Send more kids to college

We need to send more students to college, writes Marcus A. Winters on National Review Online. The U.S. has “too few college-educated workers to meet the challenges of our increasingly complicated society,” he argues.

The case that too many students are going to college comes through two arguments: that we have reached the zenith of our ability to produce students with the skills necessary to succeed in college, and that for marginal students, the economic returns from college are not as good as advertised. Neither of these critiques stand up to scrutiny.

Low-income students may fail in the typical low-income school, but there are many well-organized schools with good teachers that enable these students to suceed, Winters writes.

. . . if we could improve the quality of our ineffective teachers or replace them with effective ones, we would dramatically improve educational outcomes. There is plenty of room for schools to get better, particularly those where low achievement is the norm.

Furthermore, “the wage premium a year of college coursework yields has been increasing at a rapid clip since about 1979,” Winters writes.

. . . in the middle-to-late 1970s, educational attainment stalled, though technology continued progressing. Since 1977, high-school-graduation rates, college-attendance rates, and standardized-test scores have all plateaued. Now too few educated workers chase after a growing number of skilled jobs, allowing them to command ever-higher wage premiums.

Not every student can benefit from college, Winters concedes. But if we did a better job in K-12, many more could learn the skills for 21st-century success.

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Comments

  1. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Oh? Then why do I keep hearing about college graduates who can’t get jobs? Some have gone back to school as much in order to have something to do as in hopes of getting a better job with a higher degree. Some are working at jobs that do not require a degree and some just keep looking tho mighty discouraged.

  2. And what about employers who claim that the current crop of college graduates has few in it with sufficient writing and communication skills? Or math skills? Or knowledge of history?

    I teach college and even I don’t think we need to be sending more students to college. It seems I get too many of them that only care about getting their passport to the world of work stamped (the credentials) and not the learning, which is what the credentials are supposed to merely represent.

  3. If our K-12 schools were more effective, many of those unfilled jobs could be filled by HS grads, or by technical school grads.

  4. The U.S. doesn’t really need more college-educated workers. It needs more young people who have the skills and work ethic typically required to earn a college degree. Big difference!

  5. Ditto to the comments above. The push for more kids in college will just lead to them dropping their standards so we’ll have more people with college DIPLOMAs but not any more with a college EDUCATION.

  6. The conflicting part of this article is the nature of public school system. If you consider public schools to mean what they are today then the message of the article does not seem plausible. If you consider public schools to be what they might become given certain reforms then the message becomes plausible.
    I think the following excerpt from the article brings out the big IF it assumes.

    “The idea that the public school system’s ability to increase academic achievement has hit its peak is also inconsistent with other modern research, which has found that the particular teacher to whom a student is assigned can mean a difference of as much as a grade level’s worth of additional academic progress in a single year. This work implies that if we could improve the quality of our ineffective teachers or replace them with effective ones, we would dramatically improve educational outcomes. There is plenty of room for schools to get better, particularly those where low achievement is the norm.”

    Perhaps if we keep working on the “IFs” we’ll reach the bigger objective suggested by the article.

  7. tim-10-ber says:

    Will someone please explain to me why government run education began declining in the early to mid-1970s? In my community the buses via government order desegregation (I am all for integrated schools) rolled in 1971. The white flight (i.e. kids from families that could afford private school education) was huge. The enrollment dropped from a high of 95- 100K kids to somewhere in the 60K range. The FARM population grew and in the mid-1990s the school flipped from majority minority to minority majority school population. Today the FARM percentage is 76% and rising. Hispanic kids have filled the void and now represent 16 – 17% of the student body. The white population continues to decline and is 34% or lower in a community that is 68% white. The black population is 48-49% in the schools. The entire minority population in the community is 32%. What is wrong with this picture? Is this also what is wrong with government education?

    To me 1971 was the turning point of a massive decline in the quality of education in my community. Is this true elsewhere?

    Does anyone know anything about the QUALITY of education (not the facilities or resources) before court ordered busing?

    No…we do not need more kids going to college. I agree with the comments above…thanks!

  8. Bill Leonard says:

    I agree with the commentors above. If we “need” to send more kids to college, why am I, admittedly anecdotally, running into so many people with high school degrees who are doing just fine, thanks? Is it because I don’t live on Manhatten’s upper west side?

