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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Defining college down

In The Wizard of Oz goes to college, Checker Finn peeks behind the curtain to find that the magical, transformative power of “college for all” is a fraud. In particular, he writes, sending poorly prepared young people to college doesn’t improve their prospects. Check out his chart: Bachelor’s degree completion closely tracks college readiness in reading and math.

“Even much-praised Massachusetts wasn’t able to raise its high school exit standard to equal college readiness,” Finn writes. “Lots of other places eased off or deferred their exit standards, while still others hacked alternate paths to diplomas that circumvented their exit standards and/or devised ersatz ‘credit recovery’ schemes.”

Unprepared students can go to open-admission colleges, Finn writes. But remedial classes, renamed “developmental,” have proven ineffective. The latest trend is to replace “developmental” with “co-requisite” courses that let earn college credit for a mix of high school and college work.

. . . because there was so much oomph behind the goal of getting everyone into college—and so much aversion to anything that resembles “tracking”—we devalued and stigmatized what used to be called vocational education and are now having to reinvent it under the shiny new label of “career and technical education” a.k.a. “CTE.”

A college degree appears to be “the surest path to upward mobility,” but “the higher education industry has successfully stonewalled any comparable outcome measures of student learning,” he writes.

From the work of Raj ChettyMark Schneider and Anthony Carnevale and others, “we’ve learned that associate’s degrees, and industry certifications in some fields, pay better than many bachelor’s degrees,” Finn writes.”Some college degrees are far more reliable tickets to upward mobility than others.”

Do you remember the end of the Wizard of Oz? Instead of a brain, the Wizard gives the Scarecrow a college degree.

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