Is College Overrated and too Expensive? Are We Unjust to Require College Degrees As Often As We Do?

When I was in High School, a school of 3,500 students, we had several academic tracks for the students. Some of us took the college prep track which emphasize the academic disciplines such as math, science, literature, grammar, writing, history etc. But back in those days (1970s) there was still a sense that college wasn’t for everyone. And so we also had some other tracks. On one side of the school there was a magnificent “industrial arts” lab where guys learned most of the trades, such as plumbing, basic electrical, carpentry, sheet rock, masonry, and car repair, even drafting. Another section of the school trained mostly the young ladies in licensed practical nursing, typing, stenography and basic book-keeping. There was also a culinary school.

Quite remarkable really.

Most of that is gone now, at least here in the Washington DC area. I say with some degree of frustration and sadness that I have heard that the drafting lab where I once learned mechanical drawing is now a nursery for the many young girls to have their babies watched while they go to class. Another sign of the cultural meltdown.

There was a lot wrong in the 1970s, but the insight of multiple tracks wasn’t one of them. Frankly not every one is cut out to go to college or needs to. There seems to be hyper emphasis on college. Many public and Catholic high schools like to boast that 98% of their graduates went to college. But why should 98% go? Is it possible that the pressure and increasing “requirement” that everyone go to college is an unjust expectation? Is it really necessary that everyone have a college degree to get, even entry level, clerical work or tradesman status? Why?

I wonder about “justice” here for two reasons

1. Tuition rates are disgracefully high. Many families and students incur enormous debt to jump through the increasingly required college “hoop.” There are some State Colleges and community college alternatives that are more reasonable, but even there, books are horribly expensive as are the increasing requirements for laptops, lab equipment, electronic readers and many other ancillary stuff. I am not asking for any regulation of tuition rates but I wonder about many of these college campuses which pride themselves on their “socially enlightened” views and then jack up prices like this.

Tuition has gone way out of sight. Currently over 60 colleges and universities in the country charge over $50,000 a year for tuition. Here in DC, Georgetown charges $52,161 and George Washington charges $51,775.[1] At some point, rates like this become unjust and drive up other more affordable schools as well.

Again, I am not asking for some Government agency to regulate tuition rates. What I am proposing is if we as a culture ought not step back and ask if “requiring” college for so many, is necessary and just. Perhaps it is time to reexamine trade schools and other avenues as entry points into our economy.

2. Time – A college degree used to take four years. Not exactly short, but manageable. You got your BA or BS,ย  your ticket was punched, and you went into the workforce. Today, however, there are increasing requirements for the MA and even the doctoral degree to get “access.” So, add two, three or more years and, by the way, pay even more, and go deeper into debt.

In short, creeping credentialism is costly in terms of time and money. When things get this costly and time consuming, it is time to ask if it is necessary that we require such an elaborate and expensive system for people to “get their ticket punched.”

I have seen employment ads for car mechanics that listed a college education as preferred. Why? I have seen the same thing in want ads for chefs and cooks. College? Is that necessary? Closer to home, I have seen Catholic parishes list secretarial openings that strongly prefer college degrees. Why? Sure, for the parish business manager a degree and or significant professional experience is essential. But for a secretary who types, answers phones, keep records, and makes ordinary use of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, is a college degree necessary? Why do we do this, and is it possible we are unnecessarily shutting out the poor or others who, for various reasons, could not have access to the college scene?

Finally, I am going to get really controversial and wonder if a College Education is not overrated as well. Years ago, College was an intense experience of the life of the mind where one sampled from the deepest veins of human learning; reading the classics, studying ancient languages, reading the philosophers, theologians and scientists. One emerged having drawn deeply of these, and being rather conversant in the great ideas that underlay the modern sciences, culture, economics and political theory.

Today college has morphed into a kind of trade school, but a very expensive and time consuming one. Students specialize quickly and sample far less of the foundations of learning and knowledge.

Further the lifestyle of college campuses (as we have discussed before) is poisonous to the moral life, and even the education of young people. Widespread drinking, fornication and drug use are usually unchecked by academic leaders. None of these help the life of the mind, and they surely kill the life of the soul. The college scene also devastates maturity and many leave college less mature and self disciplined than they entered.

I have talked with a few people in HR departments in both private and government sectors and they indicate that many college graduates are unprepared for the discipline of work. Many of them have short attention spans, a party-rock spirit,ย  and are not used to hard work and showing up on time. Job one is for many of them to grow up and quickly, otherwise they do not retain employment long. While not all college students exhibit these problems it is enough of a trend to mentioned.

While this topic is not strictly a theological one, I have tried to couch my remarks in terms of justice, and also culture, which we comment on a lot here.

Please let me know what you think and what your experiences are. I do not want to be unjust in my own reflections, but at the bottom line I think we need to augment and open other viable paths into the workforce for high school students today. A college degree has its place, but is far less necessary than we make it; or so I think. How about you?

Here’s a classic comedy routine by Guido Sarducci called Five Minute College:

A Reader alerted me to this video:

74 Replies to “Is College Overrated and too Expensive? Are We Unjust to Require College Degrees As Often As We Do?”

  1. Is College Overrated? Yes
    and too Expensive? Yes
    Are We Unjust to Require College Degrees As Often As We Do? Yes

    Why should one assume that the people in academia are all pure and perfect angels?

    The truth is — our colleges, universities, and graduate schools are filled with hucksters. Much of it is a scam. A scam to part you from your money into their pocket. And since they are not subject to the usual laws of contract, or the various consumer protection laws of warranty and truth-in-advertising, they are able to pull these scams with impunity, not to mention lifetime tenure, often at public expense.

    Meanwhile, it used to be that an employer was expected to provide the training to do the job, now they expect workers to come ready-trained at their own expense — employers basically expect a hand-out.

    And now that the federal government has taken over the student loan business, a new level of Hell is at hand, where they will chase you down to the ends of the earth and get blood out of a stone in order to get their money.

