Four-Year Colleges: An Expensive Diversion?

By September 26, 2006Economy

In a provocative op-ed in Monday’s Christian Science Monitor, George C. Leef questions the educational and career value of a four-year college education, at least as currently marketed to potential students. The executive director of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education in Raleigh, N.C, Leef argues that government subsidies, errant guidance counselors and a misguided reliance on a college degree as a job-screening (credentializing) device encourage indifferent students to enroll, even when better options are available. And there’s political pressure to enroll — if not graduate — more college students.

Manufacturers might stress a different critique than Leef’s — the “skills gap” directs our attention to the need for highly skilled, technically trained workers — but it’s hard to disagree with these recommendations:

To turn out a more capable crop of young adults, colleges and universities should do their part: Raise academic standards to ensure that only those who want to be in college get there. Also, admissions counselors should remind prospective students that there are good career options for those who don’t feel drawn to scholarly work. America is so rich in learning opportunities other than those found in college classrooms that we don’t need to raise college graduation statistics for mere numbers’ sake.

Leef’s op-ed draws from his recent paper, The Overselling of Higher Education. Well worth reading.

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