.
I also think this would benefit high-school education. I fear that some high-school educators are thinking, “it’s okay if they don’t know X/Y/Z because they will learn it in college.” If high-school students went straight to the job market instead of more school, then high-schools themselves would have a much more urgent task, and I feel they would respond appropriately. The way we have it right now, you don’t have any real feedback on whether or not your education is worth anything for 16 years.
I also think it will incentivize the schools more. Without a mandated stream of students coming in directly from high school, they actually have to make the case that going to college really does make you a better person. They have to convince you that spending that time and money is really worth it. Otherwise people just won’t go.
Finally, I also think that this would help transform our current mode of work. I think that the expectation that a large percentage of the workforce may want to go back to school would actually help fix some damaging situations in the workplace. Right now, jobs are setup with fixed hours plus vacation. They are basically set so that they are the most major, permanent part of your life. What if, instead, jobs themselves understood themselves to have a lesser role in your life? I don’t think people would be less productive, I just think we would be less tied to the thing we called a “job” to be productive. What if people who worked also engaged in academics – that they weren’t separate things? What if people who worked also engaged in science?
At my office we have a very unusual situation. I am a computer programmer who does independent research in biology and Intelligent Design. The owner of my company actually has a degree in English, but he also discovers exoplanets in his free time. This is a highly unusual setup, but what if it wasn’t so unusual? What if this was just how we expected things to work? That people further on their careers would start branching out, exploring, doing new things?
I actually think that it would make us all more productive, not less. What’s unproductive is worthless schooling. For most people, that’s 4 years completely down the drain. If people came out of high school to work, then not only would they start being productive immediately, they would actually benefit from the schooling they received down the road, making them even more productive.