Over the Winter Break, I bought and read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Fascinating book, and also a brief history of “Silicon Valley.” I highly recommend the book.
Steve Jobs never completed college. Neither did Bill Gates, of Microsoft. Mark Zuckerberg, the developer of Facebook, he dropped out of college, too.
I hear State Senators and Representatives declare these facts all the time when they are attacking college and universities, and higher education, in general. Even U.S. Congresspeople proclaim, “whats the point of a college education when Steve Jobs became very successful, and he didn’t finish college?”
Here is the problem with that line of reasoning: while true that these individuals did not complete college, the thousands of people that Jobs and Gates and Zuckerberg employ did finish college.
Second, detractors of higher education also miss another point: all three of these people went to college. They knew higher education was important. Not only did they know higher education for themselves was important but the college environment put them in touch with other talented people. Jobs networked, Gates networked, and Zuckerberg networked. They sought out other smart, talented, and driven people and worked with these others, like Steve Wozniak, to create the companies of Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook.
These individuals did not sit around on their ass, goofing around, and wasting time, money, and energy. OK, well, that is not entirely true in Jobs’ case, but he still was able to motivate the people around him, and innovate the industry.
As much as some politicians seem to think that Steve Jobs laid the Apple Egg, or Bill Gates laid the Microsoft Egg, solely, on their own, with no help, these guys would not be who they are, or have built what they built without thousands of skilled, highly-educated, college-educated people surrounding them.
Third, a college education helps support a free and open society. Liberally educated people are better able to understand the nuances of economics, politics, culture, and other aspects of a global society. Not that a non-college education person is not capable of understanding, but that person has to have the desire to educate themselves. A college student is forced into those liberal arts classes, and forced to be exposed. Yes, they complain, and they don’t understand what Western Civilization I and II have to do with journalism, but that is not the point. Education is a process, a journey, not a destination. And the process is to expose you to information, to data.
Fighting against your own education is as senseless as not getting immunized against smallpox, TB, mumps, and rubella.
In fact, what seems to be happening in these arguments against Higher Education, is that another disparity is forming on our horizon. This disparity is insidious. I can envision an education disparity developing, where only those able to afford Higher Education are those able to attain one. Only the wealthy get educated, in other words.
Is that what we want? As education can be directly tied to income, can we really afford to further concentrate wealth, economic power, and education in the hands of the few? Should not access to education be one of the fundamental obligations of a open democracy?
Look around the world and look at how countries treat education. Most of Europe, in fact, most of the developed world, sees higher education as such a fundamental right of people that residents underwrite almost 100% of the cost of education, through the Bachelor’s Degree. Why? Because education, especially the education of females and minorities (since they have experienced the most discrimination over time) helps raise incomes, and a higher income helps contribute taxes to support the country. Think about it this way: of a person who makes $25,000 and a person who makes $150,000, who is going to pay more state and federal taxes, in real dollars, generally speaking?
I’m not saying everyone should go to college. I have other posts that address this point. However, politicians undermine democracy by speaking out against higher education, against funding higher education. Arguing against higher education is tantamount to arguing for economic stagnation. Without higher education, we won’t be competing with Germany, or France, or even China. We will be competing on the same level as Mexico, as India, and as Southeast Asian states.
Again, I ask, is that really what we expect of the United States? To walk away from our competitive advantage in providing world-class education, to forfeit our ability to drive global innovation?
Not that I hear these specific words from politicians, but their words against student loans, their words against funding higher education, their words supporting factory and manufacturing jobs, their cuts to the National Science Foundation, all nip away at innovation, research, and erode our national ability to remain competitive. All of these efforts are moving towards a central tendency that attacks the long-term financial, economic, and employment security of the United States.
Even our current president, President Obama, if his words are accurate, does not understand. Public universities are to reign in tuition increases, he says, and has some merit-based plan that would tie federal funding for colleges and universities to tuition costs.
Obama also asked states to make education a bigger priority, noting 40 states cut school funding in the last year.
Michigan is among those states. Gov. Rick Snyder cut state funding for higher education by 15 percent last year, and threatened to cut schools’ funding even more if they raised tuition more than 7 percent.
Governors tell colleges and universities: “You need to increase enrollment by 10-20%. You need to create programs that are in demand, like technology, and health care. No, you cannot build any more classrooms. No, you cannot purchase computers. But, you need to open branches in nearby cities to educate more people, and serve the regional community. No, you cannot hire more people. No, you cannot renovate existing buildings. You need to get out and recruit more high school students. You need to get out and work with local schools. No, you can’t have any financial assistance to do that.”
Obama and Snyder cannot have it both ways. You cannot cut funding to college and universities and expect those same institutions to provide the same level of education. Governors and the President cannot create unfunded mandates, to increase services, to increase programs, to increase enrollment without also making sure funding is available. Not when taxes support the education system, and taxes are diminished due to the economic lag the U.S. is currently experiencing.
Our state and national governments have crossed the Event Horizon, and now draw logic and reason into an abyss.