Running the Collegiate Gauntlet at Age 17

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It gets worse
on campus every generation. Moral temptations and professorial tyranny
and lunacy escalate, yet parents still send their children into
what is accurately described as a gauntlet. As I will show, it doesn’t
have to be this way. But for most students, it is and will continue
to be this way.

We hear about
running the gauntlet, but we barely know what it means. I have seen
only one movie in which the scene on-screen was close to the horror
of what North American tribes put captives through. That movie is

The Black Robe
. Most runners did not survive the ordeal.

most students do not survive the ordeal. There are about 15 million
Americans attending college today. Of those freshmen who start college,
over half will not graduate. Depending on how long they survive
in the system before leaving, their dead-end experiment can cost
them or their parents up to $100,000. Sometimes it costs more. Ivy
League schools are now priced in the range of $40,000 a year. This
will increase next year.

The risk of
flunking out is a minor one when compared to the moral condition
of the typical university. The extent of binge drinking is covered
up by school administrators, but it is extensive. And it can be
fatal. CNN

of Michigan student celebrating his 21st birthday died after downing
his 20th shot in 10 minutes. An Old Dominion University student
choked to death on his own vomit during a pledge-week drinking
binge. A Colgate University student is facing four years in prison
after crashing into a tree during a night of drinking, killing
four students.

Drinking yourself
to death is a rare occurrence, but the threat of alcoholism is there.
My cousin’s ex-husband, a generally decent man and a UCLA All-American,
became addicted to alcohol in college. He has suffered from this
condition, on and off, ever since. He was in a fraternity that consumed
prodigious quantities of booze. I think this is why he never graduated.
The CNN report continued:

“Most students
get here and think, ‘Oh, it’s freedom. I can do whatever I want
without mom and dad finding out,” said Kelly Hill of Detroit,
Michigan, a junior at the University of Michigan. “A lot of them
don’t know what their limits are.”

A recent book
by a former White House correspondent, Barrett Seaman, tells of
campus life in a dozen of the top academic colleges and universities:
Harvard, Stanford, Virginia. The book’s title is all you really
need to know: Binge:
What Your College Student Won’t Tell You
. It got a
good review in Business Week
. These are the best and
the brightest of their generation. Some of them are killing themselves
at their parents’ expense.

At just after
2 a.m. on a Sunday morning in October, Hamilton College’s security
chief received an emergency phone call. A first-year female student
at the elite upstate New York liberal arts school had collapsed
after downing 22 one-ounce shots of vodka in a drinking game. The
incident was far from unusual: She was one of 20 inebriated students
who had to be rushed to the hospital that semester.

This is the
price of sending your child off to college: the inescapable risk
of his or her self-destruction. What Tom Wolfe wrote about in I
Am Charlotte Simmons
is happening all over the country.
Wolfe has the most observant eye of my generation. He was the man
who coined the phrases “the me decade” and “radical chic.” What
he reports in his novel sends chills down the spines of parents.
But they, like their offspring, just can’t seem to say “no.” They
finance the process with after-tax small fortunes.

None of this
is necessary, yet it is nearly universal.


In my day,
a few universities were just beginning to abandon the doctrine called
“in loco parentis.” It means “in place of a parent.” University
administrations decided that it was not their task to police the
activities of students outside the classroom.

I lived in
a co-ed dorm: men on one side, women on the other. There was a paid
house mother at every “gate.” The halls were policed. You could
get expelled for bringing someone of the opposite sex into your
room. But most of the dorm mothers would not report obvious violations.

A decade later,
co-ed dorm halls were in avant-garde schools.

By that time,
it was not just that universities refused to act as parents. It
was that they acted as madames.

This has not
changed. College administrators are as power-seeking as ever. They
enforce rules: against smoking, against hate speech, against perceived
racism. Because of the power of the Internet, they are hard-pressed
to police cheating. They may enforce the civil law against date
rape, however loosely defined. But co-habitation and booze on the
weekends are still features of campus life.

Cheating is
widespread. Plagiarism is easily proven technically. A particular
phrase is rare. That’s why we can use Google to find a document
based on a phrase with only half a dozen words — one document out
of five billion. There are digital tools for discovering plagiarism.
They are expensive, and most professors don’t use them. The professors
have given up and therefore given in. The students know this.

I handled
this in my teaching years by assigning papers that were impossible
to steal. No one else in academia used my approach, so plagiarism
was not possible. They were debate papers: one-third pro, one-third
con, and one-third resolution of the question. They were a challenge.
They forced students to do the research and make judgments.

If you are
going to spend $50,000 or more to let your child learn that cheating
prospers, I can suggest better uses for your money. Of course, if
he learns to compete without cheating, that is an important skill.
I’m just not sure that it’s marketable. How can he prove it?


