10A098 College by Jim Davies, 12/11/2010    

This week, the riots in Greece by government employees angry about austerity pay cuts was followed by riots in London about steep rises in tuition fees, and one result was to scare His Royal Highness and Camilla when paint was smeared on their shiny Rolls Royce. They might have done better to take a taxi across town to the theater.

Trimming lavish government spending a little is the way European governments are handling the threat of insolvency, and whether it works or not that's a bit healthier than the money-printing strategy being followed here. But it does anger such suckers at the public teat.

So thousands of graduates of the government school system are angry that they will be less heavily subsidized at college, so making it harder to get equipped to earn at higher rates than those from whom the disputed money is being stolen. That's the standard of ethics taught to them so far. The event reasonably raises the question, applicable to every country, of how best to pay for education - and to evaluate what it's worth.

There's little doubt that a college degree opens doors to jobs, and therefore that average lifetime earnings for graduates are higher than for others. Whether that is logical is another matter; it may be that big-company recruiters just want to guard their rear ends by not hiring someone without one, even if his actual level of knowledge and skill is superior to those of his friend who spent four years playing around instead of earning a living and learning on the job. It is not clear to me that academic study is a worthwhile investment at any price for a large fraction of college students, for they all do have to spend four years of their lives; time which might have been spent more productively.

Education in the coming zero government society will not be subsidized at all, and a great deal of it will be done at home under parental control. Therefore, the pennies will be watched very closely; if the spending (on books, CD-based interactive tuition...) isn't cost-effective, it will be discontinued and an alternative found. When people apply for jobs, the criteria will be what they know and what character they have, more than on the kind of diploma they hold. Imagine yourself as the one hiring the help, at your own expense; wouldn't you want it that way?

It will also be much faster, and seamless. A home-educated 18-year-old will be at least as well qualified as today's Bachelors of Arts aged 23, and will be ready to earn a good living; his education will be of much higher quality and will come at a tiny traction of today's cost. For most, there will be no call for a 4-year "college experience." For some, yes; a few rare individuals are bright enough to need and profit from extra help and perform the research upon which much human progress is based; and if some of those cannot afford it, scholarships will be offered by benefactors as they always have been. Otherwise, the racket of the half-century alliance between State and College will end - not a day too soon.

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