Is college overrated?

Is college overrated? asks Patrick Welsh, an English teacher at T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, Virginia.

Eighty percent of  T.C. Williams graduates go on to college, “an impressive statistic for a school that is 79% minority, with more than half its kids on a free or reduced-cost lunch program,” Welsh writes.
But “going on to college” means different things for different students. The 80 percent includes those who lack “the skills or motivation to do rudimentary high school work.” Colleges complain about unprepared students, but “blithely pocket the tuition from such students lest they have to downsize and lay off professors and administrators.”

Over the past five years, I have seen students who didn’t have the skills one would expect of a ninth-grader going off to four-year colleges where fewer than 30% of entering freshman graduate.

That means that 70% of the freshman class is likely to end up not with a diploma but a pile of debt.

High schools rarely track their graduates to see how many earn a college diploma, Welsh writes. They also fail to ask how many students need a diploma to achieve their goals.

Two of three jobs don’t require a bachelor’s or associate degree, concludes an upcoming Kellogg Foundation study.

Jobs in health care and social assistance, leisure and hospitality, retail trade and so-called middle-skill jobs such as plumbers, electricians, legal assistants and police officers will require job specific licenses or certificates from community colleges or technical institutes, and/or on the job training.

Some college graduates with bachelor’s degrees are enrolling in community colleges to earn job credentials, he points out.

High schools can’t evaluate their success by looking at how many students go to a college of some sort.  The question is how many find a path to a successful adult life by earning a bachelor’s degree, associate degree or vocational certificate? How many qualify for an apprenticeship or for the military? How many go to college, take a few no-credit remedial classes and give up? The unskilled face very long odds, even if they’re motivated, as I’ve learned in writing Community College Spotlight.

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  1. College isn’t necessarily overrated; it’s just not very valuable for those who are both underprepared and who don’t have a high motivation to reach a specific occupation. That’s true both for those who are financially fortunate and for those who go to college on grants and loans. As the writer pointed out, the colleges pretty much know that they will lose that 70%, but since they get their tuition dollars even if the student does drop out, they’re not motivated to be more careful in figuring out which underprepared students have what it takes to graduate anyway, and which don’t.

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    So…why are the for-profit (i.e. taxable) colleges under fire? Shouldn’t the not-for-profit (non-tax paying entities) also be under fire? Isn’t it all a racquet? What is wrong with tracking and voc-tech for those who need post secondary work for a certification? What happened to voc-tech in high school that produced graduates certified to work in certain fields? Please bring back these tracks…


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