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Bill Gates on the higher-education crisis

While state funding for higher education plummets, tuition soars to make up the difference. As a result, young people are often being saddled with insurmountable debt, all in the name of getting that all-important college degree. So they drop out along the way, presumably because it’s too expensive to do all at once (at least in some cases). Those students often don’t go back to finish the degree, but they still have to pay back the debt.

Last month, Bill Gates gave a PowerPoint presentation on the matter at the Washington Ideas Forum. He suggested that the problem can be boiled down to not enough people holding college degrees, a common trope among the decision makers and power brokers in politics and industry. But that’s absolutely not true. Just look at the number of college graduates who can’t find work, or who work jobs that absolutely do not require a college education.

For people like Gates — and even Obama and Arne Duncan, for that matter — the solution is to focus on technology, math, and science. And these are noble pursuits, for sure. But when the decision makers and power brokers extol the virtues of a college degree, why won’t they just be upfront about what kind of college degree they’re talking about? I doubt that Gates, Obama, or Duncan would suggest that what the world needs now is more English majors. And that’s a shame, because if they did, the humanities might finally be liberated from the ghetto to which they’ve been consigned.

Education is not just about gaining power and competing with China, India, and Japan. It’s also about understanding what it means to be human, to be civilized, to be empathetic.

Mr. Gates: Technology might be the solution to remaining a global power, and to ensuring that some people find gainful employment after college. But learning to think, to write, and to analyze difficult concepts held enormous value in previous civilizations. Surely those skills still have a place in ours.

Is College Worth It?

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  • Mark December 10, 2012, 8:46 am

    Did you notice that in the slide that says “We Trail 12 Countries,” apparently that includes both North Korea and Sakhalin Island?!

    • David Alm December 10, 2012, 2:52 pm

      Gives one pause, for sure, but I still think we need to stop equating education with our economic/technocratic standing worldwide.