11.2. Buying an Education More Cheaply
But I seriously wonder about the long-term survival of the university in any form. How long before the students rebel? If someone handed me $40,000 a year for four years and said, "Go get yourself an education," could I possibly choose to blow it all at a university? Unthinkable.
Why should I pay a school $160,000 for a vocational education when I can almost certainly find a business or agency or laboratory or nonprofit organization willing to hire me for nothing, assign me some useful chores, and give me an opportunity to start learning my desired vocation? Even if I had to pay something to the business at first, it would be well worth it. Long before I would have graduated from school, I'd be earning an income in my chosen field.
Actually, I would be tempted to follow this path even if I wanted much more than a vocational education. The options are unlimited. Nothing prevents me from obtaining the best textbooks the world has to offer. Nothing prevents me from approaching a first-class researcher or business manager or teacher with the proposition, "Will you give me an hour per week for a year in exchange for a couple of thousand dollars?" In such a highly motivated context, the mentoring will likely prove more valuable, more humane, and more intense than several college courses put together. And, in general, nothing prevents me from going wherever the "action" is in my field and plunging in with the aid of some of that $160,000.
The irrelevance of our educational institutions today has been summarized by the philosopher Albert Borgmann:
We assume that the increasing length of average education reflects rising requirements of training for typical technological work. But this summary view fails to inquire whether education in this country, for instance, is also of increasing quality; nor, if that were the case, does it ask whether typical labor allows for the exercise of greater knowledge and training. The answer to both questions is probably negative. To avoid the consequent embarrassment of finding that much of our education is irrelevant to labor, length of education has been put to new purposes which are really foreign to its nature. Since desirable work is scarce, education is used as an obstacle course which is lengthened as such work becomes scarcer. Educational requirements are used as a device to screen applicants. And finally, educational credentials serve to solidify the privileges of professions and the stratification of society. (Borgmann 1984, p. 119)