Too Much Education?

In 2002, 27.2% of Americans had obtained a Bachelors degree.  Only 7.6% have a Masters degree, and only 3% had earned a Ph.D.  That means 73% of Americans have not graduated from college with a Bachelors degree.  Of those 73%, I do not know how many are suspicious of who of us who have, but it seems like a fairly large number.  And when it gets to the Masters level, the spread gets so much larger.  92% of Americans do not have a Masters degree, and 97% have not earned a Ph.D!  Of course there is nothing wrong with not having a college degree, or Masters degree, or Ph.D.  But I wonder what is up with the suspicion?   You hear the media referred to as “elite,” and a significant number of Americans believe in some kind of conspiracy among the media elite to not represent the viewpoints of the average Joe.  We know that nearly all journalists have college degrees, and many have degrees beyond the Bachelor level.  And of course we know that there is a correlation between political views and education levels.  The more education one receives, generally, the more one is likely to identify as liberal.  But is that because education leads us in the right direction, or the wrong one?

How much education is too much?  Is the threat that education might make me liberal a good reason not to get a good education?  Of course not.  Am I a liberal?  Not at all.  Must an educated person be a liberal?  Of course not.  Am I a conservative?  Not at all.  What education has done for me is helped me listen better, and relieved me of the idea that the world is black and white — that you are always wrong and I am always right, or vice versa.  Education has helped me see that more nuance is needed in politics, and in my life, and that both conservative and liberal points of view are simply points of view.

I think it is important to remember that in America nearly everyone is far more educated than much of the rest of the world. So are you better off or worse off, overall, because of whatever level of education you have received? If you stopped going to school after 6th grade, do you think you’d have been better off to stop after 3rd grade? If you stopped after high school, should you have stopped after grade school?  On their deathbeds, do people ever say, “You know — I sure wish I hadn’t earned that ridiculous Ph.D.  What a waste of time that was”?  How much education is too much?

Whatever level of education you have received, do you know who thinks it’s too much?  The Taliban.  Repressive governments always seek to keep people from being educated.  If we want to control people, we must keep them from knowing things.  Hitler exterminated college professors and clerics and burned books.  Limiting access to knowledge is the most important step to take in creating an oppressive society.  It’s fine that school isn’t for everybody.  That is a choice everyone gets to make in America and I respect it.  I’m thankful for people who choose differently than I have chosen because they end up being able to do amazing things that I cannot do and that clearly need to be done.  But why do some people seem to think there’s something virtuous about having chosen to limit their education, and something malevolent about those of us who choose to keep learning?

It is almost like some people think the best way to give a big F-U to the so-called elitists of our country is to stay out of the university.  But I think the best way to give a big F-U to the man (if that is your goal) is to go to university and learn to write persuasive arguments against the man.  Or go to university and become a journalist and ask the hard questions you think no one else is asking.  And don’t cop out and work at Fox.  Do what John Stossel did and go to work for the very media elite you oppose.  Now that’s cool!

Of course the fact that I personally plan to die in a classroom when I’m 97 years old (as a student, not a teacher), does not mean that anyone else needs to feel like they have to go to school the rest of their lives.  I am simply asking, “How much education is too much?” and hoping the answer is not, “When it leads someone to disagree with me.”

So what is the answer?  How much intelligence is too much?  I don’t know the answer to this.  Clearly I have not received enough schooling yet.

Source for statistics: U.S. Census Bureau, as cited on Wikipedia, and PhonyDiploma.com

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Wes Ellis II

    I agree that education is important, and that knowledge is a great weapon for sticking it to the man, but I don’t believe that an over priced forced establishment is the only place you can obtain an education, or knowledge. The average college student graduate of a bachelor’s degree debt is around $20,000, for a masters is 3 to 4 times that, and for a PhD your looking at least 100,000 dollars in debt. Yes it increases your earning potential, but that is a mighty hole to dig out of. I believe that until the system is fixed college, and universities built simply to take your money are not the best option for education. Especially when debt is something we are called to avoid. There is a balance that has to be found to achieve what needs to be done in school to get a career, and then you can find other more economically sensible ways of advance education and knowledge. Simply getting another piece of paper, and taking more classes to me seems like a waste of money, and isn’t sticking it to the man it is lining his already bulging pockets.

    • Some good thoughts, Wes. However, most of your argument is based on the idea that going to college is impossible without accruing debt. This is false. My oldest daughter worked hard in high school and got a full-tuition scholarship. Her band teacher paid his tuition on a credit card each semester, and then worked his butt off all semester to pay it off before charging the next semester. He graduated debt-free. Then there’s the good old fashioned method called “saving.” Those are just a few off the top of my head.

      • Wes Ellis II

        I never said it was impossible. I have the GI bill, and savings that will cover the rest of my next degree, and the rest of my wife’s masters degree so I know that it’s not. I was saying that the system is set up to make it very difficult though. Below I have added some statistics of not only how unlikely it is but with the way our society is going it is becoming a waste for a lot of people as well. It seems like students are paying more, and investing less in there education, getting less of an education, and get less of a return for there money. By the way impossible was your word Dave. I never said it. My point was just that things need to change so that the demand for higher education is achievable without such an overwhelming financial burden. I am very happy for your daughter by the way that is great to hear. That will really help her start out on the right foot.

