The Importance Of An OK Education

Ah yes, the beginning of another school year. A time for fresh starts, for new challenges, for bold new adventures in learning. And of course time for another round of "everything you know is wrong."

An article in today's RedEye and Tribune editions addresses the growing divide between the pro- and anti-higher education camps in America. The argument goes that, depending on your point of view, the diploma so many kids and adults are out there working so hard for is either the new standard of education level for the American worker, or has become so devalued lately because so many people just go to college because it's what others say is the right thing to do.

The point so many people are so quick to jump to is the issue of earnings. The college degree will earn you more over your lifetime than no college at all will; the millions or so alone should justify the time and expense of higher education.

The contrary side will tell you that no one cares about titles or prestige any more, and that "real-world education" is anyone wants to see. Look at Bill Gates, Berry Gordy, Steve Jobs, Cindy Crawford, Steven Spielberg, et al. They didn't need degrees, and they all did just fine.

I think both sides are missing the point entirely. I received my Bachelor's degree a little over five years ago, and looking back I couldn't tell you much of what I learned in the bulk of my classes, nor at this point could I tell you that the degree by itself will guarantee me any kind of money down the line.

Instead what I learned in college - or, rather, the important things I learned in college - were all outside the classroom.

How to make friends in a place where I had none.

How to make a damn fine cocktail.

How to cook dinner for a woman.

How to take the good of what I wanted to do along with the bad.

How to weigh the consequences of major life decisions without actually rolling the dice.

How to look at all sides of everything.

How to schmooze.

How to defend my ideas against people who were smarter than me.

How to plead my case to someone who controlled my professional future.

Do you see where I'm going with this? None of these are about money. This is America - people of all walks get rich every day. But to reduce higher education to simply monetary terms is insulting not only to the institution but to the participants. Ask those political science or English majors how much more they're making these days than if they'd sat college out. I can guarantee the difference is negligible, if even existent.

Those celebrity dropouts? Please. If you've got half the ideas or will that they do, chances are you're not reading this anyway.

No, college isn't for everyone. Just ask the millions who never finished or never even wanted to try. That's their right, just as it's anyone else's right to go for it. But there is so much to be said for that era of a person's life. An environment of pure learning and exchanging of ideas and dreaming about the wide-open future, learning serious facts in the days and important lessons in the nights.

You're going to tell me you can put a pricetag on that?