The New York Times seems concerned that teens in the fracking belt of eastern Montana are opting to work in the new oil-field economy right after high school rather than going straight on to college. A front-page story warns: Taking a job is “a lucrative but risky decision for any 18-year-old to make, one that could foreclose on his future if the frenzied pace of oil and gas drilling from here to North Dakota to Texas falters and work dries up.”
Let’s see. Where is a teenager more likely to learn the basic and transferable virtue of showing up every day and on time, not to mention how to get along with a boss and fit into an organization — as a communications and binge-drinking double major at Missoula State University, or as a mechanic fixing broken rig equipment? Too many high-school graduates are reflexively going to college as it is, without a clue what they are doing there or how to take advantage of higher education. Mandatory stints in the private economy before college enrollment could do wonders for study skills. If, by deferring or maybe even skipping college entirely, students were foregoing their one hope for immersion in Western civilization, there would indeed be grounds for regret. But colleges’ own curricular decisions have long since destroyed their right to present themselves as a gateway for precious knowledge of the past.
It is unlikely, of course, that if some subset of teens were regularly interning at Planned Parenthood or Marriage Equality after high school, the Times would point out the risks of not attending college right away. The Times’ story is interesting as a “state-of-the-economy” report, but it appears to be inspired more by alarm at the implicit challenge to the college-industrial complex, with its hordes of student-support bureaucrats preaching about diversity and playing key supporting roles in adolescent psychodramas.