Phi Beta Cons

Bucking the “Completion” Trend

Conventional wisdom holds that a college degree is a ticket into career and personal success. On average, conventional wisdom is right. Americans who have earned college degrees unquestionably earn more on average than those who haven’t.

But George’s Leef’s review of Lesson Plan by William Bowen and Michael McPherson, here, questions whether those average earnings will hold up as more and more students are admitted to universities.

The problem is that those averages don’t ensure elevated incomes for current graduates. Bowen and McPherson never acknowledge that very large percentages of recent grads find themselves underemployed, working for low wages in jobs that most high school students could do.

For decades, colleges have been luring students into enrolling based mainly on the idea that a degree will greatly enhance their lifetime earnings. The elephant in the room that Bowen and McPherson manage to completely ignore, is the huge problem of graduates (even of “good” universities) who end up working in fast food, telemarketing, or other jobs that require nothing more than basic trainability.

Leef presents evidence that students on the margin, those who barely scrape through college or who drop out, will do worse on average, than those who never attend. Their problems are exacerbated by high levels of student debt.

It’s time, he says, for a different lesson plan. Read the entire article here.

Jenna A. RobinsonJenna Ashley Robinson is the president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. Before becoming president, she was the center's director of outreach. She was previously the ...


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