Monday, January 25, 2010

Education measured by earnings potential alone?

The language of this article infuriates me: College Degree: Still worth it? It has been reprinted all over the country under various headlines. The article appears to originate at the Kansas City Star by MarĂ¡ Rose Williams - call 816-234-4419 or send e-mail to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

For example:

"With money scarce, many newly cost-conscious families are trying to work out the math."

There is similar language throughout the article, positioning a college education as measured solely by the amount of income it may produce. In fact, it even suggests that "success" itself is measured purely in salary terms, as though there are no other achievements in life.

There is a lot more to Humanity than that. Study of Nietzsche or Plato is not likely to appear on a job application, but this article suggests such study isn't worth anything. So why study any of the classics, or history, or even science and math, if it will have no directly traceable impact on our annual income? This is what dental school is about - not what a liberal arts education is about. Isn't there something to gain from the collective knowledge assembled over centuries in literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, and science that goes beyond their impact to our annual salary?

There's a brief mention of "intangibles" but even that quickly circles back to "success" measured by annual salary. How about developing one's rational thought and other intellectual capabilities?

In short, I think this article sends a, commonly held, but horribly misguided analysis of what college education is about. For those that desire such an education, the "cost" must be measured by more than the impact on salary. College is essentially a once in a lifetime opportunity - we will never be that age again. It's not for everyone and I'm not saying force it on everyone. But for those that want it, there has to be a better "return on investment" analysis than how it may or may not impact earnings.

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