Debate Club

You Can Lead Kids to College but You Can't Make Them Learn

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My husband and I occasionally employ a handyman by the name of Joe. He is a master at what he does, which is everything: carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, and painting. He is a man who after years of experience and training can take one look at whatever is wrong with our house, craft an elegant solution, and then execute it so well that no one will be able to tell there was a problem in the first place. So far as I know, Joe has never spent a day in college. I also have a relative named Jody (whose name I've changed for anonymity), a young woman who is about to get a bachelor's degree from a well-established small Catholic college with a decent reputation. She has studied to be an elementary school teacher, but her spelling and grammar are deplorable and she cannot understand the plot of texts that many students are assigned in high school. She will probably spend next year getting a master's degree.

[President Lays Out New Student Loan Rules.]

The problem with higher education today is the tale of Joe and Jody. Joe doesn't need college. He has made a good living; his skills are always in demand; he has even put his own daughters through college. He goes on fishing trips in Alaska and takes his wife to Las Vegas. Jody, on the other hand, will have a great deal of trouble getting a job.

College has become the automatic answer for young people today. We tell them that they will earn more with a college degree--and on average, they will. Even bartenders with college degrees earn more. What does that tell you? Not that they teach bartending skills in college--ha-ha--but that a college degree has become the easiest way to signal to employers that a person is reasonably hardworking and will show up on time. That's an awfully expensive signal mechanism.

[Lack of Jobs for Young Workers Spells 2012 Trouble for Obama.]

We tell young people that college is their ticket to the middle class. But we are not concerned with the content of that education--students leave without mastering basic skills we used to expect from high schoolers. There is no guarantee that they have gained a foundation in history or economics or mathematics. We write enormous tuition checks, but what we are buying is a credential. And, as employers often complain, many recent graduates cannot seem to write an E-mail that will not embarrass the organization they work for. Meanwhile we have all but closed off any other options for the Jodys of the world. Vocational education is encouraged only for the worst students. Apprenticeships have all but disappeared from our economy.

So is a college degree worth it? Until we come up with alternative ways to train people for employment, yes. But you'll probably learn more from four years of watching Joe.

Naomi Schaefer Riley

About Naomi Schaefer Riley Author of 'The Faculty Lounges ... And Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Pay For'

Tags
student loans
colleges
employment

Other Arguments

#1
182 Pts
With College, Only the Motivated Need Apply

No – With College, Only the Motivated Need Apply

Craig Brandon Author of 'The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up On Educating Your Child' and 'What You Can Do About It'

#2
117 Pts
Going to College Is a Mistake for Many

No – Going to College Is a Mistake for Many

Richard Vedder Director of Center for College Affordability and Productivity

#3
81 Pts
With College Degree, One Size Does Not Fit All

Yes – With College Degree, One Size Does Not Fit All

Peter Konwerski Senior Associate Vice President and Dean of Students at George Washington University

#4
56 Pts
Government Is Behind the Curve

No – Government Is Behind the Curve

Lindsey Burke Senior Policy Analyst in Domestic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation

#5
49 Pts
College Is a Safe Bet

Yes – College Is a Safe Bet

Julie Margetta Morgan Policy Analyst with the Postsecondary Education Program at the Center for American Progress

#7
32 Pts
Some Career Pathways Require a Four-Year Degree, Many Don't

Yes – Some Career Pathways Require a Four-Year Degree, Many Don't

Robert B. Schwartz Francis Keppel Professor of Practice in Educational Policy and Administration at Harvard University

#8
10 Pts
College Graduates Earn Higher Pay

Yes – College Graduates Earn Higher Pay

Anthony P. Carnevale Director of Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

#9
6 Pts
K-12 Education Should Take a Lesson from Colleges

Yes – K-12 Education Should Take a Lesson from Colleges

Tom Carroll President of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future

#10
0 Pts
Economy Puts a Premium on Postsecondary Skills

Yes – Economy Puts a Premium on Postsecondary Skills

Kevin Carey Policy Director of Education Sector

#11
-19 Pts
More, Better Jobs for College Graduates

Yes – More, Better Jobs for College Graduates

Chris Farrell Economics Editor of 'Marketplace Money'

#12
-67 Pts
A Degree Is Well Worth the Time, Cost, and Effort

Yes – A Degree Is Well Worth the Time, Cost, and Effort

Cecilia Elena Rouse Katzman-Ernst Professor in the Economics of Education and Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University

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