    Admittedly, these people tend to be motivated and in family businesses, or for whom — such as the go-getter mid-30s general contractor my niece married — college was a bore.

    But the plain fact is, they are generally doing alright, even in a straightened economy. All have managed to pick up the additional skills they need — general business and accounting, and specific licensure classes, for instance — in community colleges.

    Yes, a small personal sample. But there is a good-sized universe of such folk within the United States.

    Perhaps the author of the article, identified as a Fellow of the Manhatten Institute, ought to leave the confines of Manhatten and mingle in the real world.

  9. He refers, as such articles usually do, to “our increasingly complicated society.” In fact, the complexity is often embedded in systems and procedures developed by a small number of people, and the jobs of the larger number of people are greatly simplified.

    For example, ship navigators once had to perform the calculations required for celestial navigation. Now, these calculations are performed internal to a GPS or LORAN unit and the user simply sees a position on a map.

    Navigators, of course, don’t represent a very large portion of the workforce, but the same principle applies in many areas.

  10. Don Bemont says:

    Crimson Wife, I am sure you have it exactly right.

    tim-10-ber, I am not sure you have the moment of decline pinpointed. However, many things changed in American society in the decades following World War II, not the least of which was that, by the 1970s, the average high school student had consumed approximately 15,000 hours of television by the time he/she graduated. A very significant portion of those hours had been spent digesting print media in earlier decades. Almost every educational reform since I started teaching in the mid 70s has, without acknowledging it, been an insistence that public schools deal with students as they are, which is to say products of a screen media culture, not a print era culture. Whether that is intrinsically inferior and, therefore, a lowering of standards is a matter of opinion, but a whole lot of flight from the public schools can be linked to this development.

  11. Don said:
    “However, many things changed in American society in the decades following World War II, not the least of which was that, by the 1970s, the average high school student had consumed approximately 15,000 hours of television by the time he/she graduated.”

    While I get the point that we as a culture consume media like addicts, I don’t necessarily agree that the generations prior were more print oriented. The thought, obviously, is that if kids weren’t sitting in front of screens for 4 hours a day they’d be reading. Could it be that they’d just be doing other things not related to literacy?

    I come from several generations of farmers and ranchers. My paternal grandparents never owned a TV. My father never had an interest in it, even in his later years. He’s not a reader, although fully literate. He spent his time DOING THINGS. He owned several successful, small businesses and had many hobbies which kept him full occupied throughout his life.

    Could it be that many people just aren’t academic? That they may enjoy learning things, but only in the context of doing things?

    So much of highter education is just book learning with little immediate, pragmatic application.

    So, I guess, I question Don’s point that prior to the inventions of screens we were more print focused. I think the top 30% (intellectually) of the population was more print focused, but not the rest. Perhaps our mistake is assuming that the entire population desires or is even capable of a more academic education.

  12. Thinking more on this: both my aunt and my grandmother had a 10th grade education. Yet in terms of skill and knowledge, they knew more “basics” than I did at that age. True, I could operate a computer and knew a lot of science that they didn’t (because DNA hadn’t been discovered when they were in school and such). But they were better than I am at basic math stuff, they had more general “practical” knowledge.

    There’s a book I’m reading called “Shop Class as Soulcraft” where the author makes the argument that we need to encourage more students to consider the “skilled trades” – both because a lot of people have aptitude for that but are pushed to go to college (where they might not be happy) and from there, wind up with a cubicle job that they find unsatisfying. (And which could be outsourced). Or they could become a plumber or a mechanic, work at a career where the “achievement” is clearer to see (fixing the problem; getting the car running again) than the amorphous “annual reviews” that cubicle-workers get, and work at a job where their success is largely related to their own skill and hard work. (And you can’t outsource plumbing repair to another country).

    Even though I’m a college prof, I find a lot that I agree with in his arguments.

  13. Don Bemont says:

    Stacy said:
    “So, I guess, I question Don’s point that prior to the inventions of screens we were more print focused. I think the top 30% (intellectually) of the population was more print focused, but not the rest. Perhaps our mistake is assuming that the entire population desires or is even capable of a more academic education.”

