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The “Measuring Up” report is like Oliver Cromwell’s demand to his portrait painter to portray him “warts and all” — in that it does the exact opposite. It ignores the warts (the great inefficiency of American higher education) while flattering the subject by depicting it as more beneficial than it really is.
In brief, the warts include the fact that many people now graduate from college with very low levels of literacy and mathematical ability, as shown by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. Most also graduate with scant knowledge of our history, governmental institutions and economy, as a series of reports by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute has demonstrated. The nation has such a glut of college graduates that many of them wind up working in jobs that call for no academic preparation. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics has the data on that.) Academic standards have fallen as schools sacrifice rigor in favor of retaining their “customers.” Furthermore, college costs much more than it needs to. Chief among the factors for that is the mania for faculty research — most professors do little teaching so they’ll have time to write academic articles, most of which are trivial.
The flattery consists of the notion that the country’s economic performance is highly dependent on the “educational attainment” of the citizenry. That’s true up to a point, but the United States if far beyond that point. We send virtually all of our bright and energetic students to college, but also a huge number of others who have little or no academic interest and merely want to coast along to an easy degree that they think will open the door to success. It’s neither necessary nor sufficient for that, as many are finding out.
The conventional wisdom is that America is such a prosperous nation because we have such a highly educated population, but the truth is closer to the reverse of that. Only a prosperous nation could afford to have such an inefficient, time- and resource-consuming educational system. We are not in a race with other countries to see who can produce the highest percentage of college graduates, and if some others now are “ahead” of us, that is nothing to be concerned about.