    You received lousy and incompetent teaching? Too bad, pay up.
    Your instructor was more interested in pushing his own political agenda than teaching the subject? Too bad, pay up.
    You can’t get a job after graduation despite sending out a hundred resumes? Too bad, pay up.
    Your student loan debt is so high that you can’t afford to pay rent or even attempt to have a social life, much less marry and raise a family? Too damn bad, pay up.

    Huckers and scamsters. They infest the entire education racket.

    1. Well alright Bender, you certain have made it plain. I only want to balance it a bit by recalling that there are many good people and things in college too and that for some, a college education is both good and necessary. In the end though, with that distinction, there are many truths you express here.

      1. In full agreement with Bender’s post.

        The two things I got out of college:
        My wife, after 10 years of dating ๐Ÿ™‚
        Confirmation in the Catholic Church

        I work in a completely different field than that of my degree. Oh and I’m still paying for my undergraduate studies.

        1. I agree totally with Bender…through no fault of his own my husband at 55 is still paying off a student loan that has quadrupled from original amount. He could not finish a very expensive, post grad program and find work in that field. We made the decision to have a family and pay what we could on the loans. That is defined as default. Your credit is ruined, tax refunds are withheld, and if it is not paid by retirement your Social Security will have a sizeable deductions taken until you die. Everytime I look at my children I am glad that we did not put off having children or even getting married as many young couples do today who have double student loan burdens. This is an injustice that has tremendous implications for the establishment of new families. We are indentured servants for life to the banks and government who show no mercy. In our sick society BANKS and AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY are”too big to fail” and deserve bail out but a family “is allowed to fail” because it isn’t very important. There are thousands in this same situation…please pray for us.

      2. Personal note —

        I graduated in 1992. Last week — nearly 20 years later — I made my last student loan payment. Nearly 20 years. And that was after working an average 32 hours per week in college and 16-24 hours per week in law school.

        Can I tell you anything that I remember learning in college, with my 3.6 gpa (A- average)? Any particular facts on a given subject? No. Sure, some of it laid a foundation for law school, but most of what I know today I learned entirely on my own. What an old friend told me when I was a freshman holds true, mostly what colleges teaches you is how to learn.

    2. I don’t know about huckers but I will agree that many colleges and universities teach secular world standards and morals. Religious books often note that those who think they know it all, don’t. That can be seen very clearly when attending college. Professors who scoff at the existence of God and actually push the “homosexuality is normal” button (quite often these days). Not to mention, punish those (either through bad grades or verbal abuse) for their defense of the family, the unborn, etc.

  2. It’s the usurers, like almost always these days. Government guaranteed loans that are almost impossible to escape, barring death or serious chronic disability. Bankruptcy won’t absolve you of student loans. It’s a huge racket, and like almost everything that stinks in our society these days, there’s a banker behind it all. The schools are complicit, but only in so far that they know that their students can take out loans to cover their ever higher tuition rates.

    Then, like ridiculous mortgages that people get, we all end up on a treadmill of debt that keeps everyone on the gerbil wheel. The interest feeds the capitalist machine, benefitting the retired (even pensions, even government pensions are fed by the debt of others) and the investor class.

    Recommended reading, Vix Prevenit, Benedict XIV 1746, just for starters:

      1. One thing the debt load does is to drive people into lines of work — including certain profoundly objectionable occupations — where remuneration is sizable and speedy. People are prevented from considering more socially useful work, including answering a religious vocation. A friend of mine has been recently readmitted to seminary at the age of 60. Only very recently, with the help of a large windfall, has he been able to pay off his student debt.

  3. I’ve just re-read that encyclical I link to above for the first time in a long while because I looked it up to post that link here, Father.

    This line of Pope Benedict’s jumped out at me as highly ironic: “We chose the past July 4 for the meeting at which We explained the nature of the whole business..”

    That in 1745, 31 years before the great capitalist republic was to be founded.. The date the Pope last publicly consulted his advisors on the morality of interest.

    Very highly ironic.. Much like the date of this event was made post facto ironic by a later event:'รฉtat

    Our culture is un-Catholic in too many ways to count. The assumption that the so-called right is somehow closer to God than those who openly (as opposed to clandestinely) advocate and wish for abortion and sexual anarchy is, to my mind, absurd.

    But I’m just a 40 year old curmudgeon who’s read too much to have any simple pieties left except a deep hope in Christ. He’s the nearly only one who seems not to be full of crap. Some few of his professed disciples strike me as honest, too.. I hope – aspire – that I might be one of them.

    Thanks for the blog, Father. I appreciate it very much.

  4. Monsignor Pope,

    Because of the price of schooling I will be going for my 4 year college education in another country in June of 2012; it will cost me around $30,000 for all four years at a Catholic University, including books, housing, vehicle, food, etc. I wish there was a way I could go to school here where I live, but it just doesn’t seem feasible.

  5. You used the fallacy of generalization on colleges, Msgr. Your point is invalid.

    Also, I’ve been to college, and from my experience it isn’t evil and it includes excellent classes.

    But I can’t speak for others’ experiences.

    1. What’s up Nick? “fallacy” “invalid” ?? evil ?? why not just say, “Perhaps a few distinctions are in order” or something like that, why the strong language?

      1. Hmm, alright. Some distinctions are in order sounds more holy ๐Ÿ™‚

        Not all colleges have a culture of evil (drunkenness, fornication, etc.) Some, like mine, are good.

        Not all colleges are pointlessly emphasized. Some, like, mine have classes to teach you necessary skills in life.

        Like typing for an accountant job, or parenting for teen pregnancy.

        The home is the first school and domestic church, but that doesn’t exclude colleges as institutions where you get a degree in something.

        After all, the push for educated workers is ancient – not mordern.

  6. Yes, all secular colleges are a waste; they’re all indoctrination camps in relativism:

    American Association of University Professors:

    Freedom of conscience in teaching and research is essential
    to maintain academic integrity and fulfill the basic
    purposes of higher education; consequently, any
    restriction on academic freedom raises grave issues of
    professional concern.
    (Statement on Academic Freedom in Church-Related
    Colleges and Universities; A.A.U.P. Bulletin, Winter, 67)

    Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, CA, might be the only one worth its $30k per year.

