Dr. Helen

"[T]oday's college degree is the equivalent of the 1950's high school diploma..."

Charlotte Allen over at “Minding the Campus” has a review of Aaron Clarey’s book Worthless: The Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major :

Clarey does touch on one reason for the decline of the liberal-arts degree: the insistence that everyone, even the academically untalented, go to college. “[T]oday’s college degree is the equivalent of the 1950’s high school diploma,” Clarey writes–and grade inflation hasn’t helped. But he doesn’t touch on the other reason: the contents of the majors themselves. It’s not just that there’s a “women’s studies” major (and even a doctoral program at some universities); it’s that entire academic fields have turned into sub-sectors of women’s studies–that is, predictably politicized. To major in English at many institutions these days, you’re no longer required to take a course in Shakespeare, but a course in “post-colonial feminist film” is practically mandatory. It’s no wonder that employers write off English majors as airheads and look for resumes where the initials “B.S.” indicate that the degree’s bearer has learned something that might be useful on the job. It’s too bad that learning a vocational “trade” or “skill”–as Clarey points out–seems to be the only valid reason for going to college nowadays, but the humanities have only themselves to blame.

That quibble of mine aside, young people thinking about college will do themselves a favor–and also have a few belly-laughs–by reading this book. Some of them, as Clarey hopes, may even decide to bypass college altogether and go directly into learning a trade. (Plumbers and skilled mechanics earn a lot more than substitute teachers.) Or, as Clarey suggests, join the military, where “they will be more than happy to give you serious work.” And serious work is better training for the world of work than any pile of degrees.

Update: On a related topic, a commenter brought up this terrific essay on the flight of men from college campuses. It’s worth a read.