Not smart enough for college

Too many students go to four-year colleges without the intelligence to master college-level work or the motivation, writes Charles Murray in part 2 of his Opinion Journal series. Most would fare better learning job skills in a two-year college, he argues. This makes somewhat more sense than part 1 but I question his confidence that average people can’t benefit from higher education.

To have an IQ of 100 means that a tough high-school course pushes you about as far as your academic talents will take you. If you are average in math ability, you may struggle with algebra and probably fail a calculus course. If you are average in verbal skills, you often misinterpret complex text and make errors in logic.

. . . You are smart enough to engage in any of hundreds of occupations. You can acquire more knowledge if it is presented in a format commensurate with your intellectual skills. But a genuine college education in the arts and sciences begins where your skills leave off.

Murray asserts that a person with an IQ of 100 can’t understand Econ 1. I wonder how he knows this.

There is no magic point at which a genuine college-level education becomes an option, but anything below an IQ of 110 is problematic. If you want to do well, you should have an IQ of 115 or higher. Put another way, it makes sense for only about 15% of the population, 25% if one stretches it, to get a college education. And yet more than 45% of recent high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges. Adjust that percentage to account for high-school dropouts, and more than 40% of all persons in their late teens are trying to go to a four-year college — enough people to absorb everyone down through an IQ of 104.

Many students smart enough for college are there only because their parents have pushed them and paid the bills, Murray adds. Colleges offer dumbed-down courses to accommodate the unswift and the unmotivated.

He looks forward to the day when employers require demonstrated skills — not a meaningless degree — as a prerequisite for a “good” job.

IQ is a touchy subject for me. I spent half my youth competing with my sister. I thought she was smarter than me because she was one year older. Eventually, I realized that she has a genius IQ. I don’t. I was an “overachiever,” doing better than I had any right to. My daughter, despite learning to read at two, was assigned an average IQ — not high enough to do well in college, according to Murray — by a psychologist who was doing a follow-up on three-year-olds who’d been through the intensive-care nursery. (I don’t think they asked her to read.) We both managed to pass Econ 1. And to graduate from Stanford.

I don’t want to see guys like Murray standing at the college door to keep out the merely average.

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