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College for All Is a Mistake

Although the issue now is whether college should be free for everyone, the larger issue is whether everyone should go to college ("Clinton Should Listen to Kaine on Vocational Schools," The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 9). I know the usual argument: Those with only a high school diploma earn less over a lifetime than those with a bachelor's degree.

But that is a generalization, with little relevance for young people today.  For one thing, it doesn't take into account the high dropout rate from both community colleges and four-year institutions. That's an important indication in my view that all students are not college material. Either they have not been adequately prepared academically in high school, or they belatedly realize that they would rather be earning a salary.  In either case, they have been shortchanged.  For another, unless they major in science, technology, engineering, math or business, they are unlikely to find a well-paying job, and they are saddled with debt.

I keep in touch with many of my former students.  The truth is that many who gained skills through high school vocational courses or through certificate programs in community colleges are steadily making a good living working with their hands.  Moreover, they express great satisfaction doing so.  In contrast, some former students with a bachelor's degree have been underemployed for protracted periods of time, all the while struggling to pay off their student debt.

I doubt this madness will ever end.  We've been wildly oversold on the value of a college education.  I know it isn't easy going against the grain, but I'd advise all young people to take a far more critical look at their reasons for shunning vocational education.  It would save them much disappointment in the years ahead. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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