Alchemical Thoughts

Thinking about the value of college

Posted on: October 28, 2008

Though the current bad economy brings this topic to the forefront, I have been thinking in and out about the value of a college education. I make no bones about: college is not for everyone, and some people should just not go to college altogether. Join the military. Learn a trade. Get some other job. Those are not bad things; it just means college is not for you. Those folks for whom college is not suitable just need to admit it, find a better vocational path, and get on with life. Anyhow, here are some items I have seen on the topic I have clipped in the hopes of writing a longer post (if I am blogging it here, it probably won't get done anytime soon, but one always hopes). For me, the rub is that making such a suggestion, that some should not go to college gets the PC police riled up. How can one suggest that? You must be elitist? And the labels fly while people fail to actually take an honest look at the issue, which is a complicated issue by the way involving public schools as well as college and society at large.

  • From the Chicago Tribune, "Is College Really Worth It?" Megan Twohey asks about those college graduates who pick certain majors only to find they can't get a job  in their major while debt is piling up. Similar pieces to this one seem to be cropping up left and right these days given the tight job market and the fact college loans are becoming  harder to get in many cases, not to mention the atrocious way that financial aid has pretty much come to rely on loans (because heaven forbid we as a society invest in education).
  • Charles Murray, writing for The Wall Street Journal, argues that "For Most People, College is a Waste of Time." What he considers is that for many, they don't really need a degree, but a certificate. Food for thought. 
  • An adjunct explains why college is not for everyone "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower." This is written by a guy who worked at a school of last resort (i.e. an open admissions school, which would be similar to where I used to work). Given my experience, this piece made me think, and I wanted to write a reply to it since I have some points of agreement and disagreement. From The Atlantic magazine.
  • Inside Higher Ed had a discussion on Murray's book Real Education, which questions whether too many people go to college. Links to Parts One and Two. By the way, Charles Murray is one of the authors of the now infamous The Bell Curve
  • Also from Inside Higher Ed, a piece on "Questioning the Value of Remedial Education." Colleges usually have to embark on costly remedial education to "fix" the many defects from a public education. Maybe we need to be asking more why public schools are not producing graduates who can actually perform in college and then fix that instead. And talking about remedial classes, apparently "Most Students in Remedial Classes in College Had Solid Grades in High School." Can you say grade inflation and social promotion, children? This one comes from the Chronicle of Higher Education's News Blog. From the same blog, Peter Schmidt points to a report out in California where they look at California's cost of remediation. That blog post includes a link to the full report.
  • Wick Sloane, also in Inside Higher Ed, wonders if "The Bachelor's Degree is Obsolete?

Anyhow, just some of the items I have seen recently. As the economy worsens, and people really start looking at tuition, which seems to skyrocket no matter what, there will be questions about the value of a college education. The sad thing is many who should go to college will likely forgo it because they can't afford it. And so it goes.

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