    1. Sadly, not a few “Catholic” colleges may also be in this category. Thank God there are still some good Catholic Colleges too. Cardinal Newman Society does a pretty good job sorting it all out.

      1. Many of the orthodox Catholic colleges are also rediculously expensive (in the neighborhood of $30,000/year) and make it impossible or nearly so for many of their intended markets–large families with a stay-at-home Mom–to afford. Do these schools REALLY need to cost that much? Are there any orthodox Catholics out there who would start a modestly priced college–with modest ammenities–that those of us living a less materialistic life could afford?

    2. Actually, my oldest son is a sophomore at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimac, NH where he will be heading off to study in Rome for a semester this coming January. We have been very pleased with his experience at TMC~ it has helped him to grow educationally as well as spiritually.

  7. I agree. The government could’ve paid me to stay home for 7 years and I could’ve learned dozens of times more than I did at a secular institution.

  8. “Don’t let your education get in the way of your learning,” both Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein said.

    1. I went to college, but got terrible grades because I read what I felt like. College was a good place to do it, but still I would up largely self-taught. It is a high-risk approach, which I do not recommend.

  9. As a college graduate myself, I believe a college education and a college experience can be of great value. Read Francis Bacon’s “Of Studies” to see a wonderful description of the true purposes of education. We should distinguish between education’s inherent value to the person and society – and the broken system and undue importance placed on it by most people.

    There must be a link – causal or otherwise – between the hyper-focus on college education and our utter disdain for manual labor. College is for many the escape module from manual labor. Perhaps if we treated our manual laborers with more respect and dignity – as the Bible and Catholic social teaching demands – we would not have the mad rush for college places.

    1. Yes, Broken system might be the point. There are still many good reasons for people to go to college. Certain paths require that sort of foundation. But my main point is that we require it of too many for no obvious reason. I think your insight on the disdain for manual labor has a lot to do with it. I will say, I have great admiration for those who build, repair and restore. As one who has been primarily focused on the life of the mind, it is refreshing to see and even take part in projects that have a beginning, middle and end. Manual labor is usually of that nature.

  10. No, you can’t get out of repaying your student loans by declaring bankruptcy. Do you know why? Decades ago someone in the government realized that for some time a number of people had been declaring bankruptcy as soon as they finished medical school or law school, legally avoiding repaying their undergrad loans or professional school loans and then going on to earn huge salaries. So the government took action to prevent any more of this thievery. For the record, these were not baby boomers who did this but people born prior to 1946, the first year of the post-war baby boom.

  11. We agree wholeheartedly with your article. My wife and I have discussed this for over 25 years, saying college isn’t for everyone and is highly expensive. In fact, since high school does not properly orient the kids, many have to take remedial classes on the high school level when entering college. When I was in High School, the late 60’s, we had College Prep/Business/Vocational and General classifications. These seemed to work fine, but disappeared later, just like the dress code.

  12. College is definitely over rated. The problem is that kids go out of High School without any or almost no practical training. I went to a small Parochical High School and most of the girls took Home Economics and most of the boys took drafting. A good percentage of the boys found employment with the Army Corps. of Engineers or with Hall Mark Cards and the girls at least learned how to sew and cook. Small enough but something. And though my Dad and a lot of young men of his time never went to college, they could still sput their High School Latin and French after thirty years. And many of the young men were able to become pilots in the Army or Navy without any college education. Not bad. We should have adopted the German models long ago where many of the young people were channeled into a practical High School where they learned a trade of some type. And only the highly qualified students were put into college prep High Schools.

  13. There seems to be a college bubble going on, with all of the student loan money. Not sure what the answer is. It does seem that for many jobs, a college degree is now required (one that comes to mind is administrative assistants), so I don’t think the answer is to skip college, unless you are going into a solid trade.

    But I think the parents and students have to be careful about how much they spend on what degree. What school you go to matters too….50K for Harvard might be worth it, 50K for another school, not. I tell everyone go into healthcare, it’s the only thing that our country is willing to spend on apparently, I think we are at 20% of our GDP.

    1. Yes, at this point I wouldn’t generally advise skipping college either. My point essentially is that we ought to begin a discussion on whether we have unjustly required this “hoop” for too many, especially given its cost and time. There ought to be alternate ways to get your ticket punched, especially where college degrees are not essential.

      1. For some of the “big name” schools, the only benefit of paying a high tuition rate is the connections and future networking opportunities with the elites. The quality of the education may not be the best.

    1. I’m not sure. I know here in DC I’m having discussion with a couple Council Members who are also of the mind to reopen some of the closed “trade” high schools.

  14. Ugh! Just my luck… NOW someone tells me about Father Guido Sarducci’s Five Minute University!!!!! Loved the video ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. College a rip off? Big time

    As earlier mentioned gov’t is already involved in colleges via loans b/c if they weren’t then the free market (that we don’t have) would force them to lower their rates. Here’s a solid video on is college overrated I too learned waaaay more in work & reading on my own then any college indoctrination class which it is these days. No schooling forces critical thinking anymore its all ‘test taking’

    Gerald Celente on ‘college degrees are worthless’ ex: I received degree in Exercise Science & though not one that you can do things on but think of the really worthless degrees out there people spent tons on like sociology, or women’s studies or african studies, etc etc.

