The Spectacle Blog

College as Culturalization

By on 7.1.11 | 11:52AM

James Poulos, himself a man of letters, thinks there's a fatal flaw in today's higher education: 

College should be for everyone, we believe, because no college means no job, or none worth having. Americans without a degree are closed off to the lifestyle that gives our modern lives meaning. They lack access to spending power that strengthens apace with their personal identities as career professionals.

At the heart of this view, which seems to accord so well with reality, is a belief that one's status as a member of legitimate society is determined in America by economics - and that one's economic status, as a rule, is determined most of all by whether or not you've been admitted to college.

This is an illusion - as the very economic value of a college degree shows. For what is it about going to college that results in a job and a "future"? In a few technical or theoretical fields, the answer is still the education. Some students still get hired for mastering a disciplined training in highly specialized skills.

More are hired simply because they have a degree. Relative to that credential, the particulars of their coursework, field of study and sometimes even academic performance are irrelevant.

We do not fixate on higher education as the key to employment because it trains Americans how and where to take their place in the economy. The market does that for them.

We fixate on higher education as the key to employment because no other institution but college really acculturates Americans into "legitimate" society. Those who do not attend college are second-class citizens in a cultural sense first, and in an economic one only second.

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