We’ll all be affluent and prosperous when we all have college degrees, right? That seems to be what Melinda Gates (wife of software tycoon Bill Gates) thinks according to this interview with NPR:
Can we reasonably expect 100 percent of high school students to become college students?
Yes, I think we can. And, in fact, I’m here today in the Chicago school district visiting with students – huge number of Latinos and African-American populations, and guess what? I’m in schools where 95 to 98 percent of these kids are going on to college, and it’s because they started freshman year with teachers who believe in them and said, ‘These kids can do it.’ And maybe they are not coming in with the right reading or math skills, but we are going to bring them up, and we are going to have high expectations of them. And guess what? Those kids are succeeding, and those kids are getting into college.
Not only is 100% college enrollment not a reasonable thing to expect, it’s not even something we should want. The only way to get 100% enrollment in colleges is to turn college education into a universal entitlement. Which would not only be a terribly expensive government project, it would necessitate the lowering of already-lowered standards for admission.
Some, like Melinda Gates, seem to view college as prosperity factories. You send students in, and out the other side come prosperous, successful citizens. This same sort of thinking was applied to the housing market. Our government turned mortgages into an entitlement, used Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to create a subprime loan market, and expected all these new homeowners who couldn’t get loans previously to suddenly be prosperous, successful citizens.
It’s absurd. It’s like saying that we could end poverty by mandating that everyone have a job and be paid $100/hour.
A college education had value, and still has some value, because the people who got into college and achieved their degrees earned both the admission and the degree. College graduates were a better sort of citizen (hard working, intelligence, successful) because, as a better sort of citizen, they earned admission to college.
Not everyone deserves to go to college. Not everyone needs to go to college. A lot of people would be better off entering the workforce and starting a career rather than drifting through four years of college to a general degree accumulating student loan debt along the way.