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May 18, 2010, 03:00 PM ET

The Real Value of College

By Kevin Carey

With Jacques Steinberg's piece in last Sunday's Times (Plan B: Skip
College), the "Is college really worth it?" meme seems to be in full flower, in
part because it's an interesting issue and in part because the media suffers
from a fatal weakness for novelty and *counterintuition. But most of these
discussions suffer from confusion about what question they're actually
trying to answer. In roughly ascending order of importance, here's how
various people are framing the issue:

• counterintuitive = contrary to an intuitive believe or to common-sense
expectation. intuitive. Intuitive = using or based on what one feels to
be true even without conscious reasoning; instinctive : I had an
intuitive conviction that there was something unsound in him. He had
an intuitive grasp of people’s moods.
• The ability to understand something immediately, without the need
for conscious reasoning. We shall allow our intuition to guide us.
• A thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling
rather than conscious reasoning. Your insights and intuitions as a
native speaker are positively sought. He works according to intuition.
• Intuition = instinct, intuitiveness, sixth sense, divination,
presentiment, clairvoyance, second sight, ESP (extrasensory
perception). This confirms an intuition I had.

Is college for everyone? This is a dumb question. Of course college isn't for
everyone. Just last week, the Post profiled 17-year old high school senior
Bryce Harper, who definitely shouldn't go to college. Instead, he should (and
will) become a professional baseball player and earn millions of dollars. The
number of good career paths that don't require a college degree is small and
shrinking but not non-existent. Some people start families, others aren't
smart or hard-working enough enough to complete college-level work.

*differential = a difference between amounts of things = The differential between petrol and diesel prices. of course not. and produces benefits of various kinds. This we already knew. notes that 15 percent of mail carriers have bachelor's degrees. "Some of them could have bought a house for what they spent on their education. The average lifetime earnings *differential for college graduates still exceeds the average cost of college by a substantial amount (the exact figure is subject to debate) but those are just averages. Going to college incurs time and money costs. The Times article cites several credible academics. optimum . for example. There are 19 million people in college. *optimal = best or most favourable. unoriginal work. But the *optimal number of postal carriers with bachelor's degrees surely isn't zero. benefits too low—this proves that college in general is a *"scam. A person who does dull routine work. answering "yes.Defining the question in absolute terms does little other than identify the questioner as a *sloppy thinker. That's because of the specific nature of the college experience. Is going to college a bad decision for some students? Sure. Does everyone in college need to be there? Again. *sloppy = careless and unsystematic. There's no upper bound on costs so logically they can exceed benefits. whose work I find thought-provoking if not always convincing." His article does prove something: John Stossel is a *hack. Are too many students going to college? This is a question actually worth asking." he says. a fraud *hack = a writer or journalist producing dull. Borrowing tens of thousands of dollars for a substandard nursing degree. is a bad idea." Economist Richard Vedder. excessively casual: Your speech has always been sloppy. obviously some of them shouldn't be. (Johns Stossel thinks that because there are some students on the wrong side of both averages—costs too high. plus Charles Murray.) *scam = a dishonest scheme.

stand at the precipice of non- attendance. Crucially. occurence Some students. *expansive. especially on the . but it's true: College opens the door to opportunity. Not for everyone and not always. in *retrospect. by contrast. are far more vulnerable than others to the policy choices likely to result from our collective understanding of these questions. The way we think about college matters for them in profound ways. by contrast. *contingencies = chance. Statistically speaking. So we accept some inefficiency and additional societal expense. and various subsequent options are only available to those who complete college. It's a cliche. but very often and certainly often enough. Which is why the conventional approach to higher education has been. because the net result is positive and the people who benefit the most on the *margins from expansiveness need it the most and deserve it the most. *matriculate = 1. regret their degrees? *expansive = thorough. moreover. First- generation students. at any time in their life. 2. wide –ranging *invariably = always *discriminate against = make an unjust or prejudicial distinction in the treatment of different categories of people or things. Anyone with enough money can buy the nicest car available. (no obj) be enrolled at a college or university: He matriculated at Edinburgh University for a degree in pure science. and should continue to be. (with obj) admit ( a student) to membership of a college or university. there's no way to know for sure ahead of time exactly who will benefit. We're a wealthy nation and a surplus of enlightened mail carriers seems low on the list of problems to solve. is a process and an experience associated with a great number of prior and subsequent *contingencies: You can only go to college if you successfully engage in various previous activities. College. my daughter will almost certainly go to college. along with those who come from from low- income backgrounds and bad high schools. regardless of what cars they have or have not bought before. Attempts to do so *invariably *discriminate against the *marginalized students noted above.*Matriculating at a university isn't like buying a car. How many of them.

