Continuing Education

At age 18, you go to college.

That’s become the near-universal message of our culture and our economy.

But it follows that, if you stay on track, you graduate at age 22 or so.

Think about that for a moment: age 22.

Who were you at 22? Where were you? How were you?

At graduation day, how well prepared did you feel to face the world — for the rest of your life?

And how much do you feel the world has changed since then?

Our culture sells college as though it holds the answers to life. But for most students — especially those for whom going to college is a Hail-Mary play, or the last time they’ll ever crack a book — what answers does it really hold?

I graduated college in 2012. I had just bought my first smartphone (after my high school-era flip phone caught a raindrop and died), “selfie” was hardly a word, and if I wanted to get hail a car from my phone, I called a taxicab.

Though I’m deeply grateful for the classically informed liberal education I received in college, I’ve probably had to learn nearly as much again simply to try to keep pace with changes in the economy and my interests. And I have no reason to believe I’ve learned everything I’ll need to know 10, 20, or 30 years from now.

All of which begs the question, why do we sell this capstone educational experience to 18–22-year-olds? And why on earth do we act as if a degree is the end of the story?

As plenty of corporations and “thought leaders” have figured out, the lifetime value of leading other people’s thoughts is pretty high.

We can keep borrowing hundreds of thousands at age 18 and starting our lives overconfident and in debt at age 22, or we can look for ways to stay current for decades at a few thousand dollars a year.

(And, if we’re feeling creative, we can build a continuing education enterprise. A few thousand dollars a course times a few hundred people times a few decades turns out to be be a pretty attractive proposition.)