College is deeply ingrained in American culture. It seems unfathomable to imagine life without it – like a world without Christmas and the Easter Bunny! I started thinking about abolishing college in my previous post about the problems with Biden’s college plan, but I just kept running with it.
Imagine how great it would be if college was abolished. You could let your kid be a kid, without worrying about saving in a 529 to afford a competitive preschool. Maybe you could sleep in instead of shuttling her between five different extracurriculars and she could spend her high school years going through informational interviews, and then graduate into an internship program. If she didn’t like it, she could switch, because she wouldn’t have to worry about majors or loans. Yes, let’s imagine some of the problems with college that would go away if we just got rid of the whole darn thing.
1. No More Student Loans!
I could list all the benefits of getting rid of student loans, but there is plenty of national attention already on canceling student loans. In addition to reducing stress, college graduates would have more money to start their lives. They wouldn’t be as pressured to taking the highest paid jobs initially, and instead would have the flexibility to pursue their interests a little bit longer.
2. College Graduates Would Start Their Lives Earlier.
There wouldn’t be as much reason to delay getting married, having kids, etc. because there wouldn’t be student loans to delay having a life. This gives time, and time is money.
3. More Time to Earn
The worst drivers are 16-year olds because they’re the newest. If we changed the driving age to 35, the worst drivers would be 35. Starting work at 18 means that young people have four extra years to work on their finances, four more years to invest for retirement. I’m not saying they’ll start at 18, but if they start getting their financial act together four years after working, it’ll just come earlier, maybe at 24 instead of 28. And that makes a big difference in terms of compound interest.
4. Parents Wouldn’t Have to Save For College.
People sometimes forget that paying for college is more than loans. It can be 18 years of savings for the most prudent families. It also includes the cashflow during college. It’s the gamesmanship that parents play so that they don’t look too rich on the FAFSA. IMAGINE NO MORE FAFSA. No more 529s.
Parents could funnel that money into their retirement accounts. Considering that Americans in theirs 60s have an average of $172,000 saved for retirement. Families spent an average of $30,017 on college in the 2019-2020 year. Let’s say that the family only spends that amount for four years total (best case scenario). An extra $120,000 invested in their retirement accounts would more than double their retirement savings by their 60s or 70s. Less stress for parents facing retirement – that’s a huge boon.
5. Taxpayers Don’t Have To Foot Higher Education Costs
Taxpayers are paying for kids to go to college even though college graduates make up one third of the population and tend to make more money than people who don’t go to college. This is highly regressive taxation. The two thirds without college degrees are subsidizing the 1/3 that has them. Maybe the money could go towards things that would be helpful for all like…roads, healthcare, secondary school education.
6. Colleges Won’t Take Up Valuable Real Estate
Johns Hopkins University bought up some valuable real estate previously occupied by a museum – for about $400 million. How does a college get so much money that it can just buy up a block of prime Washington, D.C. real estate?
Maybe we could have kept that museum if we didn’t have colleges bidding up the costs.
7. Taxpayers Save All That Money Renaming Colleges
A local school district recently spent $500,000 to rename ONE high school. It would cost a lot more to rename a college and that reckoning is coming. Anything named after a Founding Father is already fair game. Let’s save the hundreds of millions of dollars on renaming colleges and end the whole thing.
8. Nix Internships for College Credit
So many proponents for a $15/hour minimum wage let unpaid internships or internships for college credit skate on by. Imagine if college kids could get paid for doing work, like regular people.
9. Our Best and Brightest Get to Be Be Adventurous in Their Careers.
As Andrew Yang details in his excellent book, Smart People Should Build Things, big consulting firms have figured out how to worm their way into top universities and make the application process experience easier.
I mean why else would so many bright idealistic college students become investment bankers and consultants? Do you know of any kids who dream of being a hedge fund manager? Ivy Leaguers become boring paper pushers because elite college students feel the pressure to take the prestigious job and make the most money possible. Their parents spent so much money on sending them to college and they don’t want to be failures.
But if these students didn’t have the peer pressure of college – maybe they could do something really awesome. Like the kids who get into college are interesting, entrepreneurial, awesome. It’s so sad that these same students aren’t encouraged to keep experimenting and building. We are wasting their potential.
