If I ask you to define education, you’ll probably go down one of two routes. Either you’ll go the classic route saying education is the process of learning, acquiring new knowledge, skills, etc… OR, perhaps more and more likely nowadays, you’ll say education is the process of getting a degree.

Why did people go to school twenty years ago? It was clearly to acquire some knowledge that was unattainable to those who didn’t go to school, right? If that was what you believe, then you could make a pretty solid case for that argument.

How about now, though?

The fact that one can learn EXACTLY the same things with incredibly high quality instruction online, yet undergraduate application rates are as high as ever, essentially kills that argument these days. Pulling a Will Hunting is easier than ever given you don’t even have to leave your home to do it. And even more fascinating to me is that the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY (probably 99.9999%) of undergraduate students in STEM fields take advantage of online resources that their respective institutions didn’t prescribe. The fact is, Khan Academy is simply better at teaching Joe from Chem101 about stoichiometry calculations than his professors will ever be (their total of ~1 billion views should provide enough evidence for that).

Now that we have established this, we can (hopefully) agree to some extent that people don’t get “an education” primarily to learn; people get an education for the degree. And that’s okay, nothing is really wrong with that as long as this is understood. So if you’re like me and prefer to see things for how they really are rather than swimming in a pool of delusion, then let’s call it like it is.

Education, in many cases, is a stepping stone to a career that requires a diploma. You pay time and money to invest in a better future. And that’s exactly what it is – an investment. That is why this delusion that a diploma = education and education = knowledge can be so dangerous – because when you have a scenario like we do where it is so easy to get a student loan that you CANNOT declare bankruptcy on, you end up with this >1100% inflation of college tuition that we see nowadays. Let me break that down.

I’m going to hit you with a classic line here – it’s supply and demand. If you lie to the masses and say that college is necessary to exempt you from a life of ignorance, you will no doubt have more people seek degrees. Prices will go up, but in a perfect world, they should only go up to the point that the benefit you get from this education is just barely higher than what you paid for it. So when we find ourselves in times where more and more people are finding out that what they’re sacrificing for what they’re getting out of college is just plain and simple not worth it, you have to ask why that is the case.

Many degrees are useless. They don’t offer you insight that you couldn’t learn on YouTube, and they don’t serve as a stepping stone for anything down the road. So why are you wasting your money and time? Perhaps ignorance is a valid excuse in that case because of the fact that we are brainwashed to think that college = knowledge, but how about we do our part to shake that illusion? If more people objectively analyzed their situation before deciding on whether to get a Bachelor’s, it would lower tuitions (this is a supply and demand business no different from any other, after all), and it’ll leave fewer of our young with regret.

Just because the “ivory tower” has its hand in all sorts of politics, it does not make it exempt from economic forces, it just means it will take a little more work on our part to uncover these truths.

To not leave ourselves susceptible to this manipulation, we have to agree that “education” refers to how far you made it in academia. No more, no less.