On Going to College

“But the tuition is more than I make in a year,” Mrs. Bowman was complaining. “I want Derek to go to college, but even if there were enough loans in the world, I don’t see how he’d ever pay them off.”

“It does look as if our system of higher education is just about broken,” Mr. Magundi agreed. “But that may not be entirely bad. For the past several decades, our assumption has been that our children will graduate from high school, then go to a college in some completely different part of the country, and then take the best job offers they get in whatever part of the country. The lower classes—the people who don’t get a college education—still stay in their own communities, but the educated classes are expected to be completely mobile.

“We never question our assumption that college graduates need to go wherever they can be most profitably employed. But the result is that there’s no permanent educated class in our communities anymore. The people who might be natural leaders of our communities don’t form communities: they live in interchangeable suburbs, where it’s hard to tell whether you’re in Massachusetts or Colorado. If I were a cynic, I might say that our communities end up being run by stupid people, but I would never be so uncharitable as to equate lack of education with stupidity.

“Now, however, we seem to have hit accidentally on the one potential cure for this rootlessness of the educated class. We have raised the price of higher education to the point where it may simply be ruinous even for comfortably well-off families. And so we may end up abandoning the university system as we’ve built it up, in favor of a system where we stay home for most of our higher education, perhaps in community colleges, or in some similar institution we haven’t thought of yet. Educated people might get in the habit of thinking of the place where they grew up as home. And in spite of the disadvantages to Harvard and Cornell, I think that might be a very good thing.”


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