NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

HIGHER EDUCATION HAS BEEN OVERSOLD

October 30, 2007

America does not need a higher rate of college attendance and completion.  If anything, we put too many students into college, says George Leef, director of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

There are several reasons for this, says Leef:

  • The economy is not undergoing some dramatic shift to "knowledge work" that can only be performed by people who have college educations.
  • When we hear that more and more jobs "require" a college degree, it isn't because most of them are so technically demanding that an intelligent high school graduate couldn't learn to do the work, rather, it means more employers are using educational credentials as a screening mechanism.

The unintended consequences:

  • The needless pressure to get educational credentials draws a large number of academically weak and intellectually disengaged students into college.
  • All they want is the piece of paper that gets them past the screening and most schools have quietly lowered their academic standards so that such students will stay happy and remain enrolled.
  • College education is now generally sold as a stepping stone to good employment rather than as an intellectually broadening experience.

It's a mistake to assume that the traditional college setting is the best or only way for people to learn the things they need to know in order to become successful workers, says Leef.  On-the-job training, self-directed studies and courses taken with a particular end in mind usually lead to much more educational gain than do courses taken just because they fill degree requirements.

Simply putting a higher percentage of our young people into college makes just as much sense as spreading more fertilizer on a field that's already been overfertilized, says Leef.

Source: George Leef, "George Leef: Higher education has been oversold," Dallas Morning News, October 28, 2007.

 

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