    Well, although I feel old as the hills and my students like to tell me I came from a cave, I have to admit I was not around to act as a first hand witness 🙂

    I am stealing here from Neil Postman, but one of the best ways to understand the literacy of a previous era is to read through the speeches that were delivered to and actually worked on regular people. Wildly popular literature from past eras points in the same direction. Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death gives plenty of examples.

    That the printed page could be seen as a competitor rather than a complement to ordinary life would have stunned such people, and their language, attention span, and background knowledge on a variety of topics would be stunning to us today.

    If you are saying that 70% of the people were not academic in those eras, you are certainly accurate. Most of the population was highly literate. They read in detail as a normal part of daily life, in much the same sense as most watched TV over the past decades and most young people are now fluent at texting. Print was the dominant mass medium, and, in order to take part in the culture, people read, they read quite a lot, and they read well, certainly as compared to today. Reading did not compete with real life, it WAS real life. However, that does not mean that they were academic.

    This changed gradually at first, perhaps with photography, certainly with increasingly sophisticated movies, and then, dramatically, as TVs came into the home.

    Almost every demand of a history, math, science, or English class is a greater stretch for the mind raised on screen media than it is for the mind raised on print — even if that print was not at all academic.

  14. Don,

    “Most of the population was highly literate. They read in detail as a normal part of daily life,…”

    How do you know that that is true? Because Postman says so? If you can reference statistical data then I’m ready to acquiece to your point.

    The complexity of the language was richer in past generations, but were “most” people really accessing it? Or was it the same 30% or so that now consumes literature and more complex non-fiction?

    One error in how we think about modern literacy is projecting the expectation of the truely literate class of past generations onto the working classes of our modern world.

  15. Stacy…some interesting stuff about literacy, here:

    the classics in the slums

  16. Actually, when the US Supreme Court decided Plyler vs Doe (1982) that was pretty much the start of the educational decline in this nation (that decision 5-4 says that every child has a right to a public education, regardless of immigration status, which is the reason why a public school may NOT legally ask the question – is your child legally authorized to be in the United States).

    The dissenters in that decision stated that the courts were not the solution to every problem which plagues society, and that children in the US illegally were free to obtain an education from their nation of citizenship.

    That being said, the United States will fall into decline over the next 10-30 years due to the incessant dumbing down of our population (A population which cannot think for themselves is quite easy to control).

    Something to think about folks…

  17. Any number of authors thought to be too challenging for today’s average high school student supported themselves by writing in installments. Dickens is perhaps the best known. Thackeray and Eliot also published novels in installments.

    “Released in serial format once a month or once a week, the novels were cheap and accessible—analogous to today’s best serial TV shows. Victorians of all classes read them aloud in groups and passed the pages from hand to hand. ”

    (http://shass.mit.edu/research/literature_hyperstudio)

  18. I was at a gem and mineral show this weekend. At one booth there was a box labeled “magnetic rings”. Two kids of 10 or 11 walked up and were looking at everything. One said to the other, “cool! look, some kind of rings!” The other said, “what are they?”

    Neither could read the word “magnetic,” and they had no phonetic tools to help them out. They looked at me and, at first, I didn’t understand the problem. Finally, I realized they expected me to read it to them, so I did.

    I’m sure I had read _Tom Swift and His Magnetic Silencer_ by their age, I had read just about all of them by fourth grade. These kids have probably logged a lot of time on the video games, not so much on the books.

    I don’t think we need more kids in college, I think we need a higher percentage of those who go making it to graduation.

  19. Richard Aubrey says:

    There is a museum not far from my home which includes Civil War memorabilia.
    There is a recruiting poster exclaiming:
    “THE GOTHS AND VANDALS ARE AT THE GATES OF THE FEDERAL CITY!!”
    The target audience was adventurous young guys–farmers mostly–from central Michigan who might have completed the sixth grade.
    The author of the recruiting poster figured they’d get the metaphor.
    Today, “Cool, heavy metal bands.”
    Try the McGuffey Reader. Any age. Figure that, if they read anything, or were read to out of anything, it was the Bible, KJV. If nothing else. There’s some language for you.

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