    Here’s a longer video on ‘College conspiracy’ that made me think you may have seen this b/c of the post you did today. Many things you said are in this (its a long one though an hour long)

    I can’t wait to get out of the debt I’m in from an education that I learned nothing from. Played sports but no scholarship then wanted to coach but you must have a degree to coach & teach physical education so went for master’s degree to obtain that. All my professors were lesbians (I’m not joking) that did not like men (I had points taken off for saying ‘How you guys doing?” to kids) & I saw a 60 page write up on badmitton (seriously? The game is easy I can teach in 60 words we needed 60 pages?!) They asked me not to come back but the ‘top’ students were over weight, non athletic, & awful coaches yet they received degrees to teach. This from the ‘top’ PE school in the union of states. Oh well right. I was coaching a summer league baseball team of high schoolers & they asked me ‘coach, any advice for us?” I said ‘yeah, don’t go to college & go straight to work somewhere. You’re parents will hate me for this but it’ll save you tons of $ & you’ll get experience instead of a waste”

  16. There’s definitely some over-generalizing here, although I don’t doubt that many of the most high-profile and presitigious universities truly do lend themselves to this kind of critique. I happen to attend a state university that is Top 5 in public higher ed in the country, and its reputation for lowest in-state tuition among its peers (by nearly one third) is one of its greatest boasts. I admit, I’m a graduate student studying the classics, ancient languages, philosophers, and all those things that “university” used to be about. But I do deal with undergraduates as a TA, and this university does a wholehearted (if to my mind poorly structured) effort to expose its students to a broad and intellectually varied range of fields and approaches. This also happens to be a university that is known for its (relatively) good, clean fun as opposed to some of its peers and neighbors, and there are many active religious groups and ministries, a Newman Center among them, that provide havens and support systems for the many students who don’t buy into the Thirsty Thursday lifestyle.

    Are there jobs that simply don’t require college degrees? Yes. Could I complain endlessly about how we have devalued high school by a) putting all our emphasis on getting into college and b) then reteaching basic courses like US History and Algebra as core requirements, allowing high school teachers to slack off on their rigor and convince their students even more that high school is hardly worth paying attention to? You bet. Should we support and value trade schools and professional/vocational programs far more than we do? Absolutely. But when done properly, university represents the drawing together of all the various ways of experiencing life and the world and people around us into one conception, and it provides a structured and engaging environment in which to pursue that development. We should be encouraging university studies for those who have the aptitude for this pursuit; we need those people in our society no less than the tradesmen, who should be sent off with confidence and strong self-esteem to those trade schools and programs that best meet their own strengths and aspirations.

  17. Although I respect your opinions, I do not see all of them as correct in my eyes. Sure, some universities can be expensive, but there are other options. Is it absolutely necessary for one to get an education at Harvard, when other “less-known” universities offer the same degree and same education? It’s just like brand name clothes. Do you really need those $95 Hollister jeans when you can go to Old Navy and pay only $25 for the same product? It’s sort of a brainwashing that society has instilled in the youth today. If you don’t like the cost of attending a University, there are Community Colleges that offer fairly similar degrees for a cheaper cost.

    I went to college and graduated in 4 years with my BA in 2010. I went to a well-known University in my state (Southeastern Louisiana University). Of course there was Louisiana State University that I could’ve went to, but it’s unrealistic. Southeastern offered the same things LSU did for a fraction of the cost.

    Going to college and getting my degree was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I didn’t do it because jobs are now requiring you to do so (obviously, that was a reason, but not the main focal point), I went to college to better myself as a person and future employee. College degrees are required, I think, because it shows that you are good at commitment and learning, among other things.

    Like it or not, party or not, college increases ones knowledge and expands your capabilities. A degree is a degree, no matter if it is from Harvard, Brown or Southeastern Louisiana University.

  18. You are right on all counts. unless you are going to do something that specifically requires college ( become an Engineer, a physician, a nurse,, a true scholar or scientist like a PH D chemist or Historian) You are better served and make yourself more useful learning a trade, I have been in need of a good plumber infinitely more than I need a someone who spent 4 years double majoring in political science and communications.

    The cost of tuition has skyrocketed because of…. government financial aid. Whenever you create a situation where the taxpayer funds someone elses education, the consumer of the education has less incentive to shop around and you get fewer market forces to control cost. Financial aid tied to a service obligation ( like say we pay and you teach in the inner city or serve in the armed forces) does not have this phenomena because the required service is part of the cost and is payed by the student. Similarly athletic or academic scholarships are not as bad…again they are tied to service ( play on our team, which is a cost) or scholarly activity ( a cost again borne by the student ) All aid should take this form. but your standard federally subsidized grant or loan given for “existing”, with no expectations or strings… dont even need to graduate in some cases.. Will obviously drive up costs. This is economics 101 and is just more evidence of how policies that sound good ( lets help poor people pay for college….I say this as a former “poor person”, do harm)

  19. Monsignor Pope,

    I wholeheartedly agree with your excellent and thoughtful piece on college education. I grew up in Australia, and when I left school in 1977, only 5% of students in my state went on to university. Many people finished school at the end of Year 10 and then did 4-year apprenticeships. They got married, raised families and were not ashamed of working with their hands. They had no need for college, and no desire to go there. Sadly, times have changed and more and more jobs are introducing a bachelor’s degree as a requirement – but I see no evidence that it’s making people any smarter.

    I was very fortunate to go to a good university, at a time when it was free (there were no fees from 1974 to 1989), and I was even more fortunate to get a very solid grounding in philosophy. University fees have been re-introduced in Australia since then, but for most. students, they’re still affordable (about $4,000 to $10,000 per year). I have to say I feel very sorry for American students. The idea of paying $50,000 a year for six or seven years of college education strikes me as absolute lunacy.

    For what it’s worth, I’ll pass on a practical tip which will help some readers. I have read that in America, it’s possible to enroll in a two-year community college and transfer to a four-year college mid-way through. That will help people save money, as the average two-year college charges only $2,713 per year in tuition and fees. See here: .

    The Army Reserve might be another idea: .

    Hope that helps.

  20. I’ve thought of this often, in part because I have two college degrees, two children in school, and I’m a bit of a social historian. Let me add an extra element to what you noted in your blog.

