Steinberg, 35, was particularly negative about college as we know it today. He said that, when the time comes, he'll likely discourage his three- and four-year-old children from attending.“Recent college grads… come in with no skills that are usable to us, with the exception of programmers,” he said. Steinberg went onto say that it’s Buzzfeed’s fellowship programs that best prepare their new hires. He characterizes a college degree as representing “a lot of debt and not necessarily a skill set” and adds, “I don’t want my children to go to college unless they ... desperately [want to be] scholars… Otherwise, I’d much prefer them to do an internship.”
Perhaps owing to a generational gap, Schmidt and Slaughter, both in their 50s, still believe there's space for brick-and-mortar institutions of higher learning, but more for the soft skills students learn outside the classroom, such as bill-paying, relationship-building, and self-reliance, and for the job opportunities a college degree may still be able to offer.
Said Schmidt: “The purpose of college… has a lot to do with, not learning about education but learning how to live on your own and so forth…. The core question is what to do with 18-year-olds and the best thing to do is to put them in college until they’re 22. We’ve [got] sort of a warehousing problem.” He also said that, because college is a rite of passage that helps students learn how to live away from home, “I think it’s going to be around for a very long time.”
Slaughter mentioned that her son, a junior in high school, is mulling college but has also “learned more from the [free educational site] Khan Academy, in many ways, than he has in class.” She adds it’s becoming more common for students to take time off before attending college. “These kids are sort of thinking, ‘But I can learn what I need to learn online.’ … That sense that, ‘If I don’t go to college between 18 and 22, I won’t make it,’ is really changing.”
Theirs is, without doubt, a "one-percent" conversation. All three are Ivy League-educated -- a point that Schmidt was quick to acknowledge as Steinberg pooh-poohed the importance of college -- and Slaughter just left a tenured professorship at Princeton to accept the presidency at New America Foundation.
Generational access to higher education makes it far easier to conceive of a society where the average citizen can afford to eschew the in-person college experience and "just learn what they need online." For Steinberg's children especially, having a parent who became the president of Buzzfeed well before the age of 35 does make college attendance seem quite optional.
In the larger country in which we live, however, first-generation college students still make up about 30 percent of freshman classes each year. First-gen college students find it difficult to adjust to most post-secondary learning without dedicated mentorship. Low-income first gens are four times more likely to leave college after the first year than their multi-generation peers. And a study by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board noted that the state’s first-gen drop-out rate for those in face-to-face, on-campus classes was 18 percent, as opposed to 25 percent for distance learners. Students like mine could not be tossed into the deep end of MOOC without having first spent whole semesters sitting at shared desks, raising their hands, and exchanging their writing among teachers, tutors, and peers.