Skip to comments.College Isn't For Everyone
Posted on 04/06/2014 5:26:49 AM PDT by Kaslin
In his first address to Congress after being sworn in as President of the United States, President Obama laid out an aggressive progressive agenda for increasing the number of Americans with college degrees over the next ten years. "We will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal," he promised Americans, "by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world."
President Obama's goal here completely misdiagnoses what ails our higher education system. A culture that encourages and a government that and subsidizes higher education has driven up costs, pushed underqualified students into institutions that theyre not ready for, propped up a student debt bubble and hurt the quality of our higher educational institutions.
THE MARGINAL STUDENT
Whats odd about the Presidents agenda is that he recognizes some of these problems. In that same 2009 speech to Congress, he acknowledged that we have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.
Modern American postsecondary education is thought of as a bundled model: everything comes included and nothing is severable: professors, brick-and-mortar buildings, books, testing, certification and so on. But in an economy where so many recent graduates are saddled with student debt and cant find jobs with the skills theyve acquired, it might be time to rethink the way the system works for everyone.
Traditional bundled models of higher education this includes both two- and four-year programs - will be beneficial to the students who are prepared for the academic rigor and willing to make financial plans in order to not overstretch themselves. Whats important is academic preparedness and choosing a course of study, including the level of degree, that is right for a student. The bundled model isnt for everyone, and its increasingly not for the students who are borderline college applicants.
The Census Bureaus 2011 survey found that the median bachelors degree recipient will earn 85% more over the course of their careers than the median high school graduate. Associates degree holders will earn 38% more. These figures vary by course of study - engineers benefit from the greatest wage premium, while those who studied humanities or other liberal arts benefit the least - but the benefits are nonetheless there.
Government policy isnt encouraging more average postsecondary candidates to go to college, though. Those students would likely go on their own. Government policy encourages the marginal students, those who might not be eligible for merit-based scholarships, or might stretch themselves to fit in at a school beyond their academic reach. Its creating a generation of tragedy.
An average four-year college graduate from the class of 1993 would graduate with $9,450 in student loan debt. The average bachelors recipient in 2012 graduated with $29,400 in debt - an increase of over 300%, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. Whats worse are those who drop-out of college with high debt burdens; they dont get the benefit of the college wage premium and are still saddled with massive debt that came along with their attempt at a college degree.
"It's tragic," says Corie Whalen, spokesperson for free market youth advocacy group Generation Opportunity. You have these 18-year-olds who dont know what they want to do, so they go to school. Im 26, and I have a lot of friends, people my age and slightly younger, who end up dropping out of school, maybe to take a job. ... Theyre in this kind of black hole where theyre stuck.
A 2005 study from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found that 20 percent of all students who borrow to go to college are unable to complete their degree, and the median college dropout had incurred $10,000 in student loans, with nothing to show for it. The study found that a quarter of debt-saddled college dropouts would default on their loans.
NOT EVERY JOB NEEDS A COLLEGE DEGREE
In the post-2008 crash economy, jobs are increasingly becoming available that require training other than a traditional four-year college education. While two-thirds of young Americans enroll in traditional colleges, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2012 that only one-third of jobs in the American economy require postsecondary education.
Moreover, BLS found, The most new jobs from 2012 to 2022 are projected to be in occupations that typically can be entered with a high school diploma. ... Apprenticeship occupations are projected to grow the fastest during the 2012-2022 decade.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half of graduates who have bachelors degrees in communications, liberal arts, and business go on to jobs in which a bachelors degree is not required.
With a glut of jobs that dont require a degree, the perils that befall debt-addled dropouts who have overstretched themselves to go, and the ever-rising cost of attending college, why are people enrolling in four-year colleges at record rates?
The answer: government policy. American government at all levels subsidizes higher education more than any other country, and our culture, including our political leaders, portray a traditional college education as mandatory for success in life.
INFLATING THE HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE
We know its harder to find a job today without some higher education, President Obama said in December 2013, so weve helped more students go to college with grants and loans that go farther than before. Weve made it more practical to repay those loans. And today, more students are graduating from college than ever before.
Sadly, in an era of unprecedented dropout rates, skyrocketing tuition, and mounting debt burdens, President Obama wants more people going to college.
The role that government policy has played in sending more people to college is undeniable. Rather than focus on fixing our K-12 education system to better prepare those students who complete high school but are unprepared for college, policies have pushed more high school grads into schools that theyre academically incapable of handling at prices they cant afford, leading to our current dropout and debt predicament.
The number of incentives used by the federal government to push students toward college continue to increase. Theres the Stafford Loan program run by the federal government that helps students pay for college, and which has been used time and again for political gamesmanship, as seen in the 2013 debate over keeping interest rates on those loans artificially low. Theres the Pell Grant program, a college financing mechanism provided by the federal government that does not have to be repaid and for which total spending has doubled under President Obama. And thats not to mention tax deductions run by the IRS for everything from tuition to books to student loan interest.
David Wilezol, fellow at the Claremont Institute, says there are important reforms to be made to the method of federal financing of higher education that can vastly improve educational outcomes. It would be good to put some harder standards in place to get loans and also, to look at what the student is studying, Wilezol tells Townhall. Theres going to be a higher return on investment and a better salary if youre in computer science or chemistry than if youre in sociology or English I dont think its wise for the country to subsidize humanities or social science disciplines as heavily as theyve done.
Some of these programs are, on net, good policy. There are a lot of students who should be going to college and do need the help. The sum total of the federal governments intervention in higher education, however, is to encourage too many students to go to college and to subsidize the massive tuition increases weve seen.
COMMUNITY COLLEGE ISNT CHEAP
Four-year colleges are the easiest culprit to point to here, and Obama has pushed for increased utilization of community colleges and associates programs to alleviate the crisis in higher education. Andrew Kelly, director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute, tells Townhall thats not the right policy solution.
One of the things you usually hear in this debate is that community colleges are a better option because theyre cheaper, which they almost always are, to the consumer, out-of-pocket But the completion rates at those colleges are often very low. Its cheap to the consumer but its really expensive to the taxpayer on a per-outcome basis.
Community colleges are often seen as an easy alternative to traditional four-year bachelors programs because, in addition to being cheaper, theres already an infrastructure built outside of the traditional four-year program. The argument goes that all we need is a cultural shift to push two-year programs into respectability to make them a cheap, viable higher education alternative.
Kelly disagrees with that. The problem with community colleges is that, simply, their outcomes up to now are far from where we need them to be if we want to have an efficient system of human capital for those types of students that would be better served in two-year programs. Community colleges arent the targeted programs they should be.
Like bachelors programs, many community colleges encourage experimentation from students, allowing them to spend time taking broad-based courses that dont contribute a whole lot to their educational goals. Theres an emerging thinking, Kelly says, that students in the two-year sector need more structured programs that give them a starting point, an endpoint, and a clear mapping from where you start to where you finish.
THE HIGHER ED CARTEL
Many of the failures of Americas higher education system stem from the belief in the all-inclusive bundled model. Its clear that in Americas economy, both now and the near future, the bundled model of higher education isnt necessarily the one that will best serve new workers. Unfortunately, were moving at a glacial pace toward accepting the kinds of higher education reform that we need and government has been loathe to disincentivize the traditional model.
Accreditation is overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, which bestows private agencies with the authority to accredit either institutional or specialized categories to schools or programs, respectively. The private accrediting agencies have standards for accreditation which have been approved by the DoE for what it takes to become an accredited program.
The lure of accreditation for higher ed institutions is access to financial aid. A program has to be accredited to receive any form of federal financial aid, both for the school itself and the students. While the accreditation process wasnt invented to serve as a gatekeeper to financial aid, in the modern higher ed system thats what accreditation really is.
BRING ON THE COMPETITION
What accreditation does is create a high barrier to entry for innovative methods of higher education that incumbent schools are desperate to protect. We think of postsecondary schools as public-good nonprofits that care only for the best for their students, but theyre businesses like any other and they want to protect their favored status. The Center for Responsive Politics found that education lobbying in Washington, D.C. has topped $100 million in three of the past four years, with millions spent by big school systems like the University of Texas and the University of California alone. As a result, the bundled model is just about the only one on offer for students who cant pay their own way.
Accreditation was never meant to be the main way that the government would decide which schools students would be incentivized to attend. A reform of the accreditation system might allow a wider variety of education systems to address what American students need. Accreditation, of some form or another, wouldnt necessarily go away. It would merely give new, innovative education startups the chance to compete for the same higher-ed taxpayer dollars that currently are monopolized by bundlededucation providers.
What the higher education system might need is a good dose of the free market. The incentives are all aligned to send students to traditional educational models that are failing both students and taxpayers. Its the approach that scholars like AEIs Kelly emphasize. If youre a higher education provider and you have some early outcomes to suggest that students are well served, and you are inexpensive and students can afford to pay with a little help from federal or state governments. Why shouldnt we embrace that?
Let the students decide where they want to invest their time and money.
Small reforms have already begun to push the higher education system toward innovation. Under the Bush administration, accreditation reform, for the first time, allowed the possibility for programs that offered the majority of their courses online to become accredited. Its why weve seen the rise of programs like Strayer University and Western Governors University. These are majority-online, but they also move away from the traditional model of providing credit merely for time invested.
The innovative move in higher education right now is away from credit-hours and toward skills testing. In addition to accredited institutions like Western Governors University, Kelly points to programs like Degreed and Accredible that allow students to gather a sum total of their schooling, their training, and their learned skills to fuse into a comprehensive package, which Degreed calls Degree Equivalents, that provide an alternative method to the certificates awarded by bundled postsecondary education.
LET NEW SYSTEMS EMERGE
The higher education models that best serve students may also not exist yet. The beauty of opening up the higher education system to competition and choice is that forms of study may arise that would never be thought up by technocratic education gatekeepers. To an extent, this would be opening up the criticism that taxpayer dollars would be spent on education experiments that might not actually serve individual students as well as the current bundled model does. The status quo, though, is completely failing the students that are most vulnerable.
Millions of students push themselves to the limit every year to take on debt to attend academically intense college programs. For some of them, the current system serves them well. Even so, there are hundreds of thousands of young Americans who have become victims of the college-or-bust mindset, dropping out with mountains of debt and nothing to show for it. Many who complete college will find themselves with a humanities degree that they were promised would open up a world of opportunity, only to find themselves in the unemployment line because the skills they learned in a liberal arts college dont fit with the jobs that America can provide today.
There may not be any silver bullet to solve the problems that overextended students and college debt pose to Americas youth today. But they deserve better. And Washington politicians ought to tell them the truth and take action on the policy options that could do real good in reforming the status quo.
Today, colleges offer garbage like this:
Never has been.
Excellent article! Thank you for posting it.
Hey Kaslin. I agree whole heartedly with your statement. I’ve known plenty of PhD’s that are absolutely brilliant but are dumber than rocks. Real world facts being attacked with doctoral thesis don’t always work. On the other hand, I’ve known folks with hardly a high school diploma able to figure out things that are beyond a lot of “highly” educated folks. Somtimes your real world experience far exceeds your “learned” ideas. :>} Then there are folks who just “get it”. Not to mention the folks who think that they MUST go in to horrendous debt to send their kids to school. Whatever happened to working your way through college? So it takes more than 4 years. Sense of pride is/can be a good thing.
It is now for the low information voters who could care less dont do the work and will get that piece of paper anyway fr breathing and the illegals who also get it for free
College is education. College is for the intellectually capable.
Those who lack the intellect drop out.
There are some like Anita Hill and Michelle Obama and basketball players who are continually lifted up beyond their intellect but they are few.
Our high schools need to be revamped. Senior year should be spent learning a marketable skill. High school graduates can go to work and earn their own way through college - if they choose to go.
If you want to see a room full of white middle aged divorced liberal teachers give a collective gasp of disbelief...
Just repeat the title in that room.
Yeah, that’s what happens.
I agree with you.
I was at a neighbors grad party a couple of years ago. All of the graduates were strutting around telling everyone what private schools they were going to. One kid sheepishly told all of the Dad’s he was going to automotive mechanic school. We all, to a person, told him he was the smartest of the bunch.
Two years later, he is working full time and making close to $60,000 a year. His goal is to take over a local garage.
He has no debt.
The kid is a genius. And he is happy.
Why do they have remedial math in college?
——Why do they have remedial math in college?——
To weed out the intellectually inferior
These courses are perfect for those who have no brain but have parents who can afford to send their offspring to college.
Community colleges have been turned by the educational establishment into liberal arts college prep schools instead of centers of training for technical and administrative jobs for those not desiring a four year liberal arts degree.
A nearby community college had a nationally renowned 2 year woodworking program turning out skilled cabinet makers, furniture makers, and trim carpenters. A new college president came to the school and made an arbitrary decision to close the program because the furniture industry was going offshore so there would in the future be no need for this training. The school shut down the program, sold off equipment, sent the skilled instructors packing and reallocated the funding to liberal arts education. The school ignored the fact that very few graduates were going to work in furniture and cabinet factories. In fact most would get a few years of experience, start their own businesses, and become successful small businessmen in the region. The program was dropped despite strong opposition from graduates and the community.
Within the past week I met with an entrepreneur who started an HVAC company that today employs 43 people. He lamented the fact he could not find enough skilled young people to hire as installers and repair technicians. The local technical schools and community colleges are not supplying enough skilled graduates to bring into the business as trainees.
There is a high demand in the market for skilled tradesmen who can work with their hands and their mind. It is a shame the education system fails high school graduates who would benefit from learning a trade. Reallocating some of the billions wasted on higher education toward technical education would benefit small business, millions of unemployable young people, and boost the economy.
Unfortunately the elites who run the education industry look down at people who work the hands and their minds.
I only have an Associate's degree (earned it on-line, part-time) - I am in a position with my company that requires a 4-year degree (minimum), and routinely out-duel guys with multiple degrees come lay-off time.
Dad taught me that hard work and integrity (and common-sense) will (eventually) trump everything else.
Well, given society today, that “Zombies in Cultural Media” course could be very useful if it delved into the art of Zombie-killing.
A favorite and oft heard line on job sites and shop floors all over “and I told that engineer.....”
"Janice Fiamengo is a Professor of English at Ottawa University. On March 28 she attempted to give a lecture on the double standards of feminism and the discourse of rape culture. The lecture was shut down before it started by a group of Communist provocateurs who were determined not to allow any discussion of ideas contrary to The Narrative. Eventually, they pulled the fire alarm. No arrests have been made so far. None are expected."link
Some degree’s are not worth having.
Last summer I had a door-knocker from NYPIRG babbling on about how bad fracking was. It was rather amusing. After taking him apart on fracking, I informed him that a few years earlier that I had some pretty 20-nothing from NYPIRG babbling on about mercury from burning coal.
When cornered about the energy inputs on solar panels ( i.e. the energy to mine, and refine rare earths to usable purity to make those solar panels work) he babbled on how he didn’t have a science degree. I asked him what he did have a degree in. He responded with “BA in Near Eastern Studies” form NYU. I asked him what sort of work he thought he could find with such a credential. He lamented that he could not find anything beyond waiter/barista.
I then queried what possessed him to want to enter a degree program where there was no meaningful opportunities for employment after graduation? He responded that his parents told him he could be anything he wanted to be. To which I replied, yes that is true but in order to live he needed to provide some value to his fellow citizens that they would in fact be willing to PAY for.
He complained of the high debt that he had, and I told him that he should have gone into engineering, mathematics, computer science, or accounting where he could provide value to someone that they would actually be willing to him pay for.
I said to him Near Eastern Studies was a nice hobby, not a career.
I enjoy particle physics, and spent several years working in that field at Cornell University. The problem with it was that it didn’t pay very well and left it for a major corporation which used what I learned to develop products that people would actually pay for and remunerate me appropriately.
I told him he needed to take the coexist bumper sticker off his car, and get with the program. Being a liberal is the life of a loser and he should head for the military to learn how to be an adult with meaningful skills.