Why pay thousands of dollars a year in tuition to send your kid to a private high school if the result is getting into the same college he could have attended coming from your local public school? Community college stigma is part of what private high schools sell, whether consciously or not. Deprive them of that, and you threaten their reason to exist. You can expect them to respond accordingly.We've long been in general agreement about the foolishness of the positional arms race that accompanies the sale of U. S. News guides, although we perceive the image problem the community colleges and the regional comprehensives have differently.
But there's a flaw in his argument about the absence of the practical arts in the Ivies. In particular, Princeton is a short train ride from his current posting, and serves as a useful foil.
Over a hundred years ago, Thorstein Veblen noted that the prestige of a college was in inverse proportion to its usefulness. He suggested that the ability to indulge in uselessness was a sign of wealth and power, both of which bring prestige with them. That’s why you can major in economics at Princeton, but you can’t major in business there. (He even carried the insight over to clothing. Ties are utterly useless and kind of fragile; you can’t really work with your hands while wearing one. Therefore, by wearing one, you are advertising that you don’t have to get your hands dirty. Their prestige is a function of their uselessness. I consider this reason #763 to get rid of ties entirely, but that’s another post.) The more prestigious the college, the fewer “vocational” programs it offers. Community colleges fare miserably on that index, since most of them are “comprehensive,” meaning that they offer both vocational and transfer programs. The mere presence of the Automotive Tech program, in this view, tars the English department by association. Elite places don’t like to get their hands dirty.I finished the Ph.D. at a young age, and the tie did work well as a badge of rank, right up to the day I retired. Had I taken a job that led to a Roadmaster or Road Foreman position on a railroad, the tie would stay as well.
It's that remark about economics as somehow less vocational (as far as I can tell) than business. In the Ivies, which like to use the old trivium and quadrivium model in undergraduate programs, an undergraduate business program is rare. But the value of an economics degree from Princeton is precisely as a vocational program, if, perhaps in the sense of a priestly vocation. Study Ito processes with Avinash Dixit and that group, and your first posting might be a short New Jersey Transit ride to Wall Street, where you can hire out at a hedge fund and give people the business until the black swans fly. Study monetary history with Ben Bernanke or his successors, and the Federal Reserve is a fast Amtrak ride to the south, and there are lots of classmates, and members of the eating clubs, and past professors to work with and give people the business. If you have the mathematical chops, you can study taxation theory with Joe Stiglitz and that group, and if you're successful enough at assuming an omniscient central planner, you might be able to assist (primarily Democratic) Members of Congress at giving people the business.
It's probably helping the community colleges, and the regional comprehensives, mid-majors, and land grants that the Anointed Experts have fouled up so gloriously.
Happily for community colleges, that distinction is starting to fray. As the cost of higher education escalates far beyond what most families can pay, and entry-level salaries remain largely stagnant, the middle- and upper-middle-classes are starting to look at the employability of a given college’s graduates. After a century of being under suspicion, ‘usefulness’ is starting to gain some respect.Has it been a century of decline for the useful degrees? I suspect not: the rationale for the land-grant colleges and the converted teachers colleges has always been about the practical arts. The U.S. News problem, however, is self-inflicted. "The deeper problem, though, is that higher education has lowered itself unevenly, in ways that make social stratification worse."
On the railroad, you set the expectation that the freight yard be empty of cars at the end of the shift. There are analogous expectations to set in higher education.