    I graduated high school in 1981, so most of my school years were in the 70s, as yours apparently were, and I have noted much of what you have. But looking back even further in time we’d find that if we look at the period of time running up to the late 50s or early 60s, a high school degree was not only much more useful, but a college degree was as well. The emphasis that has been placed on a college education has cheapened it enormously in terms of its real value

    Moreover, it has introduced into the US the “age of certification”. If we look back prior to the 60s we would tend to find that, with the exception of professional degrees, simply having a degree was regarded as broadly qualifying for business life, and there tended not to be a bar between people moving from one field to another. Even a lack of a degree was not a bar to entering the business world, and experience often counted for as much as anything else. Now certifications are all important. It’s nearly impossible for people to move from one field to another if they lack the proper certification, which means little in terms of their ability to actually do a job. Therefore, not only is obtaining the degree, or certification, vital to entry into a field, it locks a person into it as well, and it then becomes very difficult to leave that career track, whether or not a person finds that that track is truly what he wanted to do. I have some experience with that. I’ve been a trial lawyer for 20 years, but that’s mostly because that’s what my education has lead up to, and that’s what I’m certified to do. Getting out of it is nearly impossible.

  21. The world is run by college graduates but the fact of the matter is that almost all of the necessary work required for existence on this planet is done by blue collar workers. When you open your eyes each morning your necessities have been provided by blue collar workers in the food, construction and clothing industries and your safety by policemen and soldiers. Most people go to college so they can make money without doing those things.

    Many millions go into and come out of all manner of office building each day. In-out, in-out, in-out, etc, etc, etc. But nothing produced or of value to the common folk ever comes out of these buildings while those employees actually earn salaries. Strangely, most of the jobs require a college education. The computer age has increased the bureaucracy, no end, and especially at Catholic dioceses and parishes. This has, allowed many more employees to set behind monitors all day and do mostly nothing of value for the average citizen.

    There is much more to life, of course, than the material since man is made of mind, body and soul. Jobs in those pursuits are honorable, require college and of the utmost importance. In saner times, they were all considered the responsibility of religion — teaching, healing and salvation.

    Blue collar and religious jobs, that all we need. Put these people in one half of the world and just college grads in the other half and come back in 50 years. Where would you want to live.

    I am retired from the construction industry, but readers maybe guessed as much.

  22. We seem to have adopted a fetishization of credentials- while at the same time making the credentials meaningless. Some employers require degrees from applicants, simply to winnow the number of applicants. Many require a degree because aptitude testing of job applicants -which many companies used to do- risks litigation or government regulatory sanctions. Minority groups generally don’t perform as well on standardized tests, and rather then risk being labeled as biased, or putting public sector contracts at risk, they require a degree. What does having a 4 year degree in English have to do with being a agent for a rental car company? Danged if I know.

  23. I agree 100%. My children (now 19-28 yrs of age) where bombarded with the college question by the end of sophamore year in high school. And God help you if you weren’t planning on going to an “acceptable” university. If you replied that you were considering a community college for GE work you got a “that’s nice dear” pity-look questioning your ability to even graduate high school.

    Allow me to compare just two of my children to prove your point well made in this post. Both in their mid-20s: one a graduate of Catholic undergrad and grad schools seeks to eek out a living at $36K/yr from a Catholic school laboring under an $80K school loan. The other, having never finished even community college but relaying upon her innate atheltic talents and interpersonal skills works as an assistant at a foundation for special needs kids, making what her MA-degreed sister makes plus better benefits, less hours a week, and WITHOUT the debt.

    Sadly, in our experience, it is the Catholic schools who are in the forfront of this”must go to college” and “hike up the tuition” momentum.

  24. I wish to add also that Catholic dioceses and parishes also promote the credential craze. In our archdiocese an ideal parish DRE is to have a MA in theology/religious education, which used to be the end-degree for the diocesean office director. And don’t even get me started on requiring a BA for spiritual direction….

  25. When did the terms “mechanically inclined” and “good with your hands” disappear from common usage? My children tell me that if you look around carefully, usually in the suburbs of major cities, and have some clever kids, you can weave a combination of high school honors courses, junior or community college classes, GED and perhaps some language challenges to get through the first couple years of college by the time you are 18 or so. Then a few years in the military or doing some useful work, perhaps in another country, then home to finish off some useful masters degree (the new bachelor’s degree) will see you home in a couple of years, all with some guidance from parents re economics and making sure you get the wholesale price rather than the advertised retail. The only real problem they can see with this strategy is the difficulty of avoiding the really obnoxious Marxist professors in their chosen field.

  26. For me, this is a timely topic. I have a graduate degree, but I have found recently that I enjoy taking college classes to learn. I took a few Theology classes which greatly enhanced my understanding of my faith. I am now taking a class in Nutrition, which is outside my normal field of study. I find the subject matter fascinating, but I have been sorely disappointed by the evaluation standards. There are hundreds of students taking this class, so I understand that it is much more efficient to have an online test. However, this reduces learning to remembering rote facts rather than synthesizing information to demonstrate true understanding. I am also very disappointed in the power point lecture format. In business, I use power point constantly, and I think it is a great tool; however, there is something missing when the professor has slides and is essentially reading the slides with a few side points thrown in. I am sure that some professors can do this effectively, but I have not found one. I attended a small liberal arts school as an undergraduate, where I got a great education–not so much the classics, but well rounded, with French, Chemistry, Biology, Calculus, and History. While I don’t use much of what I learned, the critical piece that I came away with was critical thinking skills. I also attended graduate school at a very large public university. The curriculum there was also challenging. Today, 20 years later, I do not find that the curriculum is that challenging even though I am studying a completely unrelated topic. Because of the automated testing format, most of the test requires memorizijng facts. Remembering one tiny snippet of information that can be looked up or googled, is not as important as having a grasp of the material that can only be evaluated in an essay format. I am hopeful that this class is an anomaly, but I do not think that it is. My husband has had similar experiences, but he has also noticed that the students do the least possible to pass a class. If material is not being tested on, then most of the students will not read it. Something has gone wrong in our educational system, and perhaps it is the everyone needs to go to college mentality.


