College for everyone? As long as you’re willing to pay for everyone’s ‘six-year bong party’

by Grace

“We should be doing everything we can to put a college education within reach for every American,” President Barack Obama told a group of college students in Denver last week.

Michael Graham points out that a problem with the idea that “everyone should go to college” is that it follows that taxpayers must pay for “everyone”.  In effect, taxpayers  are paying, and he gives his own state as an example.

Every year Massachusetts taxpayers pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the University of Massachusetts system, subsidizing college costs for all. Add the $36 billion in federal Pell Grants and that giant sucking sound is the money going from your wallet to some kid’s six-year bong party known as “the college experience.”

He asks us to look around and seriously consider who these kids are.

… The kid behind the fast-food counter, the geek camped out at Best Buy waiting for the Call of Duty game, the girl popping her gum at the hair salon.

Would it really be the “best investment in America” to spend $100,000 of our money sending each one of them to college?

The answer is no. 

It’s bunk. About 50 percent of current college kids are just there because mom and dad don’t want to explain at the next cocktail party that Junior isn’t college material. These mediocre students clog our classrooms and drive up college costs. In the end, they’re still mediocre students with meaningless degrees who wind up working as the assistant manager at a TGI Fridays.

Who ends up getting screwed? The rest of the students who actually belong in college. Because demand is artificially high, so are college costs — up 8.3 percent in just the past year at public colleges.

The more worthy goal is to promote the preparation of all citizens to become productive members of society, but a four-year college degree is not the right solution for “everyone”.

10 Comments to “College for everyone? As long as you’re willing to pay for everyone’s ‘six-year bong party’”

  1. Some would argue that we already have a “competitive” system, which is true to some degree. I think it needs be more competitive, with some kind of entrance exams for example.


  2. Ugh, having serious WordPress access issues. So if I seem out of commission, that’s why.


  3. If you manage to not flunk out of high school, there is a college for you.

    I think this is the motto for some high school guidance counselor offices. I keep hearing “there is a college for everyone”.


  4. Thank you for linking to that article, Bonnie! Yes, there is a two-tiered system of college graduates, and this article reports on this lack of skills problem from a manufacturing perspective.


  5. From the Chronicle article, this comment from an college insider (a professor I assume?):

    Here is an explicit statement from the academic head of my college: “Anyone can and should get a college degree. It’s our job to support them so they can.”

    And, now, we are to achieve, willy-nilly, an explicitly demanded 30% graduation rate of all majors each year. Regardless of performance.

    There it is in black and white. Employers beware our “graduates.”


  6. Bonnie, the more I think about it the more it makes sense to spin off many college majors into vocational-type schools. Maybe employers would then find it more appealing to invest in higher education, if they were more assured that students would be learning needed skills. Just off the top of my head, business, teaching, nursing, computer science would all seem to be candidates for vocational/technical schools.


  7. You know, I think there is more corporate investment in European universities, or at least, in technical institutes. Also, technical degrees (eg. some of those you’ve listed, as well as engineering, architecture & science) are granted by different institutions, at least in some cases/countries.

    I’m thinking of ETH, or EPFL, for instance. I know the Swiss system best, though I’m not an expert, and I think education is taught at entirely separate schools from either the arts/law/medicine or technical/science places. I guess the technical institutes may be better compared to MIT, so maybe this is all beside the point. In any case, there’s also employer investment via the apprenticeship programs (which can be very competitive to get into, I hear) and other skills training at a level that’s voc/tech or otherwise not leading to a college degree.


  8. Very interesting, kcab. Yes, engineering and others would be counted as technical.

    I could see how a spectrum of technical schools ranging from MIT-caliber to “Acme Auto Tech Academy” makes sense, and we already have a variation of this type of system in place. Business, architecture and other fields could be handled this way. However, it does not make sense to have a similar spectrum for non-tech fields, right? Think of studying something like Greek Language & Literature at the University of Chicago or at “Acme Humanities Academy”. Maintaining the lower-tier institutions doesn’t make sense for some fields.

    I wish I had a crystal ball to know what higher education will be like in 20 years, because I’m sure we’ll see big changes.


  9. I’m lumping vocational and technical together, so I see engineering in this category. As I wrote up-thread, It seems there would be a range of school types,

    Communications is an interesting example because I read something recently that make it clear it could also be taught at a very sophisticated level, similar to technical fields. A very educated “doctor” of communications would have tremendous background knowledge gained by a strong liberal arts education in addition to advanced writing skills. Of course, I don’t believe the typical communications major necessarily possesses either. Instead, she might have been trained to shoot videos about the latest trends in fashion. 🙂


  10. Yes, strong science/engineering schools would make sense. But isn’t a type of engineering/computer science also taught at votech schools? I’m thinking of an engineering or computer “technician”, which is only a designation I know in the abstract. I sense we’re in general agreement, but I’m using the wrong terminology.


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