        #1 Since 1978, the cost of college tuition in the United States has gone up by over 900 percent.

        #2 In 2010, the average college graduate had accumulated approximately $25,000 in student loan debt by graduation day.

        #3 Approximately two-thirds of all college students graduate with student loans.

        #4 Americans have accumulated well over $900 billion in student loan debt. That figure is higher than the total amount of credit card debt in the United States.

        #5 The typical U.S. college student spends less than 30 hours a week on academics.

        #6 According to very extensive research detailed in a new book entitled “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses”, 45 percent of U.S. college students exhibit “no significant gains in learning” after two years in college.

        #7 Today, college students spend approximately 50% less time studying than U.S. college students did just a few decades ago.

        #8 35% of U.S. college students spend 5 hours or less studying per week.

        #9 50% of U.S. college students have never taken a class where they had to write more than 20 pages.

        #10 32% of U.S. college students have never taken a class where they had to read more than 40 pages in a week.

        #11 U.S. college students spend 24% of their time sleeping, 51% of their time socializing and 7% of their time studying.

        #12 Federal statistics reveal that only 36 percent of the full-time students who began college in 2001 received a bachelor’s degree within four years.

        #13 Nearly half of all the graduate science students enrolled at colleges and universities in the United States are foreigners.

        #14 According to the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate for college graduates younger than 25 years old was 9.3 percent in 2010.

        #15 One-third of all college graduates end up taking jobs that don’t even require college degrees.

        • No, you didn’t say it is impossible, but the substance of your argument depends on it. Otherwise your points don’t make a whole lot of sense.

          #1 Since 1978, the cost of college tuition in the United States has gone up by over 900 percent.

          No doubt. Sucks.

          #2 In 2010, the average college graduate had accumulated approximately $25,000 in student loan debt by graduation day.

          True. But is this because it has to happen, or it it because our culture/society simply tolerates more debt now than it used to? I think this is much more a social problem than it is something connected directly to the educational system.

          #3 Approximately two-thirds of all college students graduate with student loans.

          Again, true. But it doesn’t say anything specifically about the system. The question is, is it possible for many/most students to graduate debt-free or without massive amounts of debt? I believe the answer is yes, so all of this is moot.

          #4 Americans have accumulated well over $900 billion in student loan debt. That figure is higher than the total amount of credit card debt in the United States.

          #5 The typical U.S. college student spends less than 30 hours a week on academics.

          Is that the school’s fault? I’m sure they’d have it otherwise. Social issue perhaps? Bad parenting? Certainly not because the institutions demand that academics not be taken seriously.

          #6 According to very extensive research detailed in a new book entitled “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses”, 45 percent of U.S. college students exhibit “no significant gains in learning” after two years in college.

          Why is this? The stat says nothing without possible reasons/causes. If the study addresses that, this point might support what you’re saying.

          #7 Today, college students spend approximately 50% less time studying than U.S. college students did just a few decades ago.

          Schools fault? No. Anyone who makes an investment of tens of thousands of dollars and then squanders it by not studying, is an idiot. Perhaps colleges need to start seeing willingness to study as a sign of basic intelligence.

          #8 35% of U.S. college students spend 5 hours or less studying per week.

          #9 50% of U.S. college students have never taken a class where they had to write more than 20 pages.

          #10 32% of U.S. college students have never taken a class where they had to read more than 40 pages in a week.

          #11 U.S. college students spend 24% of their time sleeping, 51% of their time socializing and 7% of their time studying.

          #12 Federal statistics reveal that only 36 percent of the full-time students who began college in 2001 received a bachelor’s degree within four years.

          #13 Nearly half of all the graduate science students enrolled at colleges and universities in the United States are foreigners.

          #14 According to the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate for college graduates younger than 25 years old was 9.3 percent in 2010.

          #15 One-third of all college graduates end up taking jobs that don’t even require college degrees.

          So many of these stats don’t have a whole lot to do with the educational system directly. They are facts, but facts about what? That is the most important question. Do we have an issue with the schools, or with the character of students? As a professor, I can assure you that a sense of entitlement to a good grade is a significant problem. That’s not my fault, or the school’s fault, except insofar as instructors acquiesce to the pressure and give out good grades that are undeserved.

  • The problem with ‘education’ in the US is the lack of critical thinking. People are pounded with all sorts of information and memetics, but our young are no longer being taught how to think critically. It leaves them spinning in circles.

  • I think I am reaching the point of too much education, and I don’t even have a Bachelors yet. This day in age I don’t think it’s necessarily too much education that is a problem – I think it’s that not enough people are getting a quality education. I know plenty of people who have obtained a higher level of education beyond high school, but still can’t critically think or reasonably debate.