10. Students Learn to Create Their Own Education
Why do we put brilliant 18-year olds into preset education paths? With the internet before them, and with their innate tech knowledge, they could easily create their own paths.
Learning is an important skill – and students should be equipped to figure out how to learn things online. Letting students be proactive in their educational course would keep them more engaged and teach them a thing or two about lifelong learning. I mean, after college, many of us are going to switch careers and none of us are going to take four years off and pay six figures to do so.
11. No Longer Defining Ourselves by Our Majors
Why can’t you be well-rounded these days? Jobs can exclude you for not having the right major, but if we don’t have majors, then that can’t happen. People could make cases for themselves in interviews but there wouldn’t be an automatically sorting mechanism.
We have to make human resources work to find the right fit. It’s not fair for them to shortcut the process by filtering for college or by major.
12. Companies Would Have to Train Their Own Employees
Companies are just using college as a sorting mechanism for them to find smart employees. Without college, companies would have to teach their own employees. While their employees are learning, they can learn.
13. People Can’t Name Drop Their Colleges – or Be Ashamed of Them
One of my favorite TV shows is Frasier and he is often derided for name-dropping Harvard into all his conversations. I’ve seen it the other way too. People ask what college people go to and the alumni say “oh you’ve never heard of it.”
Why should your choice of college follow you through your entire life?
14. Career Switching Would Become More Normal
Why would you stay so long in a career that you haven’t invested four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in? You wouldn’t. So maybe you don’t like what you’re doing, and you move on. People would more likely pursue something they like. You wouldn’t have to worry about getting a job worthy of a college degree.
Colleges worry about their graduates getting jobs that require a bachelor’s degree, and they steer you towards these jobs. But students care about happiness. People would probably be a whole lot happier if they had the freedom to do a less prestigious job.
15. Sabbaticals Would Become Normal
If you don’t need a job to pay off your loans, if you don’t have a clear career trajectory, you can switch your job on and off. If you take away the need for prestige, and increase the possibility for fun, maybe people would be more likely to take time off to travel the world.
16. College Student/Townie Rifts Disappear
Many college towns balloon in size when rich college students and their parents move into town. This can cause some reasonable resentment from the “townies” – the people who choose to live there long-term. Eliminate colleges and this tension goes away.
17. Repurpose College Structures Into Societally Useful Buildings
Why do we spend so much time building fancy dorms for rich students who will only live there half of the time when there are so many people who need affordable housing?
18. No More College Reunions.
Who likes these anyway?
19. Eliminate the Freshman 15.
You can’t gain weight going to college if you never go. Most of the weight gain is from having 24-hour food halls.
Isn’t it weird that we think it’s normal that young people gain 15 pounds quickly when they’re away from home? Aren’t we worried for their health? This sounds like a cry for help and we normalize it.
20. College Fashion No More.
I remember in law school orientation, someone asked if it was normal to wear pajamas to lecture and the tour guide responded, people tend to wear real clothes here . . . I know people say that college prepares you for real life but college is actually the only place where you can go out in your pajamas without being scorned (well, pre-Covid). It’s the only place where you can do a lot of stupid stuff.
Do you remember trucker hats, Abercrombie fluffy short skirts, polo shirts and pearls? These were in style when I went to college and they were all terrible. Ugh college, what have you done to fashion?
21. The Best Years of Our Lives?
I’ve heard a number of people say that college was the best years of their lives. Am I getting rid of the best years of your life? Not necessarily. I think it has to do with youth and freedom. But I think we just normalize going abroad for a year after high school. Those will be the best years of our lives – it will be fun, adventurous, memorable, and give our students a more global perspective.
College-Specific Problems Disappear
22. Frat Boy Culture Disappears.
No more hazing. No more loud parties with watered down beer and bad decisions. We can all agree that we need fewer disgusting frat houses.
23. Campus Hook-Up Culture Evaporates.
Obviously people not in college still hook up. But campus hook up culture is well-documented and college students think this culture controls their lives. If you put cheap alcohol, tons of coeds, and an expectation of casual sex together, well you get campus hook up culture. Which leads to campus rape culture. Let’s get rid of the whole thing when we get rid of college.
