Charles C.W. Cooke of National Review reacts in an interesting way to a recent headline: “College Dropout Scott Walker Claims Ronald Reagan Ended the Cold War by Busting Unions.” As Cooke notes, it’s clear the description “college dropout” is designed to serve as a substitute for “‘stupid,’ ‘uncultured,’ ‘unvetted’ — or, at the very least, for ‘lacking in credentials.’”
Credential-focused snobbery has always been unseemly, the grim consequence of conflating individual ability and institutional imprimatur. But it is especially perplexing to see it rearing its head now, when higher education is yielding such questionable returns. All across the world, universities are churning out parades of people who are processed through their halls less for didactic betterment and more because attending college for four years has become a rite of passage — “what one does” between high school and the real world.
In a significant number of cases, would-be students have not yet noticed that their enthusiasm for a college placement is predicated upon a fatal misconception: that a degree will inexorably lead to a better life. Often, it will not. As Occupy Wall Street demonstrated rather cruelly, the hardest-hit victims of the Great Recession have been the students — the millions of young people who believed that their educations would insulate them from the undulations and vagaries of the market. “I have a degree!” many were prone to whine down in Zuccotti Park, when asked what ailed them. “Okay,” one might have responded. “So bloody what?”
Cooke’s commentary will come as no surprise to those who have read recurring “Locker Room” entries on the theme that college is oversold. This observer also recalled a column sparked by a statement during a legislative hearing in 2012: ““I’m highly educated, very qualified. I don’t need training. I need a job.”