The Tragedy of "College for Everybody"

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The Tragedy of "College for Everybody"

America is known around the world as the land of opportunity. Central to its promise is the idea that anyone, regardless of his or her parents' income or social status, has the chance to receive a higher education that will lead to a high-paying career and an elevated quality of life.

As each generation aspires to achieve the American Dream, increasing numbers of people attend colleges and universities. Those institutions invite every high school student to apply—with the implicit promise of a golden future—while the media portray those who bypass college as doomed to the low incomes of blue-collar jobs.

For example, according to a recent widely reported study, college graduates earn 83 percent more than those without a college degree. Over a lifetime, according to The New York Times, a person with a college degree earns $500,000 more than a person who only graduates from high school.1

While the concept of universal higher education seems appealing, the reality is that a college education only makes economic sense under the right conditions. Specifically, for those who are motivated to make the most of the opportunity to attend college, and who choose majors with a high return on investment, it can be an excellent choice. But for many other people, they will be worse off economically by spending four years out of the work force.

One problem is that colleges are not adequately preparing students for the workforce. That's the opinion of nearly three-fourths of employers surveyed recently by research and consulting firm Millennial Branding, along with Beyond.com, an online career network.2

The survey found that too many college students are pursuing liberal arts degrees for which there is little demand in the workforce. Only 2 percent of companies are recruiting college graduates with degrees in the liberal arts. By contrast, 27 percent of companies are seeking graduates with engineering and computer information systems degrees, and 18 percent are looking for those with business degrees.

Another problem is that the value of a college degree doesn't justify the soaring prices for tuition. The same survey found that 31 percent of students said that a degree isn't worth the cost.

Too many students end up burdened with tuition debt because they take out student loans in the belief that they will be able to earn enough to make the payments after they graduate...

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