But as David Leonhardt notes.ground of race. But in the end. and flexible ways of certifying what people know and can do and matching those credentials up with the emerging labor market—as long as it doesn't have the effect of shutting students out of future opportunities to advance further down the postsecondary path. efficient. it represents a rational and highly informed estimate of cost. opportunity and benefit. all pointing in one overwhelming direction. Does anyone seriously believe this was. contingency. For the last century America has led the world in expanding access to successively higher forms of education. It would be possible. And we should take seriously the collective wisdom of millions of college-educated parents who consider no option other than giving their own children a chance for higher education. a lot of those questions really come down to whether or not the solution to various difficult higher-education problems should or should not serve the narrow interests of institutions and people who enjoy disproportionate wealth and power in society and have already benefited from access to college themselves. in retrospect. we can can pretend that this represents fidelity to high academic standards or we can starting holding colleges accountable for graduating a reasonable number of students . This isn't just about status and social norms. If a lot of students enter college unprepared. There's a lot to be said for developing more creative. sex or age: existing employment policies discriminate against women. unwise? Vedder et al. to carry an expansive policy too far. income data show that the returns in the job market to a college degree relative to lesser credentials have steadily increased even as access to higher education has grown at the same time. or we can do the hard work of fixing public high schools and investing more resources in the community colleges and open-access public universities that do most of the heavy lifting in postsecondary education. which they do. do make some good observations about college credentialing. of course. If many students drop out of college. which they do. we can shut them out of higher education as lost causes.

as compared to peer institutions with similar academic missions and admissions profiles. 2010 at 08:46 am Thank you so much for this well-reasoned posting. It's noteworthy that the people who argue otherwise are in nearly all cases great beneficiaries of college themselves.May 19. There is much evidence (see compelling economic data presented by the Center on Education and the . which it is. debrahumphreys . we can pretend that skyrocketing tuition is an immutable force of nature. * E-mail * Print * Comment (5) * Share Share close * Delicious * Digg * Facebook * Linked In * Mixx * Reddit * Twitter * Yahoo Buzz Comments 1. College is extremely important and more people need it now than ever before. and do a much better job of giving at-risk students the academic support they need. If the ever-growing cost of college pushes more students on to the wrong side of the cost/benefit equation. or we can create a more transparent higher education market where colleges have strong incentives to restrain costs and ban colleges that plunge their students into unmanageable debt from federal aid programs.

2010 at 10:43 am "Is college for everyone? This is a dumb question. And. but not for success over the long to support your final point that "college is extremely important and more people need it now than ever before. the arguments about whether every single student needs to go to college are just diversions that distract from the more important issues--getting more students better prepared for success in college. one might argue that his own . indeed.cfm). as you say. 2. mercy_otis_warren . increasing college graduation rates. Obama included vocational training. I am particularly worried about tracking some students into very narrow training programs that may prepare them for an initial job.Defining the question in absolute terms does little other than identify the questioner as a sloppy thinker." It seems fair to add that the prompt to much of this discussion was the warm assertions by Pres. and. for instance.aacu. If we care about our future economy and our future democracy. Because of this fact. Of course college isn't for everyone. "every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. college is still very much worth the expense in terms of future opportunities. for most students." both 2/2009) While Pres. Evidence suggests that they don't (see data on what employers say about college graduates' skills and abilities from AAC&U's LEAP intiative: http://www.. We also know that today's college graduates will have about 10-14 jobs by the time they are 38 years old (according to department of labor data). finally.. Some estimate that we will be about 16 million college educated workers short by 2025. It is also clear from the economic data that the American economy will actually be short college educated workers in the coming years.georgetown. Of course..Workforce at Georgetown at the other pernicious part of the argument against expanding access to college is the idea that those who do jobs like letter carrying don't deserve the many other benefits of being well-educated! Having a rich life outside of work or being informed citizens and voters. we need more college students and more college graduates.May 19. Obama that." ("I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training." The Georgetown Center's data make it extremely clear that. making sure that all college graduates actually have the skills and abilities they need.

" those of us (individuals and institutions) who do. from the idea that *every* American should commit to a year of college or vocational training to the idea that "college is for everyone.May 19. we can can pretend that this represents fidelity to high academic standards or we can starting holding colleges accountable for graduating a reasonable number of students as compared to peer institutions with similar academic missions and admissions profiles. I'm in academia. Learning or the sake of making better decisions and being a better informed citizen is just as important.generalized contention that a high-school education alone was insufficient for "every American" (apparently including." As usual. perhaps. for these links. I wish Kevin Carey had experience teaching underachieving. are essential members of the community. and do a much better job of giving at-risk students the academic support they need. add some heft to his frequent chastisement of. and I suspect she makes more than many professors. It would. among other things.May 19. It's not too far." "If many students drop out of college. and desire to "hold accountable. and they use their learning in a variety of unexpected ways. As Alexandra Lord's article in the Chronicle points out today. molly1 . Letter carriers. . people outside academia can have all sorts of career trajectories. 2010 at 10:46 am Agree! Thank you. 2010 at 11:12 am Thank you Debra for pointing out that letter carriers have just as much right to a life of the mind and rich intellectual life as someone in the professions. It was only in the 1990s that political rhetoric designed to justify increased spending on higher education linked the importance of a college education strictly to job success and higher incomes. but one of the better read people I know is a letter carrier. 4. or at-risk undergraduate students. say. 3. sahara . for this reader at least. Bryce Harper) is the reverse of the question above. she entered the job for income security. which they do. who can notice and raise the alert when elderly who live alone are in trouble. Debra. poorly prepared. to take one example.

May 19. bdr8y .5. 2010 at 02:52 pm This is why I am professionally in love with Kevin Carey! .