College for all?


This CNN article is surprising only for the sheer amount of obvious common sense it contains. In it, we learn that teenagers in the US are setting goals that are too ambitious for their skills to attain.

The study, using data from several national surveys, found that 50 percent of school leavers in 2000 planned to continue their education after college to get an advanced degree compared to 26 percent in 1976. Sixty three percent planned to work in professions like law, medicine or engineering, by age 30 — up from 41 percent four years earlier.

But the percentage of high school graduates between age 25 and 30 who actually earned advanced degrees remained roughly steady, meaning only the expectations have changed.

Sociology Professor John Reynolds, the study’s co-author, said money may be at the root of the "college-for-all" attitude but it was unrealistic to plan to become a medical doctor while turning in poor grades in high school.

He said parents, high school counselors and others are giving students the message that a college degree is the only way to get a good job when a skilled electrician or plumber can earn more than a college professor.

The bolded statement in the third paragraph is striking: The article is saying that the notion of "college for all" is an attitude and not an axiom. I think that’s a major shift. For some time now we’ve been hearing that college is indeed an inalienable right for all students, and "access to higher education" has become a rallying cry and labored talking point. The fact that not all students go to college is seen as some sort of injustice as opposed to a natural consequence of people having different skills and abilities, some of which are suited for higher education and some which are not.

As the last paragraph in the quote points out, in fact not every student should go to college. For one thing, it’s not the only path to a fulfilling and satisfying life, and nobody should be so dishonest as to say otherwise. For another, not every student is adequately prepared to handle college, and if the "college for all" people get their way, colleges will be flooded with people who neither want to be there nor are they ready to be there, which diminishes the value of college education for everybody else.

Hopefully people will stop with the "if you can dream it you can do it" stuff and start helping students honestly find out which path in life is best for them.

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5 Comments

Filed under Education, High school, Higher ed, Life in academia, Student culture

5 responses to “College for all?

  1. Eric

    This was a major theme in Twenge’s “Generation Me” book that you mentioned a while back.

  2. Perhaps I’m being naive, but I don’t think that will ever spread to “all students should go to grad school.” Universities are too invested in their graduate programs (discounting a few moonbatty schools, like ed schools, which will take anyone everybody else rejects), I think, for us ever to get to that point.

  3. I think that a pretty big portion of the students the article’s talking about are nowhere near fully informed about the extent and rigor of schooling they’ll have to have if they want to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. A lot of them may not even realize that there is post-undergrad study involved in becoming doctors or lawyers.

    I remember very clearly an advisee I had here some years ago who was majoring in pre-law because she seriously thought she could begin being a lawyer immediately upon graduation. When I mentioned that she’d have 3-4 years of law school to go through after college, plus the bar exam, she was shocked — and then changed her major to accounting. Then I think she found out that to be a CPA you have to pass some exams; then she switched to (predictably) elementary education. Eventually she just dropped out altogether (maybe she heard about the PRAXIS?).

    And that’s my point — teachers, parents, and guidance counselors ought to be giving the straight information about how much work it’s going to take to enter a profession, and stop filling students heads with dreams alone. It seems that there’s too much dreaming and not enough of taking on the hard work that is necessary to flesh that dream out — we think that dreams are the same thing as rights.

  4. JimMc

    It should actually be “College-for-all-who-qualify”. Besides, even if you do get in, colleges should be adequately weeding out the scruffs and perhaps steering them towards something more appropriate.

    This is reminscent of the L.A. school district algebra-for-all debate. The one-size-fits-all mentality doesn’t always work. Obviously everyone isn’t cut out for the same thing.

    Corporations troll thru college campuses for recruits – it’s high time to get those electricians, plumbers and machinists into high schools! Now how to make it look exotic…?

  5. I think that a pretty big portion of the students the article’s talking about are nowhere near fully informed about the extent and rigor of schooling they’ll have to have if they want to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer.

    True, but does anybody go into a PhD program with his eyes open, understanding that there is at least as much difference in the level of quality expected between that and the Master’s program as there is between that and being an undergraduate?