Millennial History

By Steve Jackson

The WOKE demolition of the college

 ‘Get Woke, go broke.” It’s a phrase people coined to describe the failure of Hollywood’s recent politics- drenched efforts at blockbuster films, from which viewers stayed away from in droves. But now it applies to another field: higher education. College and graduate degrees were comparatively rare before about 1970. People could be quite successful without them, and there was little stigma attached to their absence. 

    That changed as the baby boomers and the GI Bill hit colleges. By the 1970’s, college became an essential ticket to entry in the managerial and professional classes(and even to military promotions). Where higher had once been a luxury, it became a necessity to membership in the middle and especially the upper-middle, class.  

     Parents struggled to live in districts with “top” public schools so they could get their kids into good colleges. Once admitted, the students often borrowed huge sums of money( most of which went into the colleges’ endowment fund) to attend. The goal was a degree from a “prestige “ school, which would guarantee a good job out of college or admission to a top law, medical or other professional school and thus a secure position among the haute bourgeoisie.   

      That system is falling apart. Higher education’s enormous costs, which have grown at a rate exceeding that of most other items in today’s budgets, have become such that even a good job like a doctor or lawyer often isn’t enough to justify them, and hardly any other professional job even comes close. As a result, college enrollments are plummeting—nationwide undergraduate enrollment fell by 650,000 in a single calendar year, spring 2021 to 2022. It’s down 14% in the past decade, even as the US population grows.   

      But here’s a new wrinkle. It’s not just colleges that are “woke”, it’s also employers. And woke employers are pursuing a new strategy that may make colleges go broke faster, as notions of “equity” and “privilege “ popular on the campus spread to the corporate world.  

      Some employers are asking applicants to omit the colleges they attended off their applications. Instead of the school, they are simply to list the degree. Whether it came from Harvard or Hillsdale won’t matter anymore because the employer doesn’t want to know. Prestige degrees confer “privilege ,” you know, and that’s bad for equity.( This also seems to open the door to totally fabricated degrees and job applications). 

     Well, of course people know prestige degrees confer privilege. That’s why they pursue them. But now all that studying, all those contrived extra curricular activities, all those anguished nights spent writing “personal essays “are for naught. You might as well have gone to a school whose admissions requirements were to walk and chew gum simultaneously. The degree counts the same.   

     It gets worse. The Gartner Consulting firm recently recommended for its 15,000, in the name of equity, consider hiring people without degrees at all. The focus on degrees is bad for “underrepresented candidates” because they’re less likely to have attended or finished college. Gartner suggests employers instead focus on “assessing candidates solely on their ability to perform in the role,” rather than on their” formal education and experience .” This is a huge departure from the past and it is bad news for colleges selling the “polish” of a hard-earned degree. If employers are no longer hiring based on credentials then the market for credentials is heading off the nearest cliff. The trickle down effect is that parents of high-schoolers will no longer want or need their offspring to attend elite universities.    

     So if toiling hard in a top high school won’t get you a scholarship to attend a prestige school that won’t get you a fancy job post-graduation, why bother. In a way we are going back to the 1960’s where having and developing a skill at a technical school without the burden of huge college loans is a more palatable way to success. I don’t see a happy ending for the so-called prestige college education. Maybe pushing “equity” so hard was a mistake.



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