Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is college really worth it?

Our children are young, we have a one year old and a four year old. We have been saving for their college since birth. Our hopes are that they will get full rides to college and we can use said funds for retirement. My husband and I talk often of college and about the empty degrees at many colleges and universities across America. We have also talked about many people we know that have degrees and who are not working in the field in which they have a degree or who are working in a field in which no degree is required. Many of those people are doing well financially a few making six figures in their jobs. When the time comes our children if they choose to attend college will receive funds if the degree is an actual requirement in their chosen career.

What I gleaned from this article is the failure of schools to prepare students for college and the dumbing down of higher education to meet said students lack of qualifications for college.

Public schools and colleges will continue to decline until Americans take back education from special interest groups. Americans and parents have to put the burden of educating their children on themselves instead of the government until than we will continue to see a decline in the quality of output from government institutions.

Cathy Peschke

Some college degrees are great, others are worthless. "Let the buyer beware". It doesn't require hindsight to know which degrees are fluff.

When a degree entails genuine rigorous transfer of skill and knowledge in a field of use to society (think medicine, science, engineering, computers, etc.) that is difficult to obtain outside of the college environment, you can feel pretty safe.

But when the coursework is primarily subjective, requires minimal effort or skill, and has questionable value in the real world (Sociology?!? What did you expect?), you're being had.

As more businesses and individuals come to recognize how worthless so many degrees are, hopefully tighter scrutiny will alleviate some of the pain from these college con-artists.

Jim Peschke

The following piece appeared in the Union Leader.

Walter E. Williams: Is college really worth it?

As parents pack their youngsters off to college, they might ask themselves whether it's worth both the money they will spend and their children's time. Dr. Marty Nemko has researched that question in an article aptly titled "America's Most Overrated Product: Higher Education."

The U.S. Department of Education statistics show that 76 out of 100 students who graduate in the bottom 40 percent of their high school class do not graduate from college, even if they spend eight-and-a-half years in college. That's even with colleges having dumbed down classes to accommodate such students.

Only 23 percent of the 1.3 million students who took the ACT college entrance examinations in 2007 were prepared to do college-level study in math, English and science. Even though a majority of students are grossly underprepared to do college-level work, each year colleges admit hundreds of thousands of such students.

While colleges have strong financial motives to admit unsuccessful students, for failing students the experience can be devastating. They often leave with their families, or themselves, having piled up thousands of dollars in debt. There is possibly trauma and poor self-esteem for having failed, and perhaps embarrassment for their families.

Dr. Nemko says that worst of all is that few of these former college students, having spent thousands of dollars, wind up in a job that required a college education. It's not uncommon to find them driving a taxi, working at a restaurant or department store, performing some other job that they could have had as a high school graduate or dropout.

What about students who are prepared for college? First, only 40 percent of each year's 2 million freshmen graduate in four years; 45 percent never graduate at all. Often, having a college degree does not mean much. According to a 2006 Pew Charitable Trusts study, 50 percent of college seniors failed a test that required them to interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials and compare credit card offers. About 20 percent of college seniors did not have the quantitative skills to estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station.

According a recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, the percentage of college graduates proficient in prose literacy has declined from 40 percent to 31 percent within the past decade. Employers report that many college graduates lack the basic skills of critical thinking, writing and problem-solving.

Colleges are in business. Students are a cost. Research is a profit center. When colleges boast about having this professor who has won a science award or that professor who has won the Nobel Prize, very often an undergraduate student will never be taught by that professor. It is a "bait and switch" tactic and very often your youngster will take classes not taught by a professor but taught in large classes by a graduate student.

Faculty who bring in large grants are more highly valued than faculty who teach well. Teaching excellence is so often undervalued that the late Ernest Boyer, vice president for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, quipped, "Winning the campus teaching award is the kiss of death when it comes to tenure."

Parents and taxpayers cough up billions upon billions of dollars to the nation's colleges and universities. Colleges make money whether students learn or not, whether they graduate or not, and whether they get a good job after graduating or not. Colleges and universities engage in "bait and switch," confer fraudulent degrees and engage in other practices that would bring legal sanctions if done by any other business.

There is little or no oversight of the nation's more than 4,000 colleges and universities that enroll in excess of 17 million students. There are some colleges, such as Grove City College in Pennsylvania and Hillsdale College in Michigan, that do a fine job of undergraduate education. Useful information about what colleges are doing what can be found in the Delaware-based Intercollegiate Studies Institute's "Choosing the Right College" (

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

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