    When I sat through a presentation of Montgomery County’s “Seven Keys to College Readiness” I was rather taken aback that in order to really be ready for college, one had to be able to perform above-grade-level work throughout one’s school career.

    I find that expectation distressing, not only because of the presumption of college attendance as a measure of success, but also because of the unspoken message that being proficient at on-grade-level work isn’t enough.

  28. Thank you, Msgr. Pope! You made all the points I have been expressing to friends for several years now. College his become little more than a career school. Not long ago, college was to be a place of exploration, love of learning, and getting to know oneself. Now it is little more than a glorified trade school for tekkies. The humanities have been pushed further to the fringe while the utilitarian trades have been magnified. Our youth can run intricate programs and apps but they have no idea who they are!

  29. My husband is a professor at a school with no ACT entrance requirements.

    He says he will place his top students with the top students at any other university.

    Unfortunately, many of his students come in unable to even write in complete sentences – I kid you not. They write as if they were texting.

    They spend a semester taking remedial math, writing, and more – taking up and paying for almost an entire semester of work before taking classes for credit. Most end up flunking out after a year.

    How is this additional debt and failure helping them?

  30. I am a graduate of a state university (’88). My husband graduated with two degrees from an Ivy League school (’86, ’87). He has often said that my education was at least as good as his. However, having tried sending two children to public schools in our new state, we have had mixed results. They are both large universities, and the experience is largely impersonal, and for a student not well-grounded in his faith and morals, it can be really distracting and damaging. We’ve had an experience with a small (Newman list) Catholic school, also with varying results. I wish I had the answer. I do see that homeschooling has worked better for us (having tried private and public schools, and finding them both lacking). Nothing is perfect, but for now, homeschooling is working well. I am beginning to think that perhaps our best option is to continue to encourage growth in their faith and morals, while learning a trade, or being educated locally (community college with transfer to local university), or perhaps a trade school like culinary school or something similar. Having a degree certainly does not guarantee good employment. College can be wonderful for learning how to learn, as some have pointed out. But the homeschoolers I know seem to know how to do that already. They are curious, eager, interested learners, engaged in society, fully involved in the surrounding world. Again, I wish I had the answers. I know I have hardworking (young adult) children, and I hope their college degrees will be useful. But I also hope for a bright future for those who may not go to college. It is worrisome indeed.

  31. One of the difficulties with “Trade” high schools is that the unions will fight you tooth and nail. here in chicago, you cant learn a trade anymore at a Local school..

    The unions have their own schools now- and apprentice programs.. without paying them and going to their school for certification- forget it, you will NEVER find a job.

    Another issue, parents no longer teach trades to their sons because they are forbade by child labor laws and once again- the unions put pressure on them and they run them out of business…

    1. I was impressed this past Saturday morning….An electrician came out after our furnace was installed by a larger company. The electrician drove from the town north of us, showed up at 8 AM (on a Saturday?!?), with his 10th grade son. His son was sporting a shirt w/the company’s logo on it — his DAD’s company! The boy was so polite and respectful, and he’s obviously learning his father’s trade. I only wish we had something like this to teach our children. Husband and I both went to college and enjoyed our classical education. It is coming in handy while homeschooling our six children. However, at some point, they need to either further their education with advanced degrees, OR learn a trade somehow. It is still a puzzle. Their father is an engineer, but he isn’t encouraging them to follow in his path, as most of his work is being sent overseas….

  32. I went to a Catholic University for 4 years. I went to Catholic grade school and high school. Certainly, I was not acclimated to any kind of partying atmosphere. For the first 18 years of my life, I was a quiet, well mannered and studious boy. I went to college and certainly was not prepared for what I experienced. I got caught up with the crowd and drank too much. The whole campus drank too much. This was a Catholic University too. I am sure I learned a little bit but not as much as I should have given my priorities were not about learning. The benefit of college though, for me at least, was that I hit rock bottom. I would be at a party and hate everything that was going on, the drug use, the sexual escapades. I developed some depression and hit rock bottom. I asked myself is life really all about this? Are all people like this? The experience made me really pursue my faith and I found it after college. Was college worth it? In the end it lead me to my faith, but I would imagine my experience is not the norm. I assume the immoral activities would push more people away from God.

  33. My husband and I figured out that we spent, out of pocket, well over a million dollars on Catholic school tuition (kindergarten through university for 5 kids) over the years. We’re also helping a couple with advanced degrees (in the sciences, where advanced degrees really matter).

    I always say if I had it to do all over again, I’d have given each of ’em a car, $5000, and a library card for high school graduation, and shown them the door. My girlfriend says she would’ve throw in a box van and a toolbelt, but she’s nicer than me. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I think there are too many kids going to college, I think there are too many lousy colleges, I think there aren’t enough manufacturing and skilled labor jobs, nor is their the education, training and demand for those kinds of jobs, and I think the truth about graduate degrees without work experience, with the exception of a few highly specialized areas of study, are a waste of time and money and just forestall the inevitable. Yes, you will have to get a job and work and grow up and stop being a student forever.

    I also think that when the degree for the degree’s sake becomes the objective, there’s a problem. The whole point is supposed to be life after the degree. Yes, we should expand our minds, experience different perspectives, join in the Great Conversation, and all that, although that doesn’t have to cost $200K per kid (see my note re library card). We luv us some braggin’ rights when it comes to our kids, but that’s about us, not our kids’ future. A degree, for what it costs these days, has to be a smart investment in the kid’s future. Plus, some kids’ talents lie in areas that the average university doesn’t address.

    I do not believe in student loans unless you’re going to a top tier school and getting a degree in a very specific field that has a higher-than-average employment rate. Engineering from MIT? Yes. Social work from a third tier school no one ever heard of? You’ll be lucky if you break even on your investment in fifteen years. No way.

    I do think this country requires four year degrees for jobs that just don’t require them. I think we should have a greater variety of degrees and certifications, with faster tracks for students who are focused on a particular career early on. I wish we had more demand for jobs that require less credentials, but those jobs are mostly in India now, from skilled labor to supply-chain and operations positions.

