What do your kids learn in college? Lots of people ask the question only when they see the tab for higher education. It’s a good question. A better question is, do they learn How?
I’m a big believer in education for its own sake. Anything you learn is something that might “grow you,” and it might even be something you’ll someday use to good effect. So if that’s why you’re sending your kids to college, good for you.
If you’re paying for higher education because you think it’s gonna help your kids get better jobs, make more money and have a higher standard of life — well, think again. I’m not saying college won’t provide those benefits. I’m saying it isn’t really set up to provide them.
Lots of magazines publish annual college surveys that rank the schools and even suggest how much higher your kid’s lifetime earnings will be if he attends one school versus another. But I look at this another way — a far more pragmatic way.
My buddy Brooke Allen, who runs NoShortageOfWork.com, came up with a test of colleges that makes a lot of sense. Brooke is a numbers guy, so his test is really cool because it’s got nothing to do with numbers. Here it is in his own words:
Here is an experiment: Find an on-line college catalog. Search for the phrase “how to” and see if you find it anywhere, in a title or in any course descriptions. (Things like, “How to sign up for this class” don’t count.) If you find a course that promises to tell students how to do anything, let me know. I haven’t found one yet.
I’ll tell you something: Nothing has gotten under my skin lately more than this. Sure, there are college courses that enable students to walk away and do something or other… so what’s the problem? The problem is that colleges don’t structure their curricula around how to do anything. Learning is fine, but where is the doing?
I think there are probably no courses about How to do something because colleges don’t value How. It’s not part of the institutional mission. So professors don’t teach How to do anything because to the institution, How doesn’t matter.
Why don’t colleges teach How to Be an Accountant? Or, How to Make Money? Or, How to Build a House? Or, How to Do Anything? (All are credible skills that would serve a student — and Mom and Dad — well.)
Now I’m re-defining what it means to me that education is good for its own sake. Learning What is fine, but that doesn’t “grow you” unless you learn How to put it to use. I don’t care if you never get a job or do any work or ever apply the How, because that’s up to you. What I care about is that the How is missing, and How is at least half of any education.
Any school that fails to teach How — about any subject it teaches — fails its students.
Why don’t colleges teach How? And why do you pay so your kids will learn only What?