How to Get a College Education

My son is starting at Purdue Engineering this week. He will get a very good education, but it will not be a real college education. I teach at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. It, too, gives a good education, famous throughout the entire world, but not really a college education.

Why do I say that? –because Purdue and Kelley do not teach you how to be a cultured, well-read, person. They don’t even try. They are technical schools. MIT and CalTech are the same. This is not a matter of IQ. CalTech has, I suppose, the smartest students in the world. Purdue Engineering and Indiana Business students are far smarter than the liberal arts students across campus. But what is being taught is (a) how to think, (b) specific techniques such as coding and spreadsheets that are useful in many ways in your future life, (c) specific techniques such as linear regression and force calculation useful in a general field of work, and (d) information such as accounting rules. You don’t read Plato or think about what one can learn by reading Anna Karenina.

This made me think of what I should tell my son about getting a real college education, a liberal education. Going to college is not important in itself, however smart you may be. Even “going to college” , of course, is an entirely separate thing from getting a real college education, but not even getting a real college education is essential. If it was, I’d have directed my son towards Hillsdale, like his sister. But it isn’t clear he can simultaneously get a liberal education and an engineering education. At the Kelley School, I’m pretty sure a student can’t simultaneously get a liberal education and a business education. We have too many required business courses, and there’s not enough room left on your schedule, even if the College of Arts and Science is capable of providing the necessary courses, which I don’t know. A Cal Tech or MIT degree is also a fine degree, but they work the students very hard on learning science. Maybe Yale, where I went, could do it. Yale actually had a separate engineering school, the Sheffield Scientific Institute, from about 1900 to 1930, when it was merged into Yale College. Sheffield students were treated like Yale students in the alumni magazine notes, I remember from the days when they were still alive. In my day (I was class of ’80), my roommate double majored in German and Chemistry. He was able to get a liberal arts education and one in a technical subject. I guess I’m a case in point, too. I got a double degree, BA/MA, in economics, but I think I kept to the minimum in econ courses, and the MA was cheap because it really just meant substituting PhD courses for BA courses and making sure to write a senior essay. But at Purdue, my son will be too busy with engineering to take much literature and philosophy, and in any case it seems the liberal arts at Purdue are taught by second-raters who are fanatical about political correctness and most likely hate the liberal arts and see their mission as the destruction of the humanities and the replacement of the hegemony of great white men by a random assortment of mediocrities, as in most universities.

So how does one get a college education? The obvious method, going to college, will utterly fail unless you choose the college and the major carefully. I’ve mentioned Hillsdale. Baylor has a special program for it. St. John’s is famous for its great books program. The University of Chicago is still, I think, a possibility. There are less known colleges such as Patrick Henry and Thomas Aquinas. There are Oxford and Cambridge. So there are colleges of a variety of levels of selectivity, if you do want to take that route.

I need to work on other things now. Othere possibilities:
1. Read over the summers.
2. Read in later life. Great Books clubs.
3. Start a summer College in One Summer boot camp, liket he law-and-ecnomics institutes. Profit opportunity.
4. Read this list of books:
Plato, The Republic
Schelling, Strategy of Conflict
The Bible
Sowell, A Conflict of Visions
Stephen, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity
Dawkins, The Pilgrim’s Tale

4 replies on “How to Get a College Education”

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Thanks for your helpful post. My daughter is beginning to explore schools and I’m trying, inadequately, to explain the benefits of a liberal arts degree.

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