Ted McAllister’s new Martin Center column features an excerpt from his soon-to-be-published book, Coming Home: Reclaiming America’s Conservative Soul.

The promise of higher education has become a trap for tens of millions of Americans. The promise: Every one of us and our children could go to college, earn a degree, and set off on a good career, secure in the knowledge that we had gained the tools necessary for a productive life.

The trap: Years (usually more than the advertised four) of indoctrination in the classroom and, more harshly, the dormitories, followed by decades of crushing debt, all made far worse by the realization that our degrees have qualified us for very little.

It wasn’t always like this. Supporters of the current system may argue that early colleges were mere playgrounds for the rich, but they were in fact set up for a variety of reasons—most of them having to do with training ministers and teachers. Few could afford college, and few needed to attend college to pursue a useful profession.

Still, many men of talent (Alexander Hamilton, for example) were helped by generous friends and neighbors to pursue higher education. For much of American history, college was an opportunity for privileged young people to gain an understanding of their traditions and of the great works of their civilization, as well as for significant numbers of talented but not privileged young people to gain that same understanding as they worked their way into the learned professions.