Is col­lege worth it?

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Wal­ter E. Wil­liams Wal­ter E. Wil­liams is a pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity.

Au­gust is the month when par­ents bid farewell to not only their col­lege-bound young­sters but also a siz­able chunk of cash for tu­ition. More than 18 mil­lion stu­dents at­tend our more than 4,300 de­gree-grant­ing in­sti­tu­tions. A ques­tion par­ents, their col­lege-bound young­sters and tax­pay­ers should ask: Is col­lege worth it?

Let’s look at some of the numbers. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures, “when con­sid­er­ing all first-time un­der­grad­u­ates, stud­ies have found any­where from 28 per­cent to 40 per­cent of stu­dents en­roll in at least one re­me­dial course. When look­ing at only com­mu­nity col­lege stu­dents, sev­eral stud­ies have found re­me­di­a­tion rates sur­pass­ing 50 per­cent.”

Only 25 per­cent of stu­dents who took the ACT in 2012 met the test’s readi­ness bench­marks in all four sub­jects (English, reading, math and sci­ence).

Just five per­cent of black stu­dents and

13 per­cent of His­panic stu­dents met the readi­ness bench­marks in all four sub­jects. The NCSL re­port says, “A U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion study found that 58 per­cent of stu­dents who do not re­quire re­me­di­a­tion earn a bach­e­lor’s de­gree, com­pared to only 17 per­cent of stu­dents en­rolled in re­me­dial reading and 27 per­cent of stu­dents en­rolled in re­me­dial math.”

The fact of busi­ness is that col­leges ad­mit a far greater num­ber of stu­dents than those who test as be­ing col­lege-ready. Why should stu­dents be ad­mit­ted to col­lege when they are not ca­pa­ble of aca­demic per­for­mance at the col­lege level? Ad­mit­ting such stu­dents gets the na­tion’s high schools off the hook. The na­tion’s high schools can con­tinue to de­liver grossly fraud­u­lent ed­u­ca­tion—namely, issue diplo­mas that at­test that stu­dents can read, write and com­pute at a 12th-grade level when they may not be able to per­form at even an eighth- or ninth-grade level.

You say, “Hold it, Wil­liams. No col­lege would ad­mit a stu­dent who couldn’t per­form at an eighth- or ninth-grade level.” Dur­ing a re­cent Univer­sity of North Carolina scan­dal, a learn­ing spe­cial­ist hired to help ath­letes found that dur­ing the pe­riod from 2004 to 2012, 60 per­cent of the 183 mem­bers of the foot­ball and bas­ket­ball teams read be­tween fourth- and eighth-grade lev­els. About 10 per­cent read be­low

a third-grade level. These were stu­dents with high school diplo­mas and ad­mit­ted to UNC. And it’s not likely that UNC is the only univer­sity en­gag­ing in such gross fraud.

Many stu­dents who man­age to grad­u­ate don’t have a lot to show for their time and money. New York Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Richard

Arum, co-au­thor of Aca­dem­i­cally Adrift: Lim­ited Learn­ing on Col­lege Cam­puses, says that his study shows that more than a third of stu­dents showed no im­prove­ment in crit­i­cal think­ing skills af­ter four years at a univer­sity. That ob­ser­va­tion is con­firmed by the many em­ploy­ers who com­plain that lots of re­cent grad­u­ates can­not seem to write an email that will not em­bar­rass the com­pany.

In 1970, only 11 per­cent of adult Amer­i­cans held col­lege de­grees. These de­gree hold­ers were viewed as the na­tion’s best and bright­est. To­day, over 30 per­cent hold col­lege de­grees, with a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of these grad­u­ates not demon­stra­bly smarter or more dis­ci­plined than the av­er­age Amer­i­can. De­clin­ing aca­demic stan­dards and grade in­fla­tion tend to con­firm em­ployer per­cep­tions that col­lege de­grees say lit­tle about job readi­ness.

What hap­pens to many of these ill-pre­pared col­lege grad­u­ates? If they man­age to be­come em­ployed in the first place, their em­ploy­ment has lit­tle to do with their de­gree. One es­ti­mate is that one in three col­lege grad­u­ates have a job his­tor­i­cally per­formed by those with a high school di­ploma or the equiv­a­lent. Ac­cord­ing to Richard Ved­der, who is a pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at Ohio Univer­sity and di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Col­lege Af­ford­abil­ity and Pro­duc­tiv­ity, we had 115,000 jan­i­tors, 16,000 park­ing lot at­ten­dants, 83,000 bar­tenders and about 35,000 taxi driv­ers with bach­e­lor’s de­grees in 2012.

The bot­tom line is that col­lege is not for ev­ery­one. There is ab­so­lutely no shame in a young­ster’s grad­u­at­ing from high school and learn­ing a trade. Do­ing so might earn him much more money than many of his peers who at­tend col­lege.

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