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A Modest Proposal

It is now readily apparent to me that I leave Purdue with no skills I did not possess upon arrival. There are some specific pieces of information I have memorized, to be sure, but most of those came from Wikipedia and Google searches. Fault does not really even lie with Purdue. It is, as I have been reassured so often, a first-class university – one that excels at perpetuating the government-industrial-educational complex, a broken system which, if it ever had any relevance to the lives of its graduates, surely does not in the age of the Internet. No educational institution, no faculty member, can hope to stay abreast of all the developments in their field in the face of this onslaught of data. Textbooks, course files, even whole fields of study are obsolete before the final exams have been graded. And yet all students must be taught the same material; otherwise they could not be assigned grades. Without grades, there could be no GPAs, and without GPAs, how would employers know who to hire? And so professors, themselves slaves to the tenure track, have no choice but to demonstrate repetitive tasks to a generation which need never perform them.

The simple truth is that higher education as it is currently practiced is unnecessary. In all but the most generalized of fields, it is effectively a trade school, drilling the same information, semester after semester, into the minds of young men and women who are more likely than not to find a career in a different area. The real purpose behind the continuing existence of four-year universities is to continue the existence of four-year universities. If their degrees were to fall out of favor, university administrators and professors, many of whom have no marketable skills, would be destitute. Entire government agencies, employing innumerable bureaucrats, would cease to exist. Denied a steady turnover of low-yield loans, banks would forfeit billions in revenues. Without a near-universal means of propagating debt forward another generation, the engine of economic inflation would grind to a halt.

The question now must be, is there any compromise? Can a system be designed which would advance the interests of both industry and student? I believe so. The most useful skills – basic mathematics, foreign languages, the sciences – are, ironically, taught at the earliest levels. The fundamental skills of almost any field could easily be accommodated by a parallel track over a total of perhaps two years of study. Relieved of half the crippling debt of a higher education, graduates would be more inclined to explore alternatives before deciding on a career. With greater job satisfaction would come greater productivity and an increased willingness on the part of young professionals to take risks and engage in new ventures. That willingness, perhaps more than anything else, will create new industries and spur the next cycle of economic expansion. After all, the heroes of the generation currently being educated were not the products of universities, but of their own innovative spirit. Bill Gates dropped out of college to found Microsoft. Jeff Bezos left Wall Street, wrote a business plan while driving cross-country, and founded Amazon. And FedEx had its beginning as a paper written by Yale undergrad Fred Smith. He got a C.

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