April 29, 2008


America's Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor's Degree (MARTY NEMKO, 5/02/08, The Chronicle Review)

Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: "I wasn't a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I'd be the first one in my family to do it. But it's been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go."

I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later. That figure is from a study cited by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education and now a senior research associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!

Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So it's not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you're likely to meet workers who spent years and their family's life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high-school dropout. [...]

[E]ven those high-school students who are fully qualified to attend college are increasingly unlikely to derive enough benefit to justify the often six-figure cost and four to six years (or more) it takes to graduate. Research suggests that more than 40 percent of freshmen at four-year institutions do not graduate in six years. Colleges trumpet the statistic that, over their lifetimes, college graduates earn more than nongraduates, but that's terribly misleading. You could lock the collegebound in a closet for four years, and they'd still go on to earn more than the pool of non-collegebound — they're brighter, more motivated, and have better family connections.

And, other than those in the hard sciences, they don't use anything they learned in college either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 29, 2008 2:48 PM

Even with a technical degree in electrical engineering, I've used very little of anything from college. Everything about it changes so fast that we used to say that the half-life of an electrical engineer was about 6 years. The piece of paper still means something, but the education was useless.

Posted by: Tom Hanson at April 29, 2008 8:57 PM

A lot of college graduates I know work by selling insurance and home loans. I didn't know you needed a bachelor's degree for that.

Posted by: Vince at April 29, 2008 9:33 PM

One of the best professors I had in college told us that what we were learning was the language of Electrical Engineering. All the details would be obsolete by the time we graduated, so his job was to teach us what we would need to know in order to bring ourselves up to speed when we entered the real world.

Posted by: BrianOfAtlanta at April 30, 2008 6:50 AM

The only thing I learned about being a teacher from my college classes was when one professor gave us a brilliant piece of advice I use to this day: "Stay out of the teacher's lounge."

Posted by: Bartman at April 30, 2008 2:03 PM