Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Is America's Most Overrated Product the Bachelor's Degree

Yes, claims Marty Nemko, a former career counselor, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education
I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later. That figure is from a study cited by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education and now a senior research associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!


I don's disagree with the author. He goes on:

Perhaps more surprising, even those high-school students who are fully qualified to attend college are increasingly unlikely to derive enough benefit to justify the often six-figure cost and four to six years (or more) it takes to graduate. Research suggests that more than 40 percent of freshmen at four-year institutions do not graduate in six years. Colleges trumpet the statistic that, over their lifetimes, college graduates earn more than nongraduates, but that's terribly misleading. You could lock the collegebound in a closet for four years, and they'd still go on to earn more than the pool of non-collegebound — they're brighter, more motivated, and have better family connections.

The author goes on to eviscerate what colleges and universities are doing. Nothing really new here; yup, teaching is not really rewarded; in fact, it is detrimental. The author goes on to suggest what all colleges should be required to report. I don't disagree at all. But, I do take exception to a couple of things.

He seems to have special enmity for the large state universities. They were founded as "research" schools, especially in agriculture and engineering. It is part of their mission to do research that benefits society. I'm not suggesting that they actually do this, but it is wrong to suggest that their original goals should be held against them today.

Mr. Nemko also doesn't say a thing about the overall lack of motivation on the part of today's students. Sure, as he notes, many are highly motivated and bright, but many are bright have great test scores, and just underachieve all over the place. is that really the fault of the universities? This is a cultural problem. Universities and colleges are not high schools.

Now, I don't blame Mr. Nemko for not being the most well read and I'm sure he thinks he has "discovered" something here, but "credentialism" has been a phenomenon noted by sociologists for some time. Much of today's situation with higher ed can be attributed to the GI Bill. by making it so easy for so many to attend college after WWII, and the public schools really expanded and the growth in human capital really created a vibrant middle class, ..., most of these would be viewed as good things, but it also created the requirement of a college degree for scores of jobs that had not before needed one, and one could argue, do police and correctional officers need college degrees? What evidence is there that college grads make better officers? is there any? how would one measure that anyway?

College is still needed for doctor's lawyers, the professions, teaching, and other ocupations which have managed to use the state to close boundaries on the occupation, like teaching, social working, and financial consultants.

Credentialism works really well for business and many public service organzations. Arguably you get better educated folks, overqualified, for the same price.

Of course, credentialism may benefit colleges because they are the providers of the credential, but corporations that make a degree an absolute requirement, regardless of whether their is specialized knowledge involved, are as much to blame. the trnucating of corporate ladders from the bottom to the top, with the requirement to have a college degree.

And the requirement of a college degree has been a real boon to the maintenance of the class structure. When it is not just academic achievement or motivation that is operative, the cost is what I am referring to, then as long as it is the more priviliged groups that have the access, then it helps to reduce competition from lower status groups who dont have the same access.

But now, that access is almost universal, though remarkably expensive, but with easy financiing, there are increasing people who question whether a college degree is worth it; I find this especially interesting as white males, especially, are abandoning college.

I do agree with the author, too many unqualified people go to college; too many graduate from college having learned nothing because they were not at college to learn. But the phenomenon is not entirely, or even primarily, the fault of the colleges and universities.

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