August is the month when parents bid farewell to their college-bound youngsters and a sizable chunk of cash for tuition. More than 18 million students attend our more than 4,300 degree-granting institutions. A question parents, their college-bound youngsters and taxpayers should ask: Is college worth it?
Let's look at some of the numbers. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, "when considering all first-time undergraduates, studies have found anywhere from 28 percent to 40 percent of students enroll in at least one remedial course. When looking at only community college students, several studies have found remediation rates surpassing 50 percent."
Only 25 percent of students who took the ACT in 2012 met the test's readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math and science. Just 5 percent of black students and 13 percent of Hispanic students met the readiness benchmarks in all four subjects.
Colleges admit a far greater number of students than those who test as being college-ready. Why should students be admitted to college when they are not capable of academic performance at the college level?
Admitting such students gets the nation's high schools off the hook. The nation's high schools can continue to deliver grossly fraudulent education — namely, issue diplomas that attest that students can read, write and compute at a 12th-grade level when they may not be able to perform at even an eighth- or ninth-grade level.
Many students who manage to graduate don't have a lot to show for their time and money. New York University professor Richard Arum, co-author of "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," says that his study shows more than a third of students showed no improvement in critical thinking skills after four years at a university. That observation is confirmed by the many employers who complain that lots of recent graduates cannot seem to write an email that will not embarrass the company.
In 1970, only 11 percent of adult Americans held college degrees. These degree holders were viewed as the nation's best and brightest. Today, more than 30 percent hold college degrees, with a significant portion of these graduates not demonstrably smarter or more disciplined than the average American. Declining academic standards and grade inflation tend to confirm employer perceptions that college degrees say little about job readiness.
What happens to many of these ill-prepared college graduates? If they manage to become employed in the first place, their employment has little to do with their degree. One estimate is that 1 in 3 college graduates have a job historically performed by those with a high-school diploma or the equivalent. According to Richard Vedder, who is a professor of economics at Ohio University and the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, we had 115,000 janitors, 16,000 parking lot attendants, 83,000 bartenders and about 35,000 taxi drivers with bachelor's degrees in 2012.
The bottom line is college is not for everyone. There is absolutely no shame in youngsters graduating from high school and learning a trade.
Doing so might earn them much more money than many of their peers who attend college.