August 30, 2013
HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: When Is College Worth It?
Even if some students who could benefit from college aren’t going, we can’t conclude that all the students attending now belong there. A few simple statistics undergird most critiques of college-for-all, and they’re worth repeating here.
While 66 percent of high-school grads head to two- or four-year colleges in the fall, almost half fail to graduate in six years — and six years is pretty much the norm for four-year-degree students. Up to 40 percent of undergrads need remedial courses because they are not ready for college-level work. According to one assessment, close to half of students don’t measurably improve their skills in a number of areas over their years in college. Meanwhile, even before the recession, about 25 percent of recent grads were “mal-employed,” meaning they were in a job that didn’t actually require a degree.
Staunch defenders of the “college wage premium” often point out that college is correlated with moderately higher earnings even in these cases — i.e., college dropouts and mal-employed grads make a bit more than people who stopped after high school. But it’s awfully difficult to see how, say, a given waitress or bartender is more valuable with a college degree than without.
More likely, people who managed to get into college and/or graduate have other qualities that employers value, as outlined above in No. 2. At most, their college admission or diploma signaled those qualities during the hiring process, thus increasing income in a way that had nothing to do with anything they learned.
Read the whole thing.