Let’s challenge the value of attending college

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AUTHOR: R Quinn on 6/29/2024

I am not opposed to college and certainly not education.

However, college can be a waste of money. Completing college takes too long. College is too expensive and we are lured unnecessarily into a cost/prestige trap.

My college experience is not typical so I am not a good example. I got out of the army a few months early to attend college. I was 26. For the next nine years I attended a community college and then a state university nights and weekends. I obtained a useless piece of paper that was necessary because job descriptions listed a bachelors degree as necessary – it wasn’t. I despised every hour of class.

That experience made up my mind that our children would go to the best college they could qualify to attend – cost was not a consideration (not that I had the money) and besides, I could show off with decals on the car rear window. I suspect I was not alone in the college quest for our children. My mission was accomplished and there are no regrets, but was it all necessary? 

Our daughter used her degree in education for a few years, one son used his engineering degree a few years and then headed in a different direction and two sons would have no need for a degree for what they chose to do.

Of course there are professions that require specialized education and training. We are told a liberal arts education emphasizes a broad range of subjects, from writing and communication to critical thinking and problem-solving. Perhaps, but does that require four years and $200,000 and more? For many young people the four year college route is a waste of time and money- perhaps your money as we deal with college loan debt. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 41% full-time college students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, and 59% earn a bachelor’s in six years. We should be asking why. 

Frankly, to the extent I have any skills in those areas, they were obtained during a good K-12 education with very dedicated teachers. That includes an emphasis on reading skills. Let’s not forget as well, there is a lot to learn outside the classroom and many ways to learn it. 

Statistics show college graduates earn more on average. On average yes, but there are many people without degrees who earn more than those with. Those averages may be skewed by professionals. In any case, I maintain that financial success has much more to do with the individuals motivation, drive, determination, etc, than a degree.

We need to rethink our education system from start to finish. 

We need to get greater value from a high school education. 

We need to require qualifications to attend college (and take loans), many students are not prepared. The town where I grew up now has a STEM school. The reported math proficiency level of its students is 4%.

We need to be sure graduation is possible in four years or less. 

We need to question the cost. 

And, we need to question the role of professors as instructors versus researchers, consultants, etc. 


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