College for Dummies…and Non-Dummies

Are parents aware of an $11,000 degree program?

Last updated on April 9th, 2022 at 12:28 am

Re-posted with permission from

College for Dummies . . . and Non-Dummies

Gary North Reality Check (June 3, 2011)

Dummies pay retail. Non-dummies don’t.

This week, I spoke to a group of about 150 high school and college students. Most of them were products of home schooling. This is the ideal audience for my presentation on the way to beat the collegiate rip-off: a B.A. from an accredited university or college for $11,000 to $15,000, total.

I gave five one-hour presentations. The students seemed alert. No one went to sleep. There were not too many people chatting. I saw no iPhones or iPads. All in all, it was a good audience.

It was not a hard sell. My recommended approach is to make use of loopholes in the collage system. There are seven of them: (1) night school, (2) dual-track (high school/college), (3) daytime community college, (4) quizzing out (CLEP, DSST), (5) distance learning, (6) portfolio courses (life experience), and (7) in-state resident tuition. I recommend #4 for most people, especially adults who want to earn their degrees. I have a free department on my site for adult-re-entry people: regaled them with a few horror stories, mainly of young women who ran up debts of $100,000 to $200,000, and who now find themselves saddled with a lifetime of debt, with rotten jobs that a high school student could do, low pay, and no way out, since the bankruptcy law was re-written to close this loophole. There is no protection for college debt. These women are not marriable. No young man is going to pop the question when the answer is “yes, along with my $200,000 of debt.” I have assembled some of these stories here: have destroyed their lives. No one warned them. Their naïve parents encouraged them. The parents may have gone into debt, too.

Fools and their money are soon parted. Colleges prey on these people.

After three lectures, I sprang a trap on them. The usual response is, “that’s all right in theory, but it won’t work for me.” I introduced a young man who is a member of my church. He turned 18 last December. His combined birthday and high school graduation present was a B.A. degree from an accredited university that specializes in quizzing out and portfolio courses. His total cost: $11,000. He beat the system. So did his family.

He did not mention this, but his sisters are following his path.

This was a show-stopper. The assembled teenagers could not go home with this excuse: “It can’t be done. Not really.” It can be done. Really.

He paid less for his B.A. than the parents of students at a typical private college of mediocre reputation (if any) pay for school up to the first mid-term exams of the freshman year. The typical private college today charges over $27,000 a year in tuition. to this another $6,000 for room and board, plus textbooks at $150 each per course. Don’t forget a new wardrobe for daughters. Don’t forget travel costs for coming home on vacations.

Are parents aware of an $11,000 degree program? No. Are students? No. Do parents care? Not really. “I want Billy Bob to have a college experience.” The main experience is overcrowded classes taught by graduate teaching assistants for the first two years, plus football games, a lot of free sex (“hooking up”), and then, for half of the entering freshman class, flunking out or dropping out. For those who actually finish, they walk away with $23,000 in debt and move home. They can’t get jobs.

Some experience.


The first university, Bologna, was begun in 1088. It was a law school. It taught the newly rediscovered system of Roman civil law, as interpreted by Justinian in the sixth century. Then came the University of Paris in the mid-twelfth century and Oxford in the early thirteenth. They offered young men a chance at getting lifetime jobs in law, the church, or the state. In other words, they sold security.

The curriculum was formal: grammar, logic, and rhetoric to get in, plus arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. If you survived four years, you got to study theology and philosophy. Was any of this useful academically? Only if you planned to become a bureaucrat or other functionary.

The college system was created mainly for political and social control. It gave the church and the state a formal way to screen candidates for the highest levels of the enforcement system. The university was about power most of all.

The faculties had their own goals. They wanted independence. They got it. That is why graduation ceremonies involve caps and gowns. The robes symbolize authority. The universities were a separate legal jurisdiction. The faculty members could not be removed at will by higher authorities. There was a layer of protective legality and bureaucracy in between them and the source of their funding.

This was the sweetest of all deals. The faculties screened access by their own rules. They did not have to raise their funding. They had control over the curriculum. They had control over the students. They could not be fired easily. It was the bureaucrat’s dream: control without economic responsibility.

Today, it’s called academic freedom. It culminates in tenure: career immunity from everything except the worst kind of moral infraction. What is a worst-case moral infraction? Anything on the six o’clock local TV news that leads to an investigation by the legislature (state university) or the board of trustees, where large donors dominate (private university). To quote the legendary Lakers announcer, Chick Hearn, “No harm, no foul,” with harm being defined as the threat of budget cuts.

The faculties have the sweetest career deal on earth: comfortable income, little work (once tenured), complete control in the classroom, graduate students who teach freshmen and do research that can be appropriated by senior professors, four months of paid vacation, a paid sabbatical year one year in seven, and free faculty parking lots. They get paid to read.


In the United States, the revenue flow into higher education is in the range of $400 billion a year. This is an immense industry. What does it produce? Myths, mainly. The main one is the myth of the educated student with an inquiring, open mind. The reality is closer to “Animal House.”