    So, I guess that’s a pretty disjointed collection of thoughts on the topic. I’m glad I’m seeing more people addressing the topic, though, from blogs to mainstream news publications. ‘Tis how things change.

  34. I had a friend, we’ll call him Roger, who graduated from college with a BS degree. With this degree he landed a job supervising newsboys. Roger told me his supervisor would only hire college graduates, or perhaps military veterans, because “it shows they could finish a project they started.”

    Why do you need a college degree to supervise junior high students who deliver newspapers? It seemed to me a little snobbery was at work as well.

    Chris Baker hit on another reason in his post above. For many years businesses had used testing to determine the suitability of job seekers. But some badly decided law decisions, which attributed the poor performance by minority job seekers on these tests to racism, led to the tests being abandoned by business. (Considering that the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, and what racial minorities had suffered before that law was passed, nobody seems to have considered that it might take time for them to catch up.) When the courts finally reversed those decisions, the US Congress wrote the reversed decisions into Federal law! One result is the requirement for college degrees for even non-managerial employees.

    [This link has some background on the legal issues involved:
    The main article is a *.pdf document linked at the bottom of the paragraph.]

    Another issue is the state of our elementary and high schools. High school, and basic education generally, was more rigorous, and more effective a generation or two ago than it is now. Even some college professors have complained that their new students appear to have had a poor primary and secondary education, and that college is doing remedial work for the first twelve to fifteen years students spend in school. Perhaps this perception has found its way into business management.

    Of course the fact that so much government aid has gone into college education has meant that the prices have gone up. The colleges are raising their prices to absorb both the government aid, and what the students would have paid without it.

    1. The colleges are raising their prices to absorb both the government aid

      You have hit on a major problem with education and with the healthcare industry too.

      When you have a body fat with blood, the leech will seek to suck it dry.

      It is just like when the used car salesman asks you how much you want to spend, and you tell him $10,000, he is going to slap a $12,000 sticker on a car that five minutes before had a $3000 sticker on it and tell you, “You’re in luck. I have this $12,000 gem of a car, but I’ll let you have it for $10,000.”

      There is a sucker born every minute. And we are the suckers.

      It is not just the evil CEOs who are greedy.

  35. The number one thing college taught me was how to read difficult books. Number two was how to write. I still don’t know if it was worth the 13,000 in loans, but number one definitely helped me join the Catholic Church. When I look back, I really think I ought to have learned that stuff in high school. Then maybe I would have found Catholicism sooner and never felt the need to go to college at all. Trying to pay my loans off has been a terrible hangup in my life. I was an English major.

  36. Fabulous points here, article and comments. I have a bachelor’s degree in English–and am teaching piano full time. I print the ads, I interview new families, I manage the money. I’m also working on a Master’s degree, so that if I ever want to teach ANY subject in the public or private school systems, I won’t be trapped into state certification processes. So, my 6-9 years of higher education aren’t really going toward teaching me to teach, since I obviously do that already. I’m putting myself through the education loops to avoid the mushy-squishy requirements that states put on those who wish to teach. So that’s another reason to go to college, but I’d honestly say not a particularly inspiring one.

    As far as employers requiring a degree, I think they’re looking for a proficiency level and not wanting to have to do the hard work of finding someone. Several commenters have mentioned that a high school education isn’t worth what it once was, and I couldn’t agree more. I work with capable adults who raise their children well and are fun to be around–but who cannot spell, use proper grammar, or tell you the first thing about basic civics concepts. A college degree might not guarantee those things, either, but it makes the employer feel a little more comfortable.

  37. I think this subject is one that NEEDS to be addressed immediately! You were very fortunate Msgr given what your high school offered. I don’t remember half of those trade courses at my school and those that were enrolled were hand-picked (it seemed) by guidance counselors. The rest of us (who had serious problems or were just mediocre) were left to rot and hope we find min. wage jobs at the local restaurant or retail store. This was at the end of the 80’s and parents still believed you could “work your way up” in the workforce. That was so untrue, however. As I quickly learned that if you did not have a degree, you couldn’t become manager even in a little store. It was pathetic. Your earnings could not afford a car and an apartment at the same time, let alone support a family.

    Today I’m going to college but I’m married now and have 6 little children to care for. It is very hard. I have to take classes part time just to afford them, as well as have time to do the homework. So I won’t finish in 2 or 4 years, more like 9 (or more). I’m just hoping I can complete an Associate but that makes me depressed. Why? Because an Associate doesn’t really mean anything anymore and the University keeps telling you to push for the BA. And even after you get the BA, I know people in the field who say they can’t get a decent paying job unless they get their Masters (which is very true now). But those parents who are working with a BA struggle to find the time to go back to school, or are just tired of having to balance so much work.

    As I attend to my college education (because my spouse may not be able to support us much longer), I rarely have time to do the things I should with the children: spending extra time with each one, helping them with their religious education, just being a mom who is relaxed and attentive. Instead, I am stressed out, worried about getting meals done, getting my homework done, getting to class on time, studying for multiple exams often, trying to deal with sick babies, etc.

    Most of the students I know that attend the same college are parents too. They are all going back to school because they need to.

    I think college is too expensive. I think it is NOT just to require that everyone go to college because simply, not everyone can do it. It is hard, it is not easy and takes a lot of commitment (many times I have wanted to quit given the level of work load and difficult subject matter). It is too expensive, especially to ask parents to take on even more debt when they need to save for their own children.

    But that is where our economy is now. One can’t get a decent job to support their family unless they have a college degree. And if you were not fortunate enough to have parents who could help you (or encourage you) to go to college when you were young, your life will be a very difficult one.

    The Church wants families to grow and be fruitful but if parents can not support their own families on the income they are receiving at non-degree jobs. The Church NEEDS to advocate for better jobs, a living wage, etc. I know that it does but not as much as it should be. If the Church wants to support families, especially big Catholic families, they need to get involved in the workforce issues and the education issues.

