Is College Worth It?
Fox Business Network reporter and contrarian, John Stoessel, believes that attending college is a scam and argues that for many it is “often not worth the investment.” Stossel disputes findings that claim people who graduate from college earn more money in a lifetime than their peers who don’t attend college (about $1 million), since those people tend to be more ambitious and would make more money in a lifetime regardless if they attended college. Additionally, he says: “Today more people are going to college, and we’re shoving them in college with government funds. And a lot of them hate it, and almost half drop out. And that’s lousy for them, lousy for the taxpayer, lousy for everybody but the colleges who gets the money.”
Stoessel’s biased view fails to consider the many values of a college education including: (1) it provides a broad educational experience that exposes college students, maybe for the first time, to the arts, literature and philosophical thought; (2) it challenges college students to understand and get along with people of different races, religions, and multicultural backgrounds; (3) it helps to develop communication and analytical reasoning skills that are the foundation for success in virtually all businesses; (4) it is essential to meet the entry-level requirements for careers in accounting, architecture, engineering, the law and medicine; and (5) it provides an opportunity for college students to be exposed to state-of-the-art research and facilities that support new product invention, biotech and green technologies.
This is not to say a college education insures a successful career or guarantees a higher income level over one’s lifetime when compared to non-college graduates. There are too many intangibles to make that determination including a person's internal drive to succeed and work ethic. However, it is disingenuous to use the non-college-graduate success stories of the likes of Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates to draw broad conclusions about the value of a college education. Undoubtedly, there are many more examples of success stories of college graduates and it is difficult to know whether so many successful people with a college degree would have been able to do so without one. Moreover, the Dells’ and Gates’ of this world are few and far between and they possess the drive and work ethic that is lacking so badly in America today and that would most likely insure success in whatever young people do with or without a college education.
I do agree with Stoessel on one point. Many people are not suited for higher education, but get pushed into it, and they may feel like failures when they don’t graduate. I am a college professor and increasingly notice students’ have a limited attention span and are immature. It may be social media-driven. Whatever the cause, for these students a college education is under-appreciated. They may graduate even from a top-notch college but it takes more to be successful in a world where critical thinking skills, interpersonal abilities and leadership form the key components of a successful, professional life. There are other students who might do well at and prefer to learn a trade. They shouldn’t be “forced” to go to college just to get a piece of paper. After all, society needs well-trained builders, electricians, plumbers and others with strong vocational skills.
I believe it is true that to a great extent today’s college curriculum, especially the three "Rs", have been “dumbed-down,” particularly in some public institutions because of their mandate to provide a two or four-year education for all high school graduates who meet only minimal standards for entry. All too many kids enter college with widely varying skills that necessitate remedial education and lead to a slower pace of learning and, perhaps, a less challenging classroom experience. Perhaps they would be better off learning a trade and/or seeking a different form of education and training.
The value of a college education can be attacked from a cost-benefit analysis and I agree with Stoessel that some universities charge way too much in tuition and fees to cover bloated administrative expenses, indirect costs, and, in some cases, the excessive salaries of professors who spend most of their time on research and do very little teaching.
In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Naomi Schaefer Riley questions the tenure system. She is right to do so. Too many faculty slide by once they get tenure. What they had to do to earn tenure no longer is a motivating factor. Of great concern to me as a college professor is the trend toward commercilization of universities that raises many questions about what is the purpose of an educational institution. This is an important issue that I will address in my next blog.
Blog by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, July 22, 2011