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Guerrilla Education at Princeton: Letter from a Dad

Summary:
The admissions scandal seems to have revived interest in my 2018 Los Angeles Times op-ed.  Highlight from the original piece: Almost everyone pays lip service to the glories of education, but actions speak louder than words. Ponder this: If a student wants to study at Princeton, he doesn’t really need to apply or pay tuition. He can simply show up and start taking classes. As a professor, I assure you that we make near-zero effort to stop unofficial education; indeed, the rare, earnestly curious student touches our hearts. At the end of four years at Princeton, though, the guerrilla student would lack one precious thing: a diploma. The fact that almost no one tries this route — saving hundreds of thousands of dollars along the way — is a strong sign that students

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The admissions scandal seems to have revived interest in my 2018 Los Angeles Times op-ed.  Highlight from the original piece:

Almost everyone pays lip service to the glories of education, but actions speak louder than words. Ponder this: If a student wants to study at Princeton, he doesn’t really need to apply or pay tuition. He can simply show up and start taking classes. As a professor, I assure you that we make near-zero effort to stop unofficial education; indeed, the rare, earnestly curious student touches our hearts. At the end of four years at Princeton, though, the guerrilla student would lack one precious thing: a diploma. The fact that almost no one tries this route — saving hundreds of thousands of dollars along the way — is a strong sign that students understand the value of certification over actual learning.

A few days ago, I received the following email.  Note that I had the good sense to write “almost no one tries this route,” so you should take it as confirmation of my original thesis.  Reprinted with permission of the father who sent it and the son he describes.


Hi Bryan:

Just read your article and almost got a whiplash from doing a double-take….

You wrote almost verbatim what my son did….

Its sort of a long story, but my son dropped out of High School in order to travel to Princeton to be a guest of the CogSci/Linguistics department.   He ended up studying there for an entire year (for free) before coming back to Oakland CA and beginning community college.

Right now he is gunning to get into UC Berkeley’s linguistics department.

Bryan Caplan
Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. Bryan Caplan blogs on EconLog.

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