Utterly Meaningless » Blog Archive » COLLEGE FOR ALL AND ALL FOR COLLEGE?

    Filed at 10:37 am under by dcobranchi

    Question: Do you agree that college for all is a worthy goal? Why or why not? Is it even a reasonable goal for all students to be “college ready”?


    What!? You gave me an “F”? Oh, I have to explain why I think not. Hmmm. Man, these pre-college English classes are really tough.

    No, I don’t believe it is a worthy goal for all students to go to college. To set such a goal implies that enrollment in a college is some rite of passage through which all must pass in order to be successful in their adult lives. That this is patently absurd is obvious. But the Higher Education/Industrial Complex has convinced many students (and their tuition-paying parents) that enrollment in a college (Enrollment != Education) is a ticket to the good life. Katherine Hansen, Ph.D. (Organizational Behavior) explicitly states “five ways that a college education will make you a better person:”

    1. It will likely make you more prosperous.
    2. It will give you a better quality of life.
    3. It will give you the power to change the world.
    4. It will be something you can pass on to your children.
    5. It makes you a major contributor to the greatest nation on earth.

    In her explanation items 1, 2, and 4 are all about money. And items 3 and 5 are at least tangentially about money. So, in Ms. Hansen’s mind, having more “stuff” makes you a better person. That is the American Way. Perhaps Bill Gates isn’t really the Devil after all, since he has more money than God (even without the sheepskin). But even on these ridiculous terms, is attending college classes the best and only way to accumulate more “stuff”? Is the view worth the climb? For many, the answer is no.

    Four or five years of college can represent an enormously expensive investment. According to the College Board, the average cost to attend a public college in 2007 was $13,589. With only a modest 6% college inflation rate, a student could easily spend more than $75,000 to get their ticket punched. And that does not take into account the opportunity cost of essentially earning no money during those five years. Going to college just to gain a lot of knowledge (as the “Game of Life” jingle put it) could easily be a $250,000 gamble. Is it a good gamble? Statistically speaking, yeah, it is. A recent study estimates that over a working lifetime a bachelor’s degree is worth $1.2M. That’s an internal rate of return of roughly 12%. Not bad, at all. But that’s only speaking statistically, and we all know Twain’s warning about statistics. My local newspaper routinely falls into this trap.

    If all of the young people who became high school freshmen in 2003 had graduated this year, North Carolina would be $11 billion better off.

    You can play around with the numbers, if you like: Could we reap $10 billion for almost all? How about $5.5 billion for half?

    What you can’t play around with is the logic. The report is fairly titled “The High Cost of High School Dropouts: What the Nation Pays for Inadequate High Schools.” As long as kids who drop out earn, on average, $10,000 less per year than their peers who graduate, you don’t need precise calculations to recognize a losing proposition, to understand that both individual and public interests are being disserved.

    There are two major problems with this analysis. 1) It’s easy to compare mean incomes and say that everyone should go to college and then graduate and then we’d all be making a lot more money. But that doesn’t make sense with even a few seconds of thought. If everyone graduated from college, jobs that now require only a high school diploma would suddenly require a bachelor’s degree. And the greeters at Walmart would still be earning $6.55 an hour. 2) Nowhere in any of these income studies does anyone ever report the distribution in incomes. No doubt they are non-normal with very fat tails to the upside. How much do the distributions overlap? That’s a bit of a mystery. Perhaps someone with better research skills than I can dig it out of the Census data.

    Does it make sense to push every student to go to college? No, we simply don’t know if any one high schooler will be better off going to college. Some high school students have had their fill of sitting in a classroom and listening to lectures. Maybe they have better uses for $250,000. Maybe they want to go into the family business. Or into the military. Or to travel for a year or two. Are these kids failures simply because they refuse to toe the company line of college for all and all for college? No more than HEKs are failures for not going to the local g-school.


    Comment by
    July 26th, 2008
    at 11:16 am

    College is as worthy a goal as anything.. but I’d like to see the economical, beneficial, statistical analysis reworked with a few new numbers…
    The cost of student loans that are defaulted as often as mortgages. Who pays the actual costs of those? How about grants and subsidized scholarships? And how much does the average difference ($10,000) buy in today’s economy? And I’m betting more than a few Walmart greeters and cashiers laid out big bucks for a degree.

    Comment by
    July 26th, 2008
    at 12:07 pm

    Absolutely not a sensible goal. Many careers do not require a college degree. Ballet dancer. Pop singer. Horse boarder. Farrier. Plumber. Race car driver. Ice Skater. Professional blogger. Florist. Waitress. Assembly line worker. Seamstress. Chef. Party planner. Writer. Artist. Jeweler. Beautician. Esthetician. Retail clerk. Taxi driver. Janitor. Model. Lifeguard. Police officer. Fire fighter. Soldier. Sailor. Farmer. And so on.

    Comment by
    Daryl Cobranchi
    July 26th, 2008
    at 12:31 pm

    My older daughter aspires to the first in your list. She’s only planning on going to college if she doesn’t get into a company after “high school.”

    Comment by
    July 26th, 2008
    at 10:55 pm

    My daughter aspires to #3 on your list. She’s only 12, so I have time, but I’m thinking I might encourage her to at least get a 2 year degree so she can be a Vet Tech or something like that that would at least pay the rent and buy some food if she needs to resort to plan B.

    Comment by
    Daryl Cobranchi
    July 27th, 2008
    at 6:15 am

    I think #3 and #4 could possibly be combined for a nice career with lots of exercise and outdoors activity. Add in the Vet Tech degree and Delaney’d be set.

    Along those same lines I’ll be encouraging Katelyn to take some business and accounting classes. She’s shown a real flair for teaching and dance careers are short and (literally) painful. I see her being in business for herself before she’s 30.

    Comment by
    July 27th, 2008
    at 8:44 am

    We’ve been having exactly this discussion with Alex for months now. I don’t think college is necessary to get a job; our whole lives have been based around the belief that it’s what you know that matters, and not a piece of paper. There are certainly plenty of jobs you can get without college, and I hate that so many people think of higher education as job training.

    But if you choose the right college, it’s four years of freedom and exploration of a type you just cannot do on your own. There are resources — both human and institutional — that you can find only on a college campus, and four years in the Marine Corps or washing dishes at a restaurant is not going to provide the same opportunities.

    Comment by
    July 27th, 2008
    at 9:05 am

    Farrier is a tough career. Every farrier we know over the age of 40 has serious back problems. However, if they are good they make six figures.

    Comment by
    July 27th, 2008
    at 2:48 pm

    My DH dropped out of college, set himself up as a contractor, and makes more money than I ever made with my college degree.
    For some people, college is a wonderful learning experience; for others, it’s a four-year party. The latter group would be served better by getting a job or entering an apprenticeship.

    Comment by
    Lisa Giebitz
    July 27th, 2008
    at 10:59 pm

    I’ll repeat what I said at COD in a nutshell:
    I have the equivalent of an Associates and I can’t get a job with a living wage.

    I’ll add this: I stay at home with the kiddo because I wouldn’t make enough to cover the childcare expenses.

    So yeah, I’m going back to college. I don’t want to be in a situation where if one thing goes wrong, we’re screwed.

    Comment by
    JJ Ross
    July 29th, 2008
    at 1:53 pm

    Hey Lisa, not to argue but just before you lay out a bunch of time and money — I have degrees up through doctorate, and stay home with the kiddos because I can’t get a job with a living wage either (not after these years at home; in FL your certification lapses if you aren’t using it in the classroom.)
    So if one thing goes wrong, we’re screwed too . . .