The Case Against College

June 12, 2001

The Case Against College




Do you, like me, have a child who is smart but never paid attention in class?  
Now it's high-school graduation time.  Other parents are talking Stanford this and State
U. that.  Your own child has gotten into a pretty good college.  The question is: Is he
ready?  Should he go at all?
In this country two-thirds of high school graduate go on to college.  In some
middle-class suburbs, that number reaches 90 percent.  So why do so many feel the
ened to go?
America is obsessed with college.  It has the second-highest number of
graduates worldwide, after (not Great Britain, not Japan, not Germany) Australia.  Even
so, only 27 percent of Americans have a bachelor's degree or higher.  That leaves an
awful lot who succeed without college, or at least without a degree.  Many read books,
think seriously about life and have well-paying jobs.  Some want to start businesses.  
Others want to be electricians or wilderness guides or makeup artists.  Not everyone
needs a higher education.
What about the statistics showing that college graduates make more money?  
First, until the computer industry came along, all the highest-paying jobs required a
college degree: doctor, lawyer, engineer.  Second, on average, the brightest and
hardest-working kids in school go to college.  So is it a surprise that they go on to
make more money?  And those studies almost always pit kids with degrees against
those with just high school.  An awful lot have additional training, but they are not
included.  Ponder ofr a moment: Who makes more, a plumber or a philosophy major?
These are tough words.  I certainly wouldn't have listened to them five years
ago when my son was graduation from high school.  He had been smart enough to get
into the Bronx High School of Science in New York and did well on his SATs.  But I
know now that he did not belong in college, at least not straight out of high school.
But he went, because all his friends were going, because it sounded like fun,
because he could drink beer and hang out.  He did not go to study philosophy.  Nor did
he feel it incumbent to go to class or complete courses.  Meanwhile I was paying
$1,000 a week for this pleasure cruises.
Eventually I asked myself, "Is he getting $1,000 a week's worth of education?"  
Heck no.  That's when I began wondering why everyone needs to go to college.  (My
hair colorist makes $300,000 a year without a degree.)  What about the famous people
who don't have one, like Bill Gates (dropped out of Harvard) and Walter Cronkite (who
left the University of Texas to begin a career in journalism)?
So I told my son (in a kind way) that his college career was over for now, but he
could reapply to the Bank of Mom in two years if he wanted to go back.  Meanwhile, I
said, get a job.
If college is so wonderful, how come so many kids "stop out"?  (That's the new
terminology.)  One study showed only 26 percent of those who began four-year colleges
had earned a degree in six years.  And what about the kids who finish, then can't find
work?  Of course, education is worth a great deal more than just employment.  But
most kids today view college as a way to get a good job.

by Linda Lee, Family Circle

updated: 10 years ago