Should Everyone go to College?

Guess what these people have in common: Ansel Adams, Walt Disney, Bob Dylan, Thomas Edison, Bobby Fischer, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Barry Goldwater, William Randolph Hearst, Steve Jobs, John D. Rockefeller, J.D. Salinger, Taylor Swift, Ted Turner, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman and Mark Zuckerberg.

Here’s what. None of them graduated college. Several never attended. A few didn’t graduate high school and one didn’t finish the fifth grade.

They did OK.

Would Windows 10 be more intuitive if only Gates hadn’t dropped out of Harvard? If Whitman had gone to college, would he have referred to the “blades” of grass and not the “leaves”?

Would Ansel Adams have graduated to color photography if only he’d graduated community college? If Zuckerberg had gone to college, would Facebook stop pestering me to complete my bio?

No, no, no and no.

Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, educators pride themselves on the notion that 100 percent — not 75 percent or 90 percent or even 98 percent, but 100 percent — of their students should go to college.

Why? Why do people in the education business push everyone to go to college?

It’s for the same reason, I’m afraid, that salesmen push you to buy another TV or a third car or those pontoon skis that are great for days when we have 27 inches of new powder.

It’s good for business. Theirs, that is.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed a career as a lawyer. For that, I needed college, and then I needed law school as well. While practicing law, I served as an adjunct professor at two law schools. I liked it all. If you want to be a lawyer or a physician or even think that you might, go to college.

But what about the 99 percent who aren’t interested in law or medicine?

For many of them, college is good. But for many, it is not. Some of them don’t learn well in a classroom. Some of them just have better things to do.

Rather than spending four years racking up debt and learning little, they could be spending the same time and less money in activities where they do learn. Travel, work on a fishing boat, go to L.A. and try out for the movies, learn a trade.

Live, for goodness sake. Like a grown-up. Don’t extend your adolescence another four years just because others do.

This focus on college by the education business implicitly assumes that there’s something wrong with a person who doesn’t go. There isn’t. I know very smart, successful and educated people (in addition to the ones listed above) who did not go to college. Some are successful businessmen and women.

Others are happy in other careers. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being a plumber or waitress.

I’d stack many of them up against college graduates in common sense, in literacy and in knowledge of events both current and historical. They learned the way most of us are still learning; they read.

In contrast, many college graduates are borderline illiterate. Studies show that an astonishing percentage of them don’t know what century the Civil War took place in, or that Africa is a continent and not a country. One in 10 thinks Mount Everest is in the Appalachians. Many can’t tell you the product of 9 times 6 without the aid of Google.

On the other hand, their knowledge of movies is awesome.

I have more respect for a person who bucks conventional wisdom by deciding that college is not for him or her than for the person who goes anyway because they’re embarrassed not to. And I have more respect for both than for a so-called educator who self-servingly shames everyone into going because it makes the educator look good on a school spreadsheet.

Maybe people in the education business should focus on delivering a quality product, rather than just trying to sell us additional products. Maybe they just should make sure that high school graduates have the literacy and mathematical abilities of, oh, just to choose an arbitrary level, persons who’ve completed the 12th grade.

Please stop trying to sell everyone another degree. Instead, just make sure the first one works

(Published Aug. 21, 2015 in the Glenwood Post Independent at

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