Upon reading Is College Worth It? by William J. Bennett and David Wilezol, I would be inclined to agree that vocational and MOOC’s are more valuable than a standard college education for a sustainable career. I would also be inclined to agree that high school has no value to any student in the future. Indeed, I created the Quintillion Ink-Strokes series based on authors, memoirists, and scholars who I find fascinating and who have a unique take on–well–anything.
However, the tone and the double standards throughout the book really turned me off.
Basically, Is College Worth It? functions as an expose of the standard university educational system, making the case that it is wrought with corruption, public relations gymnastics, and hopelessly high student loan debt. Both authors suggest changing the system by only allowing students who are financially literate enough to apply for loans and the removal of any liberal arts degrees which have a high unemployment rate. They note that sometimes students will not be interested in college material because they have no other reason for attending college besides the prestige associated with it. This would be the moment when the reader would realize that college is not a determiner of intelligence or job security, especially since innovative people like Bill Gates either did not attend college or dropped of it.
However, as for the rest of the millennial college students themselves, Bennett engages in broad generalizations, claiming that they are more concerned with partying and hooking up than their own education. I think this is a completely tone-deaf conceptualization, especially since he only cites that reality 100 pages into the book, which included statistics that did not include students who had part- or full-time jobs, lived outside of campus, or whether any of the universities he mentioned were dry campuses (like mine is). If anything, those experiences are only minor parts of the college experience. I will say that throughout my time in Monmouth University, almost all of the students who surrounded me were employed on some level. I felt ashamed for NOT having a job.
Job security does become a major part of the book, especially early on when he uses anecdotal accounts of alumni who have regretted taking out loans and paying them off with jobs that don’t even fit their majors. Bennett has argued that trade schools should be a better option for most graduating high school students, yet at the same time he highlights the progression of technology by also recommending MOOC’s. Although I have also argued that MOOC’s will become more relevant in the coming years, the problem I have with Bennett’s logic is that if the technology that created the MOOC would outpace the educational system, then who is to say that automation would not also do the same to trades?
Nowhere in his book does he mention the impact that automation would have in occupations that would have otherwise have been considered stable many years ago. Since this book was published in 2013, I do not necessarily know if automation was a big deal as it is as of 2020, though nonetheless Bennett has not commented the possibility that vocational jobs, such as mechanics, plumbers, and technicians, might dramatically change due to automation, with people in vocational jobs either having to choose another job or learn new skills in the newly modified occupation.
Of course, technology is a major theme throughout this book, since it ultimately determines how the educational system could change and how it already determines the marketplace. The title of the book itself is slightly misleading, because Bennett and Wilezol discuss the college system as a whole and then digress into the differences in job prospects between liberal arts majors and STEM majors. They explain that people in STEM fields make more money in the long-term than liberal arts occupations because of the utility of science and technology in society. This would sound reasonable, however throughout the book he constantly denigrates the value that the liberal arts themselves have in terms of the skills that are relevant to society.
In which case, there are innumerable skills that, in my case, an English major can offer, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, etc. Since English is the most widely spoken language in the world, it is also used for problem-solving, as entrepreneur Jay Walker argued in his TED talk. If people are able to speak English, then they can communicate with people all across the globe either for business or NGO purposes.
Bennett definitely shows a let-them-eat-cake indifference towards liberal arts majors, particularly when he agreed with Florida governor Rick Scott (no relation) that STEM majors should be more focused on than Anthropology majors in the state of Florida. Being an Anthropology major not only gets you a career as an Anthropologist, but lets you deeply analyze societal functions. An example of this is in Malcolm Gladwell’s essay The Broken Ladder, he discussed how an anthropologist was able to study a mafia crime family, essentially applying his skills as an anthropologist who traveled all over the world to studying the complex parallel societies that can arise from Italian disenfranchisement during their earliest days as immigrants in America. Like all other liberal arts majors, anthropology provides an underestimated value to American society.
Bennett and Wilezol mention a student who works in engine repair who explained that in-depth knowledge of every single component of an engine is required when fixing an engine. However, the same can be said of the English language, which like all other languages consists of smaller components, such as morphemes, phonemes, lexicon, and grammatical cases.
Not only that, but Bennett recommends universities whom base their curricula upon the Holy Bible. If that is the case, then it completely contradicts conventional science, since the Bible teaches that the Earth was made in seven days and a man named Jonah lived inside a whale amidst other scientific inconsistencies. If you ignore them and focus on the moral value that the Holy Bible preaches, then it involves cherry-picking every good quote and ignoring the ones which would not be compatible with a modern secular society, such as Jacob knowingly lying to his blind father by pretending to be his own brother Esau, Moses and his followers conducting a genocide, or Jesus instructing slaves to be obedient to their own masters.
Bennett talks about students pursue what he called “obscure fields” such as medieval studies and anthropology, yet he himself has a B.A. in Philosophy, which did not stop him from pursuing a law degree in Harvard or becoming the Secretary of Education. Of course, Bennett does acknowledges this and explains that when his undergraduate college experience was not a financial disadvantage. I cannot say that it is brazon hypocrisy because he mentions that only 1/3 of college students are suitable for college education, which implies that he was within that fraction.
This book might speak to the people who have no college education, though it is completely tone-deaf to the millions of people with a college education; it most certainly does not speak to the college students who are busting their own asses off either during or after university.
As for answering the title of his book Is College Worth It?–as a liberal arts graduate student–I will have to say that it will not be, nor the vocational schools unless society starts discussing more about how careers will be altered by the never-ending pace of technology.
Bennett, William J. and David Wilezol. “Is College Worth It? A Former United States Secretary of Education and a Liberal Arts Graduate Expose the Broken Promise of Higher Education.” Thomas Nelson. 2013.
Edited by Ariel Levy. “The Best American Essays: 2015.” Mariner. 2015.