Your appropriately skeptical editorial on the plea by the higher education establishment for billions in “stimulus” money for campus projects they desire leaves out the stated justification for this new federal spending — that there has been a slight decrease in the percentage of young Americans who obtain college degrees. The authors of the “open letter” to the Obama administration would have us believe that this is an ominous portent: “For the first time in our history, the cohort of Americans ages 25 to 34 is less well educated than the older cohorts that preceded it.” Allegedly, that’s a sign that “our future prosperity and security will be weaker than in the past.”
What an astounding claim. The higher ed establishment wants people to think that having more formal education coursework under your belt necessarily makes you better educated, but for many young people today college courses impart very little in the way of skill or knowledge. Due to the erosion of academic standards throughout much of our K-12 system, hordes of students enter college with weak academic preparation. Because most colleges are frantic about student retention, they have allowed their own standards to slide badly. Consequently, students can spend their four or five or more years, accumulate enough credits to graduate, and yet learn little or nothing of value.
What awaits those people in the job market? Often they end up in mundane jobs that call for no academic preparation. Lots of college graduates now work as travel agents, retail sales supervisors, aerobics trainers and so on. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics has the data on that.) Therefore, it is not in the least bit surprising, much less dangerous, that some of those marginal students are deciding that the cost of college is not worth what benefit they might derive from it.
Lastly, note that the spending spree the college leaders want would do nothing to solve the supposed problem of decreasing attendance. If they really want to attract more students, the answer is to lower the cost and raise the value of their product. Unless that happens, all those new campus buildings are apt to sit empty.
George C. Leef
Director of Research
Pope Center for Higher Education Policy