  38. Yes college is overrated, and it is a shame a college bubble has been created by well meaning educators and the government. The government throws money at people to go to college, even if they can’t handle it, or there aren’t jobs available.

    If college is an investment, which it is, its returns are rapidly diminishing for most people. Average incomes have stagnated. I read the other day incomes are at 1996 levels when adjusted for inflation. College costs are increasing 6-10% per year. This means each year, college is a worse investment than the year before, unless of course incomes start rising and jobs start appearing.

    I have a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. I graduated with a 3.99 from a prestigious University and I make less than a government employed launderer…far less actually. The problem is multi-fold, but two of the problems are degrees are getting more expensive, AND colleges are graduating loads of kids with degrees that just aren’t marketable. Don’t get me wrong, studying English poetry is a noble pursuit, but is it worth $75,000 in student loan debt and no job after college? Is it worth competing against hundreds of equally qualified PhDs in the field for the one job in your city that opens annually? I love learning and education, but I have seriously been questioning the “everybody should go to college” and “college=success” mantras lately.

  39. I agree with you Father, the cost of education is too high. The value placed on a degree is out of proportion. The demand by the employer is unrealistic although, as an employer, a degree does provide a metric by which to measure perserverance.

    Our family is “solving” the problem by having both parents work and the children go to the local state university. As long as the bank of Mom and Dad is solvent (paying for college, kids pay for books and transportation, living at home) the kids graduate with no debt. Is the college great? No – one child repeatedly reported their Spanish professor for her communist / anti-Catholic diatribes in class. We pay extra for the required comprehensive health insurance while covering the kids under our family health insurance. The kids are exposed to the radical elements of a very counter cultural environment. But, it’s what we can afford.

    The salvation for my children is that they aren’t away from home – free food, the use of a bike / sometimes a car, a warm bed, faith, no drugs, no drinking, academic review required for continuation of “scholarship”. As the economy tightens, they appreciate this opportunity.

    In contrast, one of the children went to a state university – well prepared at home but unprepared for the immoral environment she found herself in. She came home, a bit chastened. The point to ponder here – she had 8 years of parochial education, 10 years of additional CCD, faithful attendance by the entire family at Sunday Mass, regular confession – a good example. She continued with Sunday Mass, semi-regular confession (4 times in one year rather than monthly) and adoration at 4am one time a week – she still slipped. The environment in the schools is so profane – even with all we did for and with her as well as all she did for herself, she still wasn’t strong enough. I’m not sure if any of our children are strong enough. But, by the grace of God, she has pulled things together, learned from her experience and is staying close to the sacraments. She acknowledges that she had an “institutional knowledge” of her faith but hadn’t fully integrated it into her life – I think that the kids do have an integrated faith but aren’t being guided in how to grow their relationship. They don’t realize that relationships take time, energy and perservance. What they feel at the moment isn’t a good indication of reality and can merely reflect a moment in time.

    A great article, Father.

  40. I completely agree. There are some fields that require advanced knowledge of certain things (engineering, meteorology, certainly many others) in order to even begin training and getting experience in the workforce, but there are so many jobs, not at all menial, that rely heavily or solely on learned experience that really have no use for a degree.

    I’m in graduate school now for a master’s in meteorology (an example of a field in which an advanced degree is becoming increasingly preferred), but after getting my bachelor’s in geophysics, I did work a little while in a reservoir technology lab for an energy company. I felt a little ridiculous because I made a decent starting salary, but absolutely nothing in the job required a bachelor’s degree in anything, yet I know the company hires almost no one without a bachelor’s, even in a receptionist position.

    So jobs that should require no degree keep asking for one, and jobs that required a bachelor’s are increasingly requiring advanced degrees in order for applicants to be competitive! Yet, they still won’t pay you as much as someone with more experience. It’s quite bizarre, really.

  41. First let me say that my family is a mixed bag of Catholic, Episcoplian, Baptist and Presbrytarian. I graduated highschool in 1985 and only took one year of college before, marriage, work and children became my life. I am extremely frustrated as I “worked my way up the ladder” in a professional field and was licensed in my state for over 10 years with excellent references. I chose to step away from my field for a few years(5) to homeschool my son. He then decided to go back school for the socialization and I agreed. I sent him to a Christian academy and then finally to “public school”. I spent several hundred dollars to obtain my licensure back as I had let it lapse, only to find that no company would then hire me as I had no college degree. It did not seem to matter how much experience I had or great references from local and national accounts in my field. I then took a lesser paying job in non profits and was satisifed with my work and was laid off two years ago. I have since had two very low paying jobs and was laid off from them due to the economy as well. I have supervisory, office management and accounting skills but when searching for a receptionist position or something along those lines just to get in the door, a college degree is required? Rediculous! My search is frustrating and now as a mother of three, one seeking a college degree, one entering the military and one married and working at a blue collar job, I am afraid for my children and myself. At the age of 44, I too will join the ranks of the government loan group as I go back to school for a minimum of an associates degree. Why isnt experience valued any more?

  42. Colleges and universities have morphed into sports teams and grand archetecture to honor past college presidents and even big donors. Education is a far second.

    Also, they are institutions of cultural rot. If you disagree, well then you obviously have no morals to begin with.

    It’s no longer about the best and the brightest as it is about ethnic sensitivity and multiculturalism worship. No longer do medical schools and law schools accept the best students, it’s now all about weird trivial skin color and if you have a baby out of wedlock (as if there is some glory in being a single mother getting a FREE education while getting tons of welfare money).

  43. It seems to me that college education is another piece of the clawing to survive phenomena. Ultimately, any cost is beared as the alternatives become less desireable. Some are getting wealthy on this phenomenon, some are surviving, and some are getting hurt. It could turn out to be a roll of the dice and timing in the end.
    I must say, some of the humanities and liberal arts instructors personalities I encountered were disturbing. I tried to stay away from those areas as they seemed to be indoctrination focused.

Comments are closed.