For centuries, young men who went to college frequented taverns. There, they met young woman who plied an ancient trade. Today, young women are on campus, and the price competition is severe. Prices are so low that there is a new phrase on campus which my era did not enjoy: a particular kind of buddy. This buddy provides a no-commitment form of amusement on short notice which has a strong market at zero price. The price is close to zero.

Parents respond, “Not our Jenny Sue!” Well, somebody’s.

Parents, or at least mothers, have turned a blind eye to these collegiate extra-curricular activities for 900 years. Fathers may have provided more winked eyes than blind eyes: “Ah, to be young again.”

That students are ready to fly the coop on this basis is understandable. Five years of textbooks and whoopie at parental or taxpayer expense seems to be a sweet deal for students. It’s a kind of high-hormone version of the faculty’s experience: high income and low responsibility.

It is an illusion, as most front-loaded subsidies are. “Buy now, pay later” is the American way of life. It moves into high gear in college.

The students I spoke to are not part of this subculture. My sense of the group was that they don’t want to be part of it. There have always been teenagers who got the message early. But there is an enormous risk of tossing them into an environment which is inherently hostile to the outlook that these students bring from their homes. This risk has been there for 900 years. What is different today is that there are millions of students on campuses today. This is no longer an experience limited to the sons of an elite. It is open to sons and daughters of middle-class families. Turning a blind eye has become a national pastime.

The arrival of the mixed-sex dormitory floor in the 1960s was the tip-off. The colleges no longer pretended to serve as “in loco parentis.” idea that a college could police the sex lives of adult males was always naïve. The system finally gave up in the 1960s. It more than gave up. The mixed-sex dormitory floor indicated that something more sinister was afoot. (“Sinister” comes from the French word for “left.”)


From the beginning, faculties have seen their task as bringing enlightenment to the children of an entrenched elite. There has always been a degree of resentment by faculties of the privileged position of the economic and political elite, despite the fact that faculty members prosper in terms of the largess of that elite. This dependence has made the resentment greater.

From the Progressive Era in the United States (Social Democracy in Western Europe) in the early twentieth century, college faculties have been drawn to the idea of central planning by an elite of scientifically trained experts. The faculties have seen themselves as the core of this scientific elite. They have seen their task as persuading students of both the legitimacy of scientific planning and the benefits to themselves.

This has required them to indoctrinate the students in an outlook hostile to entrepreneurship. Ludwig von Mises called this the anti-capitalist mentality. He wrote a book with this title. You can download a copy here: contemporary, economist Joseph Schumpeter, wrote about this in the early 1940s in his book, “Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.” Chapter XIII, “Growing Hostility,” describes the intellectuals’ war on bourgeois life. hostility has intensified. The New Left of the late 1960s provided a new generation of college professors. These ideologues have dominated academic life for a generation. They have been as self-conscious as their predecessors of the Old Left in undermining students’ confidence in bourgeois values, including the free market’s ability to create wealth. But the Establishment outlook of New Deal liberalism has given way to far more hostile critiques.

The mixed-sex dorm floor is the cutting edge of the university’s systematic undermining of the older bourgeois values. David Brookes’ book title, “BoBos in Paradise,” is on target. The fusing of the bohemian subculture of the 1950s and the bourgeois commitment to upward mobility has led to a new culture. The acceptance of parents of the mixed-sex dormitory indicates the success of the older liberalism in undermining the old values.

But the Old Left found that it could not call a halt to the acids of modernity. The student revolutionaries of the late 1960s were the children of the Old Left. They turned against the university, which had been their liberal parents’ island of protected liberalism. The Old Left was not replaced. It still participates in the Establishment’s hierarchy of power. But it has serious competition on campus from the aging campus revolutionaries of 1967 and their ideological heirs.


In the past year, the number of Establishment media reports on the high cost of college or even a supposed bubble has increased. The subject has always been on the back burners of the intelligentsia, but the decline of jobs for new college graduates has finally caught the attention of the media. The story sells, because parents are finding that their children have returned home, degrees in hand, along with a pile of IOUs to Sallie Mae and other student loan bureaucracies.

These is a hint of revolution. I don’t think much will come of this for years. Parents are still enamored by the myth of the college degree as the ticket to a successful life. Faculties have been marketing their wares on that basis ever since 1088. But the cold winds of economic reality are sending a chill in the halls of ivy.

If parents ever figure out that their kids can earn an economic useless degree for $11,000 instead of $111,000, they may decide to let their kids earn their degrees “North’s way.” But probably not. The lure of the conventional is always great. “It’s just not done that way.” “Why not?” “Because it just isn’t.”

Home school families are the ideal candidates, because they have long since made the break from conventional education. They have larger families. They cannot afford to send all the kids to college. So, they look for alternatives.

There is something else. Their children have learned how to learn outside of the classroom. They are more confident in self-education. This is the cheapest way to earn a degree: outside a classroom.

So, while the children of the besieged middle class send their children off to the delights of campus tomfoolery, the anti-government-schools home school families will take advantage of the academic loopholes.

I left the students with this message: never pay retail for college. I hope they take my advice. I think their parents will agree.

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