Send Fewer Students to College

My point about the large numbers of students in college is made much more articulately by Robert VerBruggen on National Review Online.

My argument is that when 40 percent of college students fail to graduate in six years, and when about a quarter of employed college graduates have jobs that don’t require degrees, it’s obvious we’re pushing too many kids into higher education.

[I]f there’s such a high demand for college-educated workers, then why, even before the economy crashed, were 25 percent of college graduates in their 20s working at jobs that didn’t require degrees? (The proportion of graduates who utilize their degrees rises, by a few percentage points, until about age 32, but levels off thereafter.)

A big part of the reason is that “college-educated workers” are not interchangeable. The college wage premium, and fluctuations therein, vary substantially by field of study. In other words, the economy doesn’t need more generic college graduates — and in fact refuses to hire many of them. Rather, it needs highly capable people in certain fields. It would probably be better to encourage students acquiring useless majors to switch to these lucrative fields than to send more kids to college across the board.

After all, when you send more kids to college, you’re scraping closer to the bottom of the college-eligibility barrel. The new kids will be less able and motivated, on average, than the ones who are already in college — and thus even more likely to drop out before finishing and to wind up in jobs that don’t utilize their degrees if they do finish.

I am not opposed to people going to college. In fact, as a college teacher and as an educated person, I recommend it. But people need to realize that college is not the answer to the world’s problems. And it isn’t the answer for many people at all.

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