Aug 21, 2018, 5:22:56 AM8/21/18
Too often, college is merely a signal to show bare minimum competence
to employers. Is that signal still valuable as college becomes more
about indoctrination and delayed adulthood?
By Liz Wolfe
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 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
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
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-
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
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
Are thousands of dollars of debt and countless instances
of indoctrination worth the degree?
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
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.
: Liz Wolfe writes on libertarianism, culture, due process, and free
: speech from Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in Playboy, Reason,
: National Review, and the Washington Examiner.
Dems & the media want Trump to be more like Obama, but then he'd
have to audit liberals & wire tap reporters' phones.