It's Time to Ditch the College-for-All Crusade
"The college-for-all crusade has outlived its usefulness. Time to ditch it. Like the crusade to make all Americans homeowners, it’s now doing more harm than good. It looms as the largest mistake in educational policy since World War II, even though higher education’s expansion also ranks as one of America’s great postwar triumphs.
Consider. In 1940, fewer than 5 percent of Americans had a college degree. Going to college was “a privilege reserved for the brightest or the most affluent” high-school graduates, wrote Diane Ravitch in her history of U.S. education, “The Troubled Crusade.” No more. At last count, roughly 40 percent of Americans had some sort of college degree: about 30 percent a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution; the rest associate degrees from community colleges.
Starting with the GI Bill in 1944, governments at all levels promoted college. From 1947 to 1980, enrollments jumped from 2.3 million to 12.1 million. College became the ticket to the middle class, the be-all-and-end-all of K-12 education. If you didn’t go to college, you’d failed. Improving “access” — having more students go to college — drove public policy.
We overdid it. The obsessive faith in college has backfired.
For starters, we’ve dumbed down college. The easiest way to enroll and retain more students is to lower requirements. Even so, dropout rates are high; at four-year schools, fewer than 60 percent of freshmen graduate within six years. Many others aren’t learning much.
The real concern is the quality of graduates at all levels. The fixation on college-going, justified in the early postwar decades, stigmatizes those who don’t go to college and minimizes their needs for more vocational skills. It cheapens the value of a college degree and spawns the delusion that only the degree — not the skills and knowledge behind it — matters. We need to rethink."
MP: The chart above shows graphically the results of the "college-for-all crusade." In the 1970s and 1980s only about one out of three high school graduates went on to college. Now about half of all high school graduates attend college. And most of them now graduate with student loan debt of $25,000 and many are having a hard time finding a job.