Thursday, March 8, 2012

Is College Necessary?

Interesting educational facts:
1. In the U.S., the high school graduation rate is only 72%, and about 2/3 of those high school graduates go on to college. Of those students who start college, only about 60% will actually graduate within six years and the other 40% will likely never earn a college degree.

2. In Germany, about 97% of students graduate from high school, but only about 1/3 of those graduates go to college.

The obsessive focus on a college degree has served neither taxpayers nor students well. Only 35 percent of students starting a four-year degree program will graduate within four years, and less than 60 percent will graduate within six years. Students who haven't graduated within six years probably never will. The U.S. college dropout rate is about 40 percent, the highest college dropout rate in the industrialized world. That's a lot of wasted resources. Students with two years of college education may get something for those two years, but it's less than half of the wage gains from completing a four-year degree. No degree, few skills, and a lot of debt is not an ideal way to begin a career.

College dropouts are telling us that college is not for everyone. Neither is high school. In the 21st century, an astounding 25 percent of American men do not graduate from high school. A big part of the problem is that the United States has paved a single road to knowledge, the road through the classroom. "Sit down, stay quiet, and absorb. Do this for 12 to 16 years," we tell the students, "and all will be well." Lots of students, however, crash before they reach the end of the road. Who can blame them? Sit-down learning is not for everyone, perhaps not even for most people. There are many roads to an education.

Our obsessive focus on college schooling has blinded us to basic truths. College is a place, not a magic formula. It matters what subjects students study, and subsidies should focus on the subjects that matter the most—not to the students but to everyone else. The high-school and college dropouts are also telling us something important: We need to provide opportunities for all types of learners, not just classroom learners. Going to college is neither necessary nor sufficient to be well educated. Apprentices in Europe are well educated but not college schooled. We need to open more roads to education so that more students can reach their desired destination.


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