Glenn Reynolds has linked recently to essays about the higher education bubble. Fascinating topic, certainly, especially for those of us who grew up with the plan of four-year liberal arts college always assumed, and who brought up our children with the same assumption. Though in our case, what we assumed for our first two was much more debateable for the boys from Romania, sons three and four. Son #5's path is still yet to be determined.
First heresy: Did the GI Bill ultimately create this higher ed bubble? What had been a seldom-attainable opportunity for most Americans in the 1930's became a real possibility in the 1950's, and by the 1960's and 70's, it was simply assumed if you were above-average in either grades or socioeconomic status, you were going to college. Hard-core free-marketers always claim that government subsidies distort markets and are a bad thing. But the GI Bill is one of those few places where everyone seemed to agree that we all got a lot more back than we put in, both for individuals and the nation as a whole. What if now, 50 years later, it has brought forth this crisis which will have implications for every cohort born after 1985 until the situation stabilizes? My Dad went to school on the GI Bill, as did a lot of other Dads who came off the farm or out of the poorer neighborhoods. We've always called that a major positive for American families. Was it?
Heresy #2: There is also a lot of ink being spilled about schools being increasingly designed against boy-abilities and toward girl-style learning. Recently, the decreasing number of males in college, a trend continuing into graduate school, is seen as a demographic problem for men getting jobs and women finding suitable partners. Perhaps that is not coincidence that this questioning of the actual value of four-year degrees in general, and many areas of study in particular, is occuring at the same time. Parents who have dragged sons through girl-school with much wailing and gnashing of teeth may have been much more hesitant to send them off to four more years, this time at $40K or more per year.
Perhaps the boys are leading, on the cutting edge of job-preparation for the future, not lagging. The crunch is going to come around issues of credentialing - which of course means that special-interest groups pressuring government is going to determine a great deal of where the new economy goes - and what happens to males in particular.
Related: I started opining 20 years ago that feminist resentment was largely driven by women who had followed the directions and played by the rules, excelling in school - which was considered the automatic qualifier to success. We were all told To get a good job, get a good education, not just the girls. Then they left school and found that there were other, less-familiar laws of the marketplace which had seldom been mentioned. Heck, I felt the same way. Those boys and young men they had beaten, beaten fair and square at school, were finding all these other routes to success. Some, such as good-old-boy networks and discrimination, could be systematically attacked and removed. But some of these other routes were perfectly fair and legitimate strategies of their own - fooling around with computer stuff; selling things, repairing things, coaching people. I think that division is even more pronounced now. A sea-change is already occurring, though we don't know where those currents will take us.
Terri, I am thinking of the age of your boys, and expecting that the ground will look different for them when they are 18 than you thought it would when they were born. The outlines of where this is all headed, and what real choices they have, may be clearer in ten years. I am more worried for my own youngest, just entering highschool. I don't know if we'll be able to read the trends in time.