The Relationship Between College and State


College graduates tend to be collectivist minions, and the more advanced the degree, the more deeply ingrained their statism.

Collectivism is the idea that the individual should come second to society. It’s the idea that what’s allegedly good for society trumps the needs, and the rights of the individual. It is inherently anti-liberty.

Higher education is a modern-day death camp for rational thought and individualism. Here’s how it works:

The state orders parents – under the threat of fines, imprisonment, kidnapping of offspring, or a combination of the three – to send their kids to government schools from shortly after birth until their late teens. Rare exceptions are made for private- and homeschooling. After high school, graduates who desire relatively higher average income over their lifetime pursue higher education.

But why? The narrative goes like this. Besides the skills that college students (allegedly) acquire over the course of their program, the degree itself serves two business functions for employers: as a signaling and a sifting device.

A college degree is a “signal” to employers that the graduate has acquired valuable skills. It also serves as a “sifting device;” in other words, it allows employers to quickly identify which applicants are more skilled by checking (or sifting through) to see who has a college degree and who doesn’t. At least, this is how it’s supposed to work.

Thus, students are motivated to go to college to make their lives better (by increasing their productivity, and signalling to employers that they are worth sifting out, and hiring). However, college is also a time when most young people develop their worldview and their way of thinking.

This is the state’s prime area of interest.

Think of it this way: what if you were in charge of an organization that acquired its income by stealing the property of others? What are your costs and how would you maximize your profit? Since taking people’s property from them is likely to provoke resistance, this resistance is your cost. In order to maximize your profit, you want your victims to be highly productive, since the more wealth they generate, the more you can take in the future.

It’s clear that governments want individuals to go to college, to become more productive, and to make more money in order to maximize profit. Higher income and greater wealth mean more tax revenue. The more interesting question is how governments minimize cost (reduce resistance).

The time when individuals are shaping how they view the world is the perfect time to convince them that the state is necessary, and that future tax payments to the state will serve the common good. In short, free will, independent thinking, and rationalism are enemies of the state. Having ideally stamped out the primal, individualist spirit during childhood and teenage years through public schooling, the state must ensure that rational, critical thinking is firmly rejected in the next, formative stage of education: college.

The state can accomplish this by nationalizing (acquiring direct government control) college, or by offering students unique incentives to enroll and manipulating what they’re taught.

Outright nationalization tends to provoke resistance. Instead, the state adopts more subversive tactics in order to infect higher education. It does so by providing student loans at below market rates, and on better-than-market terms (e.g. with deferment, and then with monthly payment schemes capped at a low percentage of income). Suddenly, students can engage in “the college life” of partying, drug and sexual experimentation, and other leisurely activities at effectively zero cost, at least in the short term.

Not a bad deal, especially when a prospective student has the enthusiastic support of family, friends, and community.

Once enrolled, the state subjects its future victims to the work of its age-old accomplices: the intellectuals. Murray Rothbard describes the relationship between the intellectuals and the state in The Ethics of Liberty:

The alliance is based on a quid pro quo: on the one hand, the intellectuals spread among the masses the idea that the State and its rulers are wise, good, sometimes divine, and at the very least inevitable and better than any conceivable alternatives. In return for this panoply of ideology, the State incorporates the intellectuals as part of the ruling elite, granting them power, status, prestige, and material security. (p. 67)

What is the effect on course content of the implementation of this subversive strategy?

Socialism (the idea that government should own all factors of production) is glorified in history classes. Rationalism (the idea that humans can discern – not to mention individualism – is demonized in philosophy classes. Free market economics is replaced with training in mathematical modelling that lends itself to central planning. Free will is stamped out with a behaviorist, Social Darwinist, mechanistic worldview in Biology and other physical science classes.

Political science courses are training grounds for future direct beneficiaries of state property extraction; for many students in these classes, they already believe – hook, line, and sinker – that the state is just. Many are even motivated to expand it. Sociology, literature, and other arts classes are dominated by professors who not only support the state, but are plainly hostile and malicious towards the concept of a free society.

One may be getting the idea that college kids are cannon fodder for collectivism.

Should students avoid higher education at all costs? Not necessarily. The life of an entrepreneur is hard, and it’s not for everybody. Credentialism (the phenomenon that the same jobs today require a degree that in the past did not) and the increased societal expectation that high school graduates attend college makes for a difficult job market. Simply put, to get a high paying job, a college degree is usually required. Thus, individuals may still prefer to pursue a college degree, despite the often boring, unrelatable, uninteresting nature of the state-infected college environment.

However, people should know what they’re getting into. The theory explained above is a powerful tool for analyzing higher education in the United States. If individuals conclude that a college degree is worth pursuing, they should be aware of the nature of the relationship between school and state. In this way, readers may embrace rationalism, avoid contracting collectivist thinking, and pursue their own prosperity, despite the unfortunate condition of so-called american higher education.

Ryan Griggs is a libertarian essayist and contributor to TruthVoice