Among the many bad aspects of the Obama higher-education policy was that it swallowed the notion that the nation would benefit from increased “educational attainment.” That is, the more people who get some kind of college credential, the more productive and prosperous we’d be. Therefore, the emphasis was on telling young people and their parents that college was a great investment and the feds were eager to do everything they could to help make college affordable.
No one dared suggest that we have oversold college — that a great many of the students lured in are academically weak and disengaged; that they might graduate in a degraded academic environment, but would have learned little of value. And while the mounting college debts many incurred were a cause for lamentation, the “solutions” offered were geared toward making student-loan repayments easier, not on advising the kids that borrowing in quest of a degree might be a bad idea.
Thus, we get the pitiable stories of students deeply in debt for degrees in low-paying fields like teaching and sociology. Or the guy whose desire was to become an organic farmer, yet borrowed heavily for his degree at a pricey private university. And we also have huge numbers of young people who borrowed for college but never completed their programs and are now stuck with student-loan debts but no credentials in a labor market where, sadly, credential inflation confines anyone without a degree to a shrinking segment of the market where most jobs pay poorly and the future prospects aren’t good.
In a recent Pope Center Clarion Call, I write about the need for better counseling, or at least some indication that those easy-to-get federal loans are potentially hazardous.
I never like to get optimistic about Washington doing the right thing, but at least there may be a chance that under Betsy DeVos (assuming she can be confirmed as secretary of education; a nominee with her views on the benefits of competition is going to draw frantic opposition from the K–12 blob) federal policy might change. One way it should change is to drop the “college for all” obsession and provide information that might convince some of the many students who’ll just waste time and money in college that they have better options.