Old school

I said, "Dad, I'm so excited about my studies at Brown. I think I'm going to major in philosophy." So my father slowly turned the car and put it off to the side of the road—he looked back at me and said: "Hey, when you finish your residency, you can study anything you want." He said: "Look, you are a Chinaman"—that's how he used to talk—"You're a Chinaman. And you are not going to make it in this world if you study philosophy. If you think this country owes you anything, you're crazy. You have to get a skill."
It’s time to get practical about college. It’s only been for the past generation or two (if that) that going on to college has become the de rigueur step after high school for anyone and everyone so inclined. For some, it’s the ultimate badge of upward mobility (for my college—and me—the high number of first-generation college-goers on campus was a special point of pride). For many others, it’s a culturally expected rite of passage (those halcyon days! four years of me time). But now, as galloping college tuition inflation and nondischargeable student loan debt collide with uncertain prospects for jobs and the economy, it's sensible for students and their parents to question what their time and money is going toward and what they should expect to get from their investment.

The idea that college should be an option for everyone is a worthy one. It's been a way to correct the pervasive mismatch (in years not too long past) between those who had the access and the means to get a college degree and those who had the talent but were shut out through demographic happenstance. But with "universal" higher ed,  the absence of a college degree closes the door to too many career paths, even those for which a college education is of dubious relevance. And now that colleges are increasingly having to step in to catch up students on what they missed in K-12, the college degree, not the high school diploma, may be becoming the new threshold of basic academic achievement. In my wildest dreams, I'd like to think that (since it looks like productivity gains through workforce reductions have been pretty much all wrung out) there's now an opportunity for new productivity gains to come from "talent scouts" who can suss out smarts, drive and potential, independent of higher ed pedigree...but unless and until that happens, the college credential, in all its overrated and exorbitant glory, is a necessity.

"Look upon me! I'll show you the life of the mind." (Barton Fink, 1991)

College (although not all colleges, nor all majors, nor all classrooms) is now just one place, and not the only place, for curious minds (though not all minds, not that there's anything wrong with that) to inquire and broaden their learning. Intellectual ferment isn't restricted to high-priced ivy-covered halls any more, now that open source and public domain resources are proliferating and fine minds (from inside and outside the academy) are actively engaging online. Choose a college that's your best buy for getting a credential at a price that won't indenture you to a job that you can't leave. In college, learn to be resourceful and pursue a skill that will provide practical sustenance while you learn what you love or love what you learn, all the days of your life. 

(*Jim Yong Kim went to med school, got a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and co-founded Partners In Health아버지 knows best.)

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