Glenn K. Beaton: Don’t fall for the college scam

Glenn K. Beaton
The Aspen Beat

One of my friends (yes, I have some, even in liberal Aspen) is a mountaineering guide.

He communicates concepts of climbing and safety to people who have never been in the mountains. He has a spatial ability to see the terrain in his mind’s eye. He provides emergency medical treatment for injuries ranging from foot blisters to pulmonary edema. He’s smart, articulate and well-read.

He never went to college.

I have another acquaintance who owns a concrete company. His idea of a “concrete solution” is something that is poured out of a cement truck and into a set of forms. And I don’t mean the printed kind.

He figures out the cost of a project. He lines up and manages the necessary staffing. He knows both how low he must bid and how high he might. He does well and, like my mountaineering guide friend, in his spare time he also does good.

He too never got a college degree.

Meanwhile, over at Aspen High School, nearly everyone goes to college because, well, college is where nearly everyone from Aspen High School goes. Administrators say with unintended irony that they teach independent thinking, and so everyone must march lockstep to college to be force-fed more of it.

This narrow-mindedness in the educational-industrial complex is worse than self-serving. Teachers are privileged to exert an influence over young minds. When teachers tell kids that only losers don’t go to college, kids believe them.

That blind belief costs taxpayers and students a lot of money. Graduating or dropping out with six-figure student debt (which cannot be discharged in bankruptcy) is common, at a stage of life when people are saving for their first house and starting a family. Total student loan debt in America is now over a trillion dollars.

College costs over the past generation have escalated at twice the rate of inflation. That’s not because professors are getting rich. It’s because administrators have multiplied like bunnies. They don’t serve students; rather, students serve them.

For all this money, colleges turn out graduates who don’t know when the War of 1812 occurred or who is buried in Grant’s Tomb.

I’m exaggerating but not much. A recent survey found that 80 percent of Americans think food containing DNA (which would include all food made from animals or plants) should be specially labeled as such. And a significant percentage think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

Some colleges are worse than others. Here in Colorado, the state has built numerous places called Colorado Mountain College, apparently for students unable to find their way out of the mountains. Their graduation rate is 26 percent. For those who do graduate, their median income six years later is less than $29,000.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In Switzerland — one of the most advanced cultures in the world — only a third of high school graduates go to college. The others go to trade schools where they learn specific skills with which to earn a living. Their job satisfaction rate is very high. They’re happy and respected.

Back in America, The New York Times recently reported that BMW dealerships can’t find enough technicians to repair cars. The dealers get plenty of applications for sales positions paying $50,000 but not for technician positions paying twice that.

So why isn’t Colorado Mountain College a trade school? Why don’t they teach youngsters how to operate a hammer, at least, if not a BMW diagnostic machine?

Here’s my advice. If you want to work in a field that requires a college degree, then go to college. Go to the best one possible. Negotiate for a scholarship. Study hard there. Graduate in four years.

But if you’re not committed to a field that requires a college degree, then don’t go. Or at least take a year or two to decide. Build yourself a life, not a debt prison.

Separating yourself from the herd of sheep parading off to college doesn’t make you a person who is not good enough for college. Given how bad some colleges are, no such person exists. More likely, it makes you the opposite: a person for whom college is not good enough.

There are many such people. In addition to the friends I mentioned above, such notables as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Wolfgang Puck, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell and William Faulkner didn’t graduate from college.

It’s between them and some frustrated dweeb with a hundred grand in student debt who blindly followed the crowd and now fantasizes about getting promoted to a bigger cubicle so he can pay off his student loans and afford that crappy little starter house in the burbs while he frets about the DNA in his food supply and sips chocolate milk that he thinks came from brown cows and waits for the building maintenance man who makes more than he does to hammer a nail into the wall for him to hang his diploma on, tell me this: Which one is really the loser?

Correction and apology

In my June 11 column about the local sheriff’s refusal to cooperate with the enforcement of federal immigration law, I referred to him as a Democrat. He informed me in an email that he’s actually a registered Independent. I apologize for calling him a Democrat.

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