Sure, there’ll always be parties with alcohol and young people. But when people turn 18, they’re probably living at home with their parents and working a job. It’s not the same atmosphere as at college.
24. The Adjunct Professor Game Would Go Bust.
It’s a travesty that students pay so much money to college only for colleges to turn around and pay slave wages to adjunct professors. Adjunct professors could do something else with their incredible intellect. They wouldn’t be chasing this impossible dream of tenur.
25. Tenured Professors Could Be More Productive
As much as college students and parents might complain about tenured professors not teaching that many classes, if teaching is not their passion or their competence, it’s a waste of their and their students’ time.
Tenured professors are often brilliant. They could be researching and writing. They could use their intellect in companies that might be curing cancer, fixing global warming, or solving society’s woes. Teaching rich college kids is not the highest aim for them.
26. College Administrators Could Lead Companies, Reduce CEO Salaries.
College administrators make nearly as much money as CEOs. That’s because colleges have to pay more to woo these prestigious people away from business. But without college, they could be viable candidates to head industry. And with more candidates for these executive positions, salaries would likely go down. That means there would likely be lower income inequality.
27. End Varsity Blues Bribery Scandals.
With the money that would have been spent buying their kids admission into school, the rich would have to put their names on museums. The money spent on college could be rerouted to secondary education. Also, we wouldn’t have these people in prison for cheating in college admissions if there was no college.
28. College Athletes Get Paid.
Without the farce of a free education, college athletes would have to get paid in real dollars. There’s too much money in college sports to abolish it. And with their risk of injury, and the likelihood that these students come from impoverished backgrounds, it’s a great boon that these students get paid for their hard work.
29. College Free Speech Problems Dissipate.
Colleges are quickly making a name for themselves for censoring speech. Students are learning that with the money they pay, they’re given the option to hear what they want to hear. We are creating entitled spoiled brats.
30. No More Calls from Alumni Orgs.
Imagine being able to answer your phone again – except for the spam! No one likes getting called for money from alumni orgs and no one enjoys calling.
31. No Need to Worry about College GPA
Ok, if you had a bad college GPA, why should it matter? I know people who have had difficult times adjusting to college, and though they paid so much money to go to college, the GPA holds them back. Abolish college and college GPA is soon nobody’s problem.
32. Let’s Learn Useful Skills
So many things are taught in college that have no use in the real world. Or in anyone’s world. Colleges are created to prepare students for lifelong full-time in-person jobs with one company – virtually no students are going into jobs like this. If colleges wanted to be relevant, they’d teach about the gig economy and online education.
33. We Eliminate College Dropouts
Without college to drop out of, you can’t be a dropout. Kanye West’s debut album makes a lot less sense, but we’d get over it. The millions of people who never graduated from college will certainly appreciate not having that stigma.
34. More Diversified Education
Who determined that a college major of 10 preordained courses would give the best education? Who gets to determine whether a course is certified? Who gets to say someone is an expert in a certain degree? It shouldn’t be college administrators. It should be the students and the employers.
35. We Can’t Use College Education as a Proxy for Intelligence (It Never Was Anyway!)
We use college graduation as a proxy for intelligence but it’s mostly a differentiation mechanism between the rich and the poor. We won’t refer to people who didn’t attend college as “uneducated.” We would more likely respect people’s different types of intelligence or we would at least have different proxies.
36. College Admissions Staff Wouldn’t Be The Arbiters of Intelligence
80% of all admissions officers – from entry-level to senior – are non-Hispanic white. 62% of admissions officers obtained their Bachelor’s degrees in the humanities/social sciences. 14.4% obtained degrees in business and only 0.7% obtained degrees in engineering.
Only 40% of Admissions Vice Presidents/Deans (the highest position in the admissions hierarchy) are women. Though I couldn’t find data on admissions officers specifically, two thirds of college administrators self-identify as liberal, with 40% of that pool calling themselves far left.
Only 5 percent of administrators consider themselves conservative. There is nothing inherently wrong with these classifications but it’s not representative of the country. Further, it’s not necessarily the type of classifications that people would choose as the arbiters of the elite.
