College degrees are overrated, writes Ramesh Ponnuru in Time. While college graduates earn more, that’s partly because those who complete a degree are smarter, on average, than those who don’t. Sending not-so-smart people to college simply boosts the dropout rate.
It has been estimated that, in 2007, most people in their 20s who had college degrees were not in jobs that required them: another sign that we are pushing kids into college who will not get much out of it but debt.
Making K-12 education more rigorous would boost the college completion rate, Ponnuru writes. But we’ll still have a lot of young people who have no interest in spending another four years in a classroom. There should be other ways for young people to develop skills and demonstrate their competence to employers.
Online learning is more flexible and affordable than the brick-and-mortar model of higher education. Certification tests could be developed so that in many occupations employers could get more useful knowledge about a job applicant than whether he has a degree. Career and technical education could be expanded at a fraction of the cost of college subsidies. Occupational licensure rules could be relaxed to create opportunities for people without formal education.
High school educators need to understand the skills and knowledge students will need to succeed in an apprenticeship or a vocational certification program at a community college. College-prep programs may be too hard for vocationally oriented students. In some cases, what passes for college prep is too easy. “College- and career-ready” is the new mantra. We need to define “career ready” in a way that will guide high school instruction for the kids who prefer moola moola to boola boola.