Civil Disagreement: College for All?
Civil disagreements, with Lynne Varner and Bruce Ramsey of the Seattle Times editorial board, is an occasional feature of the Ed Cetera blog. Today they ask: Does the educational goal of "College readiness for all" make sense?
Bruce Ramsey:Lynne, “College for All” is a delusion. I was heartened to see a column by Washington Post writer Robert Samuelson, here, who says, “Ditch ‘College for All’ ”. I agree.
The plain fact is that not all kids can do college work. Why can’t we all admit that? Some can and some can’t. It’s inherent in the human material. And telling people who can’t that they can is not helping them.
Here is the situation now. The A-Plus Washington folks came in to The Times a few weeks ago, and gave us the following figures. Of every 100 Washington ninth-graders, 73 graduate from high school on time. Thirty-five enter a community college or university and 18 receive a degree of some kind within six years.
You will recall that I showed my skepticism of “college for all,” and said, “Realistically, if you could get the reforms you wanted, in 10 years what could those figures be?” The person hesitated, and said: 95 graduate from high school on time, 70 enter a community college or university and 55 earn some kind of degree in six years.
That’s not all. But it is probably more than is possible. The sights are being set too high.
Well, why worry about setting them too high? Because college takes two to four years, and sometimes more, and if a student shouldn't be there, he's wasting his time. And his money--or his parents' money, or the taxpayers' money. And maybe saddling himself with debt that he shouldn't saddle himself with. And maybe setting himself up for failure as a student instead of a success in some other calling.
Samuelson offers an additional reason: Once a goal is set to push more students through college, we’ll dumb down college. He says it has already happened.
If so, that’s a bad thing. We need the best students—to figure out the next source of energy, to cure disease, to keep our companies competitive with Asia, or to do any of a thousand other things. Humanity’s big problems will not be solved by average people. It requires exceptional people. To find them and prepare them, college should be reasonably difficult. But if you expect everyone to go, you have to make college easy—so that the really bright kids, who were not challenged in high school, will not ever be challenged.
I’m against it, Lynne. Let’s take “College for All” and chuck it into Elliott Bay.
Lynne Varner: Bruce, worrying about the diminution of college once it is accessible to more people is like worrying your club will start cutting corners once the riff raff get their discount memberships. Broader accessibility does not mean lesser quality.
Our society emphasizes college. Rightly so. By 2018, two-thirds of Washington jobs will require some postsecondary education. Econometric studies point to a small but consistently positive relationship between long-term growth and years of schooling. You question whether all kids can do college-level work and the A+ Commission shows that many students are not prepared to. But that dilemma is about preparation, not ability. Absent cognitive, mental or physical disabilities that preclude it, most students can properly prepare during their K-12 years and be ready for college-level work.
I will say, a mistake we in the college for all crowd make - and the trap that you and Samuelson fell into - is to appear to be referring only to four-year colleges. Not everyone needs a bachelor's degree Bruce. High-paying, satisfying careers can be accessed through professional certificates and associate's degrees. But misleading young people into thinking learning ends after high school is wrong.
Education beyond high school is about more than employment, it is about exposure to a wealth of knowledge about things that may appear unconnected to our daily lives - think:, philosophy or poetry, but that enrich our lives. I cannot think of one person that doesn't deserve intellectual enrichment.
The biggest reason to strive for post-secondary education for all is that we don't know who will be our next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Ben Carson. It may be the bored, disconnected kid in the back of the class.
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