What is the Use of College?
"It seems to me that a two-year course in math and writing skills should be more than sufficient to prepare someone for a career in banking, marketing, or management. Most of what you need to know you're going to learn on the job anyway.
But in the last three decades the percentage of jobs requiring at least some college has doubled, which means that employers are going along with the college racket. A resume without a college degree is never going to get past the computer programs that screen applications. Why? Certainly it's not because most corporate employers possess a deep affinity for the life of the mind. In fact in his book Executive Blues G. J. Meyers warned of the "academic stench" that can sink a career: That master's degree in English? Better not mention it.
My theory is that employers prefer college grads because they see a college degree chiefly as mark of one's ability to obey and conform. Whatever else you learn in college, you learn to sit still for long periods while appearing to be awake. And whatever else you do in a white collar job, most of the time you'll be sitting and feigning attention. Sitting still for hours on end -- whether in library carrels or office cubicles -- does not come naturally to humans. It must be learned -- although no college has yet been honest enough to offer a degree in seat-warming.
Or maybe what attracts employers to college grads is the scent of desperation. Unless your parents are rich and doting, you will walk away from commencement with a debt averaging $20,000 and no health insurance. Employers can safely bet that you will not be a trouble-maker, a whistle-blower or any other form of non-"team-player." You will do anything. You will grovel."Since I am implicated in the "college racket" (both as a professor and soon as a tuition paying parent) this line of argument strikes close to home. Ehrenreich concedes that College can be enlightening and provocative. And she neglects (here at least) to ask why jobs have to be so thoroughly boring and controled. That, of course, is another, very big question. But the symbiosis between colleges and corporations on this dimension seems difficult to ignore.
PS: You will likely recognize Ehrenreich's argument as a variation on a theme articulated with resepct to elementary/secondary schooling long ago by Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis.