The Chronicle of Higher Education has a forum on the topic “Are Too Many Students Going to College?” It is, in my humble opinion, a virtually useless exercise.
“Virtually,” because some of the presumably accurate factoids tossed around by the experts are illuminating:
- “We now send 70 percent of high-school graduates to college, up from 40 percent in 1970.”
- “Of freshmen at four-year colleges who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their high-school class, two-thirds won’t graduate even if given eight and a half years. And that even if such students defy the odds, they will likely graduate with a low GPA and a major in low demand by employers.”
- “Doing well (B average or better) in a traditional college major in the arts and sciences requires levels of linguistic and logical/mathematical ability that only 10 to 15 percent of the nation’s youth possess.”
- “The number of new jobs requiring a college degree is now less than the number of young adults graduating from universities, so more and more graduates are filling jobs for which they are academically overqualified.”
And “useless” because of the total impossibility of answering the implied follow-up to the title question: “And if so, what should we do about it?”
You can see the problem in a comment by a college counselor named Marty Temko. He says:
All high-school students should receive a cost-benefit analysis of the various options suitable to their situations: four-year college, two-year degree program, short-term career-prep program, apprenticeship program, on-the-job training, self-employment, the military…. A college should not admit a student it believes would more wisely attend another institution or pursue a noncollege postsecondary option.
The first bit is fine. I’m all for cost-benefit analyses! But, human nature being what it is, even the harshest bottom line on the ledger would never change the mind of any student who has it in his or her head to go to college. And on what planet would a college ever “not admit” a student for whom it had a spot, who seems more or less likely not to flunk out, who can pay the tuition, and who has a stronger application than the next worst student? Not earth.
So even if too many students are in fact going to college, there will be no unilateral corrections to that state of affairs on the demand side (students) or the supply side (colleges).
That leaves federal, state and local governments, which do indeed have the power to reduce the college population, by offering less financial support to institutions and students. That is happening now to some extent, (in the words of Bruce Springsteen’s “The River”) “on account of the economy.”
But that is a terrible road to go down, for a simple reason.: the people sliced from the college rolls would, overwhelmingly, be poor people. And colleges would become, even more than they already are, a way for the middle classes and above to pass their status on to future generations.
So too many people do go to college. Knowing that, and possessing a valid Metrocard, will get you a ride on the New York City subway!