Must All Roads Go Through Harvard Square?

Posted on Nov 23, 2012 | 8 Comments

With college tuition vastly outpacing inflation, a growing number of Americans are stuck with an enormous amount of debt from student loans. But it’s even worse for those who don’t make it all the way through college.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reported that “millions of Americans are taking on the debt of college without getting the earnings boost that comes from a degree.” And dropping out, when it’s accompanied by major debt, isn’t merely disappointing; it can be crippling.

One reason that so many Americans find themselves in this situation is that the pressure to attend college has never been greater. “A bachelor’s degree remains by far the clearest path to the American middle class,” the Journal observed. “Among Americans aged 25 to 34 . . . the unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders was 4.1%, versus 11% for those with only a high-school diploma and 9.8% for those who began college but didn’t finish. Employed college graduates earned 37% more than dropouts in 2010.”

Peter Drucker decried the high cost of college tuition, while recognizing how the university often functions as the ultimate gatekeeper, standing between people and their chosen profession. “In the knowledge society, denial of the degree bars access to jobs, careers and livelihoods,” Drucker wrote inThe New Realities. “This is power far beyond what any other pluralist institution exercises.”

But does this have to be the case? In Drucker’s view, some types of non-four-year education can be equally valuable to the student, more appropriate for certain lines of work and more valuable to the nation as a whole.

The work of “technologists,” as Drucker called them, is a prime example. Technologists, as Drucker explained in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, are “knowledge workers who do both knowledge work and manual work.”

Photo source: P.Tiller

In fact, “their manual work,” he added in a 2001 article in The Economist, “is based on a substantial amount of theoretical knowledge which can be acquired only through formal education.” Examples include lab technicians, software designers, paralegals, automobile mechanics and installation experts.

Most of these technologists come not from four-year universities but from institutions like community colleges. And, as we’ve noted before, Drucker considered America’s community colleges—less intensive and much less expensive—to be a triumph.

On this, I am convinced, rests both the still huge productivity advantage of the American economy and the—so far unique—American ability to create, almost overnight, new and different industries,” Drucker wrote. “Nothing quite like the American community college exists anywhere else yet.”

What viable alternatives do you see to the traditional four-year college acting as primary gatekeeper to a middle-class life?


  1. Fernando Brom
    November 23, 2012

    Dear cyber-Drucker friends:

    I start with a joke and end with a serious reflection (not mine but challeging)
    “If you think education is expensive…………. try with ignorance”

    It´s quite easy:
    If you can afford it , do it
    If you can´t , find a sponsor
    If you don´t find it, try try try………….until you get it

    My elder son visited 2 years ago on his own 5 top MBA´s business schools in US (4) and UK (1) and he was rejected by 4 of them and only accepted by the last (top ranked).
    High stress but worth the trips and travel expenses.
    Cheers for his struggle !!! and risk management

    My reflection:
    Inspired by your reflection and Henry Mintzberg´s (2004) “Managers, not MBA´s “, to which I would suggest a slight correction ” More managers, less (not NOT for excessively hard) MBA´s”.

    100% agree with Drucker in focusing in practical abilities as well as academic knowledge.
    We come with 3 dimensions (body,mind and spirit) and the 3 of them require appropriate nutrition and development.
    Any imbalance or absence of one dimension can mean a serious handicap.
    As well as rational intelligence without emotional intelligence

    This is what COMPETENCIES taught us :
    Competence= Abilities (physical)+Knowledge(mental)+Attitudes (spirit)

    As eternal students we must face permanent hunger of knowledge, and pay what we can afford for good value products (vlue= price/quality ratio) while business schools should aim a triple balance between : profitable price, merit guided scholarships and globalized social responsibility (foreign students attraction in a global world).

    I selected Peter Drucker as basic author for my PhD in Business Administration thesis just ended this month. Hope you share some of this thoughts,…….. and hope as well share any objections or reflections.
    Warm regards from Argentina. Happy Xmas and best for 2013 !!
    Fernando Brom

  2. Chuck Morrissey
    November 24, 2012

    What is sacred about four years of undergraduate work?–those of us who have toiled in these fields know the job can be done in three years.

