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No, College Isn’t Right for Everyone

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On my radio show, I’ve repeatedly made the controversial point that it’s a terrible mistake to push all students who graduate from high school to go on to college.

A 2014 report showed that at public universities, an appalling 81% of full time students fail to graduate on time—and among the 580 major public universities, less than 10% graduated more than half their students in four years.

At two-year community colleges, the situation is even worse: 85% fail to get degrees or certificates on time, or may never earn them. What this means is that students who don’t belong in college accumulate huge debts with no career benefit. Paying for a few semesters of university while earning no degree won’t help in the job market. This record could even hurt, indicating problems at finishing what you’ve started.

Too many Americans are pressured into college today—young people who can’t gain practically from educational goals they won’t fulfill.

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  1. linda  •  May 26, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I think that may of those student ONLY go to get way from home and PARTY. What if you counted only those student who started their sophomore year????

  2. Carl  •  May 29, 2015 at 12:27 am

    I took 5 years to graduate from a public university over 30 years ago. Although I found some pockets of support in the university, overall, I found the experience extremely impersonal.

    I am the parent of two children. In spite of my experience, my oldest attended the same state university and graduated on time. She also (30 years later) found advisement and support terribly lacking. She needed to find her own way through systems at the school, was mis-informed by her advisor about requirements for her degree, and suffered through classes taught by adademics who were measured more by what they published than by their abilities as educators.

    My second child invested much more personal time in selecting a university based on the culture, accessibility of faculty and the perceived support of the school for its students. Although she selected a private university, and she was academically a lower achiever than her older sibling, her 4 year cost of attending a private university will likely be LESS, 5 years later, than the cost of her older sister attending a public university. Based on her progress after year one, I have seen 20 times the support and accessibility of faculty and support staff to ensure the students stay on track toward a 4-year graduation, and the university has over an 85% 4-year graduation rate.

    Why do you measure the success of college based on only public universities? The supposed high cost of private schools is a misnomer. I have 20+ years in sales and marketing, and I can attest that what we do best in the United States is sell any product at any price, based on perceived value and ability to pay. The common belief is that public universities offer the most affordable product, but none of the published numbers are real. With the pressure on public funding, public universities are under pressure to keep pricing more accurately reflecting the actual direct cost, but the nimbleness of private schools to adjust pricing as needed to bring in the students who will perform best in THEIR school means that published costs are essentially irrelevant.

    College, in the United States, it a sort of right of passage. We do not have apprenticeships to serve all the high school students who might be better choosing a non-academic path. Our high-tech society mandates that even trades workers need as much fundamental math and science as they can get to form a foundational understanding of process. The carpenter with a good ability to conceptualize three dimensional models will frame a house faster and more precisely than the carpenter who has only on the job experience. The homemaker who remembers basic chemistry will use household cleaning products differently than the person who learns only from advertising and anecdotal conversation with neighbors.

    Undervaluing education solely based on graduation rates from public educational institutions misrepresents the value of what an education should provide.

    2-year schools suffer even more because we are pooling the most marginal students together. Education theory 40 years ago was that by mixing the under-achievers with the high achievers, the high achievers would bring UP the under-achievers. Integration in schools taught us by experience that the opposite was more likely. In a mixed class, without a competitive environment for the high achievers, they found that they did not need to work as hard because they were so far above the bottom of the class.

    Linda may be right for some sub-set of schools. I still believe it is up to the parents, and the closest “trusted advisors” to our young people to set standards, and monitor progress.

    I took 5 years to complete my degree, in part, because I didn’t get enough good advice along the way. It took time for me to find my passion. I have had co-workers through my career who did not have 4-year degrees. They were very well qualified people, but in our society, they ultimately did not garner the respect of their co-workers and managers until they eventually completed a BA or BS degree. Our society is so biased to the need for a college education that to tell a portion of our population they don’t need it because so many of their peers are failing at the process is a disservice to our younger generation. I’d rather hire a handyman who can discuss the nuances of the Chicago Symphony versus the St. Louis Symphony performing the same piece. We need to be supportive of young people getting through the process, not tell them to not try because they are likely to fail.

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