“The obsessive faith in college has backfired.”
In the Washington Post, Robert Samuelson writes that America’s obsession with higher education has backfired.
The college-for-all crusade has outlived its usefulness. Time to ditch it. Like the crusade to make all Americans homeowners, it’s now doing more harm than good. It looms as the largest mistake in educational policy since World War II, even though higher education’s expansion also ranks as one of America’s great postwar triumphs.
Consider. In 1940, fewer than 5 percent of Americans had a college degree. Going to college was “a privilege reserved for the brightest or the most affluent” high-school graduates, wrote Diane Ravitch in her history of U.S. education, “The Troubled Crusade.” No more. At last count, roughly 40 percent of Americans had some sort of college degree: about 30 percent a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution; the rest associate degrees from community colleges.
Starting with the GI Bill in 1944, governments at all levels promoted college. From 1947 to 1980, enrollments jumped from 2.3 million to 12.1 million. College became the ticket to the middle class, the be-all-and-end-all of K-12 education. If you didn’t go to college, you’d failed. Improving “access” — having more students go to college — drove public policy.
We overdid it. The obsessive faith in college has backfired.
The big mistake made in higher education policy – and it’s a mistake common to a lot of areas of policy – is the idea that if government doesn’t promote something it won’t happen.
Those who would deny that we have a higher education bubble – or, at least, those who would defend government policies promoting higher ed – would point to the number of people who have gone to college because of government-backed loans and grants. The point to the dramatic increases in the number of college-educated Americans, but the assumption is that we wouldn’t have seen an increase in college education without those policies.
I think that’s a faulty premise. I think an increasingly affluent post-WWII America would have sent more people to college irregardless of government policy. I don’t think government policy can be credited with sending America to college as Americans probably would have done that on their own.
I think government policy can be credited with sending too many Americans to college and not only that but turning college into a sort of one-size-fits-all endeavor that seems more focused on the higher education “experience” than career advancement. We’ve taken an assembly line mentality and applied it to something that shouldn’t be an assembly line.
The result has been entire generations of Americans saddled with huge student loan debts holding degrees that are increasingly worth less thanks to things like grade inflation.Tags: college, higher educaiton, student loans, tuition