Too Much Higher Education
Walter E. Williams
by Walter E. Williams: Blacks
Too much of
anything is just as much a misallocation of resources as it is too
little, and that applies to higher education just as it applies
to everything else. A recent study from The Center for College Affordability
and Productivity titled "From Wall Street to Wal-Mart," by Richard
Vedder, Christopher Denhart, Matthew Denhart, Christopher Matgouranis
and Jonathan Robe, explains that college education for many is a
waste of time and money. More than one-third of currently working
college graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree. An essay
by Vedder that complements the CCAP study reports that there are
"one-third of a million waiters and waitresses with college degrees."
The study says Vedder – distinguished professor of economics at
Ohio University, an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute
and director of CCAP – "was startled a year ago when the person
he hired to cut down a tree had a master's degree in history, the
fellow who fixed his furnace was a mathematics graduate, and, more
recently, a TSA airport inspector (whose job it was to ensure that
we took our shoes off while going through security) was a recent
college problem is far deeper than the fact that people simply are
overqualified for particular jobs. Citing the research of AEI scholar
Charles Murray's book Real
Education (2008), Vedder says: "The number going to college
exceeds the number capable of mastering higher levels of intellectual
inquiry. This leads colleges to alter their mission, watering down
the intellectual content of what they do." In other words, colleges
dumb down courses so that the students they admit can pass them.
Murray argues that only a modest proportion of our population has
the cognitive skills, work discipline, drive, maturity and integrity
to master truly higher education. He says that educated people should
be able to read and understand classic works, such as John Locke's
Concerning Human Understanding or William Shakespeare's
Lear. These works are "insightful in many ways," he says,
but a person of average intelligence "typically lacks both the motivation
and ability to do so." Mastering complex forms of mathematics is
challenging but necessary to develop rigorous thinking and is critical
in some areas of science and engineering.
and Josipa Roksa, authors of Academically
Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (2011), report
on their analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at 24 institutions.
Forty-five percent of these students demonstrated no significant
improvement in a range of skills – including critical thinking,
complex reasoning and writing – during their first two years of
college. According to an August 2006 issue brief by the Alliance
for Excellent Education, student "lack of preparation is also apparent
in multiple subject areas; of college freshmen taking remedial courses,
35 percent were enrolled in math, 23 percent in writing, and 20
percent in reading." Declining college admissions standards have
contributed to the deterioration of the academic quality of our
secondary schools. Colleges show high schools that they do not have
to teach much in order for youngsters to be admitted.
to Education Next, an August Harvard University study titled "Globally
Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?" found that only
32 percent of U.S. students achieved proficiency in math, compared
with "75 percent of students in Shanghai, 58 percent in Korea, and
56 percent in Finland. Countries in which a majority – or near majority
– of students performed at or above the proficiency level in math
include Switzerland, Japan, Canada, and the Netherlands." Results
from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment international
test show that U.S. students rank 32nd among industrialized nations
in proficiency in math and 17th in reading.
Much of American
education is in shambles. Part of a solution is for colleges to
refuse to admit students who are unprepared to do real college work.
That would help to reveal the shoddy education provided at the primary
and secondary school levels. Here I'm whistlin' "Dixie," because
college administrators are more interested in numbers of students,
which equal more money.
E. Williams is the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics
at George Mason University, and a nationally syndicated columnist.
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