I attended the College of William and Mary from fall 2014 until winter 2016, during the arguable height of social justice outrage. The infamous University of Missouri protests happened soon after I started school, where professor Melissa Click threatened a student journalist with physical violence.
At Yale, the Christakises were protested for arguing against over-coddling administrators telling students what they should not wear for Halloween. The Rolling Stone story, “A Rape on Campus” that was later found fraudulent came out during my first year of school. It’s not for these reasons alone that college was futile, but the leftist insanity that perpetually surrounded me certainly played a part.
This spring was set to be my graduation from college. Had I not sped things up and graduated in two years, instead of four, I would have walked across the stage, taken pictures with my family, and graduated with $40,000 in debt. I wouldn’t have been able to earn editing and writing experience (like bylines at The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Reason, and The Houston Chronicle). I recommend the same path to other young conservatives — escape debt and leftist indoctrination, if you can. Choose work experience, trade school, or a fast-tracked route through college instead.
College Often Isn’t Worth Your Time and Money
Elite colleges aren’t designed for critical thinking or open inquiry anymore. According to Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post, “A fifth of undergrads now say it’s acceptable to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes ‘offensive and hurtful statements.’”
The same survey indicates that about four in every ten students believes the First Amendment does not allow “hate speech.” Meanwhile, even at elite colleges like the liberal arts school Pomona, nearly 90 percent of students say their campus climate chills speech because they fear saying things others might find offensive.
Those illiberal trends are bad enough on their own, but the format of college also makes little sense. Its incentives are poorly aligned with what is valued in the workplace. Students are incentivized to be obedient and compliant, not to set themselves apart from the pack. Many college students end up slinging impressive sounding extracurriculars together that any hiring manager can easily see through. Mastery of a skill, and understanding what will be valued in the marketplace, fall by the wayside.
Too often, college is merely a signal students use to show bare minimum competence to employers. But is that signal still valuable as college becomes more about leftist indoctrination, coddling, and delayed adulthood?
As the “college experience” (or “the best four years of your life”) has become more mythologized, adulthood becomes increasingly delayed as students seek limitless fun without consequences. Colleges often require students to live in dorms, eat in dining halls, and engage in absurd icebreaker activities.
Parents, too, must be oriented at many elite schools. All of this sends the message that college is more like extended, boozed up summer camp than the start of adulthood. It’s no wonder so many of the traditional markers of adulthood are also being delayed.
Say Goodbye to Your Creativity and Drive
All those issues aside, the modern college’s most significant problem is groupthink, which reduces its signaling value in the marketplace (especially among conservative employers). A college degree used to be a way of showing employers one’s ability to critically think, debate, and strategize. But is that really the case anymore, or do students generally just fall in line with the far-leftist ideas they’re forced to swallow?
In a class on developing countries, a renowned professor told us that “abortion is a human right,” to which I objected. I’m interested in having a discussion about when we define human life, whether decriminalizing abortion would create better outcomes, and whether there’s a way to prevent unintended pregnancies, but I’m not okay with a professor presenting a complex moral issue as decided. I learned that it’s smarter to keep your opinions to yourself — presumably the opposite of what you should be doing in college.
A year later, a conservative friend of mine wrote a fiery article for The Federalist. His article was at times tone deaf, but still argued worthy points. I wrote a defense saying he didn’t deserve death threats and his ideas should be debated. I was subsequently also social media-crucified.
Say the wrong thing, as judged by far-left 19-year-olds, and the mob will be unleashed. When your campus feels small, and social media debates hold real-world social consequences, it’s hard to feel as though you can truly voice a different opinion than the majority, lest they be outraged and decide all your beliefs are beyond the pale.
Anti-Speech Indicates Anti-Thought
Don’t get me wrong: Some political opinions are beyond the pale, rightfully unacceptable and easily condemned. But I’m not sure 20-year-olds with minimal life experience and a lack of deep thinking about unintended consequences of policy decisions are the ones who will make those calls well. Too often on campus, responses to the ideas of our political opponents aren’t proportional, measured, or nuanced.
Soon after I graduated, students at William and Mary protested and shouted down Virginia’s American Civil Liberties Union executive director, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. They chanted “ACLU, you protect Hitler too” and “ACLU, free speech for who?” claiming that the ACLU uses their defense of free speech to cover for white nationalists and other odious groups.
But of course they do: this is not news to any of us who have a robust understanding of free speech. To protect all speech, one must sometimes defend the rights of the most heinous groups. Suppression and censorship are slippery slopes, and we can’t trust that the governing authority in charge of cracking down on free speech will truly understand which groups are worthy of speaking. Students coming of age during the Trump administration should surely understand this.
This theme persisted throughout my time at college: Students had flimsy understandings of constitutional principles that went largely unchallenged. It wasn’t better on the part of the professors, either. So how do you learn in a classroom environment when your professors are putting so much spin in their lectures that you need to fact-check them?
College Isn’t All a Waste, But Lots of It Is
College isn’t all bad. Some industries, like math and science fields, are far more insulated from the political beliefs of students and professors alike. Young conservatives pursuing careers in engineering or applied sciences won’t encounter many of the offputting aspects of college, and these industries require vast amounts of training and schooling.
Of the same token, I won’t be encouraging future lawyers to skip out on undergraduate education or law school (the Lord knows we need people interested in defending the First Amendment and due process in this political landscape). But would-be applicants to elite colleges who wish to pursue the humanities should consider: Are thousands of dollars of debt and countless absurd instances of professors attempting to indoctrinate students worth the degree?
Choose an apprenticeship program or, for future journalists, an internship at your local paper. Enroll in a four-year state school, but take Advanced Placement and community college classes in high school, so you can graduate in two years, not four. Start interning early in college, and see if you can return to your former workplace later in college. Foster relationships with potential employers and people who have already invested in you.
If you’re interested in the tech industry, consider a coding boot camp. If you’re not fully sure which field you want to go into yet, apply to join Americorps, an organization dedicated to service in communities that need it most. Whatever you do, don’t assume you have to spend four years accruing debt, gritting your teeth during political discussions, and spinning your wheels at extracurriculars that may not actually build the skills you need in your career.
College Can Be a Trap. Don’t Let It Get You
The college default mindset has us trapped. We think it’s the only path to financial stability and success, but it’s becoming increasingly costly, and with less signaling value. Of course, not all employers will look kindly on the college opt-out path. But if combined with the right amount of grit, entrepreneurial spirit, and skill acquisition, employers will recognize a college opt-out’s value in the job market.
My generation isn’t all bad, either. We care about justice and equality for all different types of people. We rethink traditional structures and institutions. We care about subverting and questioning power structures. But perhaps one of the power structures that should be subverted is the stronghold liberal students and professors have on the academy, and the stronghold college has as an indicator of value in the marketplace.
It’s often not worthwhile to go to college in the traditional way anymore. As cost rises, signaling value drops, and leftism becomes the unfortunate default, most conservatives should skip it altogether.