Why do parents
do this? Because employers use the college degree as a screening
device. What Congregational churches did in New England in 1650,
so do millions of businesses today.

do some really stupid things. This is one of them. This discrimination
against people who did not graduate from college blocks the careers
of millions of people who could otherwise have been highly productive.
It assumes that just one form of intelligence — taking exams — is
the one that counts most. Yet businessmen only rarely ask employees
to take any more exams. Stupid!

By establishing
a rule that only college grads are eligible to work in management,
employers begin looking for people who can tolerate boredom. Boredom,
above all, is what college is all about. Why is it that the toleration
of boredom is an indicator of success in business?

is another matter. It need not be boring. If you could screen for
precision, why would you screen for the ability to tolerate boredom?
Why is tolerating boredom a legitimate substitute for precision?

Yet the reality
is that businesses do screen access to upper management in terms
of college degrees. High school students who want to make a middle-class
living want to graduate from college.

It is the
lure of salaried living that draws the moths to the academic flame.
Michael Dell and Bill Gates were college drop-outs because they
saw a better way to gain financial success. They preferred to pay
salaries rather than be salaried.

hire Ivy League graduates because they are using the degree as a
substitute for IQ. It is illegal to use IQ tests to screen job candidates,
according to the courts and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
But this does not explain why businessmen hire college grads from
mediocre colleges — the vast majority — rather than creating apprenticeship
tracks. Why not screen for the specific skills needed to do the
job? But few industries do this, with one exception: programming
firms. Here, the skills are crucial, not academic certification
by a system that is a decade behind the curve.

So, our children
are forced into the academic mold. If they don’t do well taking
tests, they are screened out of careers that have nothing to do
with taking tests.

This is nuts.


If a high
schooler has both a strong interest and basic skills associated
with a particular service trade, then the best approach is simultaneous
apprenticeship and college. This is what businesses do with their
managers, who are paid to earn an MBA in the evening. This strategy
can work with high schoolers after a year on the job.

A high school
senior should find a local business that will employ him part time.
He should spend 10 to 15 hours a week working during the school
year, and full time in the summer after graduation.

The idea here
is to gain basic skills as an employee. These skills are rarely
innate. The student also tests his mettle. Can he handle the job?
Third, the high school graduate earns enough money to go through

But doesn’t
college cost $40,000? Not if you do it the smart way. The smart
way overcomes the problem of stupid employers. For the first two
years, the student gets his credits by written exam: CLEP, AP, or

If the employer
is local, the student lives at home. This saves his family thousands
of dollars a year.

If a high
school student starts protesting about living at home, be forewarned:
college freedom could become a major problem in his life.

How many hours
will the student actually be at home? Not many. He has a job. In
off hours, he is at the library studying. This leaves time for sleep
and maybe a TV show. He is asleep when he is at home. Why should
he care where he sleeps? His protest isn’t about his sleeping quarters.
There is another agenda involved.

maybe he can get a better job learning a trade or career in a distant
city. There may be the ideal employer there. Are you ready to send
him there? If not, why not? College will be a lot more dangerous.
Too many women, too little responsibility. Too much fantasy-world
living at your expense.

I like the
work-study program that UPS offers. A student goes to work for UPS.
He can get $3,000 in tuition money plus $2,000 in forgivable loans
each year. He can’t afford Harvard, but he can afford my approach
to earning a degree. See the
UPS site

If a student
works hard and shows promise, a businessman will usually look favorably
on helping him. If the student must attend day classes, the businessman
will create workarounds. He is getting a good worker, cheap. Good
workers are hard to find. He is paying for his services with flexible
time rather than money.

My son-in-law
put himself through college as a draftsman. He became a master of
AutoCAD. Now he is putting himself through seminary. He works Thursday
through Saturday. In the summer, he works full time. The engineering
firm doesn’t want to lose him. It pays him by the hour as an independent
contractor — no retirement, no health insurance. It’s good for the
company (cheaper), and it’s good for my son-in-law (flexible hours).
It took him three weeks to prove himself. When his manager knew
he was reliable, he let him come in on Saturdays, unsupervised.

If a student
will hustle, show up on time, and not be incompetent, he can work
his way through college. Parents need not pay a dime. That’s why
I wrote my report, “Stupid
Employer Tricks
.” This is one way to get around stupid employers.


who want to gain some security at wages above minimum figure out
that a college degree will grease the skids. But college is not
required for someone who wants to make a lot of money. He can start
his own business. He can become a Michael Dell.

Most teenagers
dream of a lifetime safety net. Their parents agree. A bachelor’s
degree offers this, or seems to. But they should not expect the
degree to make them rich. It is little more than a hunting license
these days.

I think a
good compromise is a combination of apprenticeship and getting through
college by examination. The student pays his way. It’s possible,
though rare.

I tell college-bound high school students, make a deal with dad.
Agree to pay your own way. For a college graduation present, dad
will give half of what he had estimated the degree would cost him.
Use the money to start a business, go to grad school, or put a down
payment on a house. Everyone wins this way.

14, 2005

North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit
He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible

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