  3. Mike Harmanos
    November 24, 2012

    Or two years of an MBA when it can be completed in 16 short months?

    I do not expect a positive ROI on my MBA investment until 2017-18, which will be 14 years after matriculation.

  4. Alba Patricia Valencia
    November 24, 2012

    As primary gatekeeper to a middle-class life is not act nobody because education is the key to political change. The human society depends on two factors: the intellectual power of outstanding men to conceive sound, social and economic theories and second, the ability of these or other men take these ideologies palatable to the majority (Ludwig von Mises).

    But something happens: half the world (especially in developed countries) is cutting education budgets to meet debt requirements and to prop up a financial system that does not give more of it and half of world does not absolutely anything.

    Aggravated, all because within the education system itself half of the people are only “concerned”, but unable to generate actions that change and the other half is willing to move only when their employment is threatened with a system that exchanges “silence” to “a salary”.

    Meanwhile, the middle class is feeding with their payments to the financial system…

    Como principal guardián de la clase media no actúa nadie porque la educación es la llave principal del cambio político. La sociedad humana depende de dos factores: el poder intelectual de destacados hombres de concebir teorías racionales, sociales y económicas, y en segundo lugar, la capacidad de estos u otros hombres de tomar estas ideologías aceptables para la mayoría (Ludwig von Mises).

    Pero, ocurre algo: la mitad del planeta (sobre todo en los países más desarrollados) están RECORTANDO presupuestos destinados a Educación para atender necesidades de deudas y para mantener en pie a un sistema financiero que no da más de sí, y la otra mitad del mundo no hace absolutamente nada.

    Agravado, todo ello, porque dentro del propio sistema educativo la mitad de la gente sólo está “preocupada” pero sin capacidad de generar acciones de cambio y la otra mitad está dispuesta a moverse sólo cuando se ven amenazados sus contratos laborales con un sistema que intercambia “silencio” por “un salario”.

    Mientras tanto, la clase media sigue alimentado con sus pagos al sistema financiero…

    • Matth Jenks
      November 29, 2012

      The first rule of ‘hush money’ club is you’re not supposed to talk about it!!! :)

  5. Mike Grayson
    November 24, 2012

    The educational model has changed very little in the past 350 years. However, we now live in the information society. Anyone with access to information, and who knows how to use it, can be successful – and today that is almost everyone.

    We are beginning to see the cracks in the old models, and new models will emerge, although they will be resisted by the brick and mortar schools. The real questions are: How will competency be measured? And how will organizations recognize, and accept, that competency?

  6. Richard B. Mann, PhD
    November 24, 2012

    Find your True North (Bill George), your real self that matches your natural talents, then pursue, and never give up. The 3-Ds of success, Desire, Dedication, and Discipline!
    It is also possible to find your true passion by taking the Decision Style Inventory DSI) on my web site,
    This inventory evaluates how a person thinks, it is NOT a personality test, but using this with a short version of the MBTI (Meyer Briggs Type Indicator), as a check sum indicator, has proved to be accurate at a confidence level of 95%. My dissertation and 20 years of experience, validates this finding. If you go to my web site and email me from there I will email you the password, so the DSI, so you can take it freely for your needs.
    Universities are too expensive today, and the education you get has been dumb down, but if you put in extra effort you can get a top education experience. There are people who will be better off in a technical Trade, and make more money. I started three businesses and made a million and then went to college, earned a PhD and taught for 35 years, but from my way of thinking I was better off in the trades — SO THINK CAREFULLY, and follow your bliss!

  7. What Peter Drucker Would Be Reading | The Drucker Exchange | Daily Blog by The Drucker Institute
    November 28, 2012

    [...] Comment of the Week: When we brought up the ballooning of student-loan debt and asked if there are viable alternatives to the traditional [...]


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