With the recent talk about university debt relief, I want to look at something closely related: the stated vs. the functional purpose of the university, and how the mismatch between them has and continues to cause dyscivilizational effects.
The stated purpose of the university is, and always has been, to educate students in various fields and to award degrees certifying mastery of those fields. There is an assumption that basic knowledge (from primary education) and intermediate knowledge (from secondary education) has already been mastered. This serves as a bit of gatekeeping, which has a long and honorable tradition going back to at least Plato, who is said to have Mηδείς άγεωµέτρητος είσίτω µον τήν στέγην! (Let no-one ignorant of geometry enter here!) inscribed above his Academy. A student was required to have knowledge, and so had to have acquired knowledge prior to entry. This means ability to learn, and opportunity to learn. Specifically monetary resources, either from the student’s family, or from other sources. A university degree conferred status much as a masterpiece would give an architect or artist or other tradesman status. Sometimes the status was akin to that of clergy, depending on the university and degree.
So what’s the point? Universities were for those with resources, let them meet each other, and granted status. In Current Year terms: For elites and making elites. As in ancient Greece, the liberal arts (literally, the things that free men were required to know) granted more status over the servile arts. And as the universities were started by the Church from the monastic school tradition, theology was the highest status (and most difficult) subject to study (only after one had mastered all of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music), more so than law or medicine. Scholarships offered high-merit, low-resource students access that they could otherwise never have had (or had at a lower level). But in many ways, universities were where the ‘right sort’ went to meet others of the ‘right sort’. (What sort is the ‘right sort’ is different depending on the particular university.) And that’s not a stated part of the university purpose, but part of the functional role they played and continue to play. Even when the power of Christianity waned with the rise of secularism, universities would serve, not necessarily for rulers, but for their bureaucrats. With the rise of Modernism, and especially Progressivism, the bureaucrats gained more and more power, making the universities, rather than the church or the military, indispensable for those seeking power, for old money, for blue bloods, what have you.
This brings us to the early-to-mid twentieth century. You have people studying and working hard in university. Either they already have family connections and resources, in which case things are easy for success later, or they do not, in which case they need to be diligent, intelligent, and self-disciplined to graduate, and those characteristics contribute highly to success. So what happens? “Correlation vs Causation” + “Politician’s Syllogism”.
Everyone who has taken a course in probability and statistics has been warned that “Correlation is not Causation.” What does it mean? Just because two things vary the same way (they are co-related), doesn’t mean that one causes the other. Example: ice cream sales and sunglasses sales are often strongly correlated. Does one cause the other? Generally not: both are driven by the sun; ice cream due to heat and sunglasses due to brightness. In this case, “graduated college with a degree” and “success in life” were shown to be correlated. [NB: This depends on the definition of success. For purposes of this argument, the precise definition does not matter.] The problem is that many took this to mean, “If only someone can get a college degree, then that someone will be successful in life.” This is where we run into the Politician’s Syllogism.
- We Have To Do Something!
- This is Something.
- Therefore, We Have To Do This!
How does this work? “We have to do something to make people successful. Getting a college degree is a way to make people successful. Therefore, we have to make college degrees easier to get.” [NB: This is of the form AAA-2, and so commits the formal fallacy of the undistributed middle. Thus, the argument is invalid simply from its form alone, let alone the Correlation vs. Causation issue.] And that’s what they did. Hence, student loans and student aid. Lots and lots of federal and bank money.
So what happened? Here, we take a bit of a detour into Economics. Universities want money. So if they can raise tuition, then more loans and aid will come their way. So tuition rises a lot. Far faster than inflation, wages, house prices. Result: the people who need the loans have to repay them later (and often cannot), so those who do not need the loans (generally rich) get off debt-free. And so the university system returns functionally to being a gatekeeper to the ranks of the elite. And this doesn’t get into the Long March Through The Institutions that the servants of lies and ignorance have made, turning them from true education to political propaganda.
Will universities as a whole survive? They certainly serve a political purpose, so yes. Will they survive as education-focused institutions? They already have failed, instead mostly serving as cesspits of anti-Christian propaganda. So, unless a degree is required as a certification for your desired profession, I would say: don’t give money to people who hate you (the university proper). Or to those allied with people who hate you (the banks). I wish I had learned this earlier, and sought to be an autodidact.