Rethinking College

I really like it when people actually stop to think about and question long-held assumptions. Certainly one of these assumptions is that “you should go to college / going to college is always good for you.”

To my knowledge, there are only 2 people in my memory who have challenged this widely-held belief. One was Woody Allen in the movie Annie Hall when he quips “Everything our parents said was good for you is bad: sun, milk, red meat…college.”

The second was Google’s head of “People Operations” Laszlo Bock who was profiled in a recent Thomas Friedman opinion article in the New York Times and several others that built upon this article. My favorite Bock quote was that too many colleges “don’t deliver on what they promise. You generate a ton of debt, you don’t learn the most useful things for your life. It’s [just] an extended adolescence.”

We’ve long suspected that the inputs to college in terms of time, money, effort, and brain cells don’t often meet the outputs we seek in terms of knowledge, work ethic, creativity, and many other important character attributes. Now, companies seem to be realizing this as well.  As Friedman points out that Google “has so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics” but I suspect that Google is not the only company to come to this realization about college.

People who truly seek to develop themselves might do better to look somewhere else – the military or volunteer opportunities being just 2 examples. We need to change the goal and assumption that merely “going to college” is enough or even that it is always beneficial. Instead we need to restate and remember that the true objective and real end goal is to “become as smart, educated, and industrious as you can be.” Unfortunately college, as it is currently conceived and executed, is probably not where this is going to happen.

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