Is higher education the next punching bag?

Published 7.16.2017
Earlier this year I announced that I wanted to start writing more about education, but of late the focus has been elsewhere. However, this week I have a bit of analysis regarding education to share.

Will higher education be the next punching bag for the right? Because I went to school for engineering, most of this did not/does not apply that type of education program. The physical laws the rule engineering are politically agnostic, and the knowledge necessary to do engineering doesn’t vary much between programs. The research opportunities or interning opportunities might vary, but the basic set of courses and knowledge do not.

I suppose there are differences in terms of the electives available too. Electives for me were extra work to get through as quickly as possible so that I could focus on the engineering. All of the arguing about education is mostly centered around a “liberal arts” education, which does not train a student for any particular career but rather is supposed to expose them to “great” ideas. The argument then is which or whose ideas get presented.

This is why so much of the gnashing of teeth over higher education leaves me rolling my eyes. I never experienced the conditions being described. There were plenty of conservatives in the engineering programs I attended— yes, plural. I attended three different institutions in pursuit of the three degrees I earned. The story of why is fodder for a different discourse.

I graduated with a degree that qualified me for a specific type of job. I admit that it also colored my view of what an education if for, and certainly impacted my discussions of attending university with my children. We (both engineers) were unwilling to simply start writing checks to an institution if the child had no clear idea of what the ultimate goal of the enterprise would be.

That isn’t to say that a change in mind wouldn’t be possible, but we weren’t going to empty our bank account for four years of undirected instruction. This meant that when neither child had a chosen direction at the end of high school, neither child entered college at that point. I should qualify that statement, my eldest child had a direction, she wanted to be a professional ballerina. However, though there are actual degree programs in ballet — very expensive ones— a degree is completely unnecessary to achieve that goal.

Thus did we allow her to take the few years she needed to try and achieve her dream, rather than pushing her immediately to choose a back up career. To say that friends and family thought that we were making a terrible parenting choice would be a massive understatement. However, because I do not (as I’ve written a number of times here) look to others to validate my choices, the criticism was noted, then ignored. For the most part, we shielded the kids from others’ well-intentioned carping, and when that was not possible they can vent to us about it.

In the end, it is their choice of path that matters. Attending college simply because “that’s what done at this age,” is why there are so many unhappy young people saddled with tons of debt. Neither child chose the traditional path into adulthood, but both will be fine.

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