37. Stop the College Arms Race.
High school students could spend their time figuring out what they want rather than what admissions directors wanted. We could have students interested in a diversity of languages (not just Mandarin =P), sports (not just lacrosse and crew), and musical instruments.
At my school, it was very prestigious to be a tour guide. This led to our tours being led by scheming social climbers – and probably deterred many great students. Later, I went to a college tour led by a drama student. He wanted to be a tour guide because he loved talking to people and loved the school. That tour was so great and I realized, things are so much better when people are allowed to follow their passions. Everything is worse when we just funnel people into gold star occupations. Everyone ends up losing.
38. Fewer People Choose Graduate School
Many people go to graduate school because college doesn’t pan out as planned. They don’t get the career bump they were expecting so they double down on the conventional wisdom that they need more education. If you get rid of college, you get rid of a lot of graduate students because these students won’t automatically come to the conclusion that education is the answer.
This means we cut down dramatically on people who are spending hundreds of thousands on grad school and are still as lost as ever. We need to keep people from delaying their lives and staying in school.
39. Graduate Students Save Time
Grad students could get started a whole lot earlier.
A friend once told me that applying to neurosurgery residency was easier than he expected because so few women apply. That’s because if you graduate college at 22, medical school at 26, and then do a 7-year neurosurgery residency, you won’t get out until 33 at the earliest. That’s late to start a family. But if you cut out college and finish residency at 29, maybe we get more female neurosurgeons. That’s a huge win.
40. More Woman in Advanced Degrees
Imagine if women put in 4 more years working before taking maternity leave. That’s four more years of seniority and job experience if they want to go back to work. That means that women have more time and power to negotiate flexible arrangements and figure out how to work while on leave.
41. More Minorities in Advanced Degrees
College doesn’t encourage experimentation. If you don’t do well in orgo on your first try, it’s likely that you give up on you dream of becoming a doctor. But it shouldn’t matter if you don’t excel at a subject matter on the first try. We should reward grit.
Minorities may find the college experience a hard adjustment. And that’s unfortunate because the way college is structured, it could affect their whole career. Bad grades as a freshman may mean you can’t graduate on time. Minorities then switch to “easier” majors and then we have fewer minority engineers.
If we want to encourage more minorities to enter into certain professions, abolishing college would be a good way to go. Perhaps instead it’s online education that you are allowed to take as many times as possible until you excel at it. This would mean we get gritty engineers who really know their stuff. We want people to be excellent – it shouldn’t matter if they were excellent at the first go-round.
42. Teachers Could Teach Without Student Pressure.
Colleges have caved into student desires for their learning. Of course students are paying top dollar and colleges need to do what they can to retain them. But teachers have experience and should be allowed to teach in the most effective way possible.
The Environment Heals
43. Dorm Furniture Disappears
Who wants extra-long twin sheets on a captain bed? Nobody. Who wants these beds? Nobody.
44. Get Rid of Disposable Furniture
So many students treat dorm room furniture as disposable – only meant for four years. And that makes sense because college dorm rooms aren’t like apartments. If we got rid of dorm rooms, we would get rid of this disposable culture and all the expense and energy put into furnishing them.
45. The College Textbook Edition Game Would Stop – Saving Forests of Trees
So many college textbooks just update the version with a few edits so students can’t buy used copies. It’s a waste of time, a waste of money, a waste of trees.
45 Problems with College
I came up with list rather quickly and honestly, I had to cut myself off at some point. Granted, this list is too simplistic. Abolishing college doesn’t automatically change society and there are likely going to be many unintended consequences. But abolishing college does mean that society will be upended and man good things can come from that.
My boyfriend has a very stereotypical view of me – believing I’m a huge proponent of college just because I’m Asian. I truly do believe that college is problematic (otherwise why would I write so much about the problems with college?).
I wouldn’t prohibit my child from going to college, but I would certainly like him or her to consider other options. It’s likely that any child of mine would have certain privileges and advantages that other students might not and I would be interested in him or her taking some risks and seeing what could happen without college’s influence. Because the more I think about the college system, the more I dream of a world where college is a choice and not a hurdle.