College: Luxury, Investment, or Insurance Policy?

Ashley Thorne

  • Article
  • May 03, 2011

Daniel B. Smith explores this question in New York magazine in a sobering, clear-eyed look at the problems with going to college, "The University Has No Clothes." He interviews James Altucher, author of "8 Alternatives to Going to College" and Peter Thiel, who is offering $100,000 to 20 young entrepreneurs to drop out of college and start businesses.

Smith consults the experts to learn their attitudes on college. The authors of Higher Education?, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, characterize college as a luxury good. Stephen Rose, author of Rebound, maintains it is an investment. And Thiel likens the college degree to "an insurance policy  against falling out of the middle class."

He sums up higher education's paradoxical moment:

As Thiel and Altucher surely understand well, now is precisely the moment, with all its uncertainty and anxiety and instability, when systems as stalwart as college seem most in need of reconfiguration. But it is also the time—with all that uncertainty and anxiety and instability—when the millions reliant on a system as stalwart as college are least eager to do any real reconfiguring.

It's good to see a "sexy" publication like New York paying attention to this. The "higher education bubble" conversation has so far been mainly restricted to speculative articles read by intellectuals and has not yet reached the kitchen tables of American families. It looks as if that will soon change.

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