Love him or hate him, filmmaker and cultural satirist Michael Moore knows how to speak in sound bites that capture cultural miasma like few others. His biting take on the rising costs of college tuition evoke both humor and rage when he asserts, “People of my age who went to college … you know what it cost back then? Nothing or next to nothing. At the most, you had to work at Dairy Queen during the summer and that would pay for your college education.”
We all know it takes more than expertise in mixing the right proportion of Oreo cookies to fluffy soft serve ice cream at a fast food counter to secure a financial future in America today. It takes real planning. Many public pundits toss their mortarboard caps into one of two distinct camps: “Camp Gotta-Go” and “Camp College Is for Suckers”. I argue that the reality is neither, and both, depending on the student. Let me explain.
In the college marketplace, one of the more insidious trends I’ve noticed is that some parents encourage their sons and daughters toward goals that are outdated. They see college for its own sake as a requisite finishing line for their parenting years. This is despite the fact that more and more students graduate with degrees that don’t lead to jobs, and mountains of debt. Few would argue that college has become entirely obsolete, but most professional careers require both college degrees and ongoing development in order for workers to maintain relevance. Furthermore, while it might have been perfectly sound before the advent of the digital age to specialize in certain majors, nowadays the hefty tuition parents can expect to pay merits careful consideration. The college marketplace is a dangerous place to wander uninformed.
First up: the college is for suckers camp. Ralph Waldo Emerson summed up his views on getting a college education in the 19thare students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing.” This American lecturer, essayist, and poet, who popularized the Transcendentalist movement, emphasized a perspective that parallels a growing concern among employers today – Is what students learn in American universities applicable to the critical thinking required in today’s workplace?
Once upon a time, if you wanted to become successful in life and achieve financial freedom, you needed to get ahead by going to college and completing a traditional four-year degree program. However, with the advent of the information age and the growing popularity of the Internet, being part of the Industrial Age is no longer the only way to financial success. In the past, raw production jobs or manual labor hiring provided a reasonably comfortable standard of living for non-academically focused workers. But with the advent of the Information Age, the demand for labor shifted not only past those physical workers, it went beyond who would manage them. Even the managerial aspirations of ambitious young adults several generations ago pale in comparison to those within this new Entrepreneurial Age, where thinkers capable of innovation reign supreme, Within the ever-changing world of digital media, it is often they who truly reap the financial rewards that occur at the crossroads of the three I’s – Industry, Information, and Innovation.
In an opposing perspective, Emerson’s seeming disdain for formal education-as-panacea contradicts the views of educational reformist and politician Ray Romer aligns century in this iconoclastic quote, “We more as one of the “gotta go” folks, stating, “The need for a college education is even more important now than it was before, but I think that the increased costs are a very severe obstacle to access.” His apt connection of socio-economic impediments to attaining the American Dream in any real capacity merely underscores why a lot of students are incapable of achieving their goals: higher education’s price tag looms so far out of reach that even rudimentary or menial jobs sometimes remain out of reach.
The introduction of the Internet opened a lot of opportunities for those willing to explore their options of attaining success not just through higher education, and with the economic disparity in this country continuing to increase year by year the reality for millions of Americans is not a simple black and white choice of wanting or not wanting to go to college. They simply can’t afford to think of it, and that is a true loss for the US economy, which annually loses a plethora of talented young adults to jobs that were more in line with the Industrial Age than they are the hyper-connected world in which we live today. Imagine Emerson with an iPhone – things we take for granted as ordinary aspects of life today were unthinkable then. Now that the Industrial Age has given way and computer innovations have crept into nearly every conceivable sector of American commerce, financial success is facilitated more and more by innovation. To those who are willing to explore new avenues will flow the spoils in this brave new world. Success both on and off college campuses is now redefined by what it takes to monetize one’s abilities, and the ability to create and innovate will lead the way.
Now, about that Oreo Blizzard … is it lunch time yet?