Not everybody deserves college

Jason Snead and Jason Snead

“Education is an investment in the future.” This phrase is uttered time and again by administrators, professors and even students in ever more difficult efforts to secure funding and support for higher education. Hardly a week goes by when education is not lauded as the key that opens all doors, as the way for dedicated and determined students to pull themselves out of poverty and privation, and for others to achieve their dreams.

And yet despite this hype, the sad reality of higher education, and indeed of the broad field of education in general, is vastly different. Classroom standards seem to be in a downward spiral, with many students held to a bar so low it is barely worth discussing. And all the while every child is told they have the right to go to college.

But is higher education truly a right? Is it something all students deserve, regardless of performance or aptitude? These ideas are sacrosanct in modern American culture; to challenge the wisdom that all students are entitled to attend college is to preach an educational heresy. Yet our system is fundamentally flawed, producing students who, in increasing numbers, begin their careers in fields far outside their area of collegiate study. Is this system the correct one, or should higher education simply be one of many avenues students can take in attempting to prepare for their lives and careers?

Proponents of the current system argue college is a right equal to all as surely as is free speech or voting. To this group it is important every child be given the opportunity to attend college, and at least so far as this basic assumption is concerned little fault may be found.

Every child should have the opportunity to attend a university, but that opportunity should certainly be no guarantee. It is a chance, a possibility, a prospect for attendance that is dependent upon how well students apply themselves before they even set foot on their college campus. To imply otherwise is to sabotage classrooms at the high school and middle school levels, where teachers are desperately and admirably fighting to instill in students a sense of motivation and concern for their futures.

How is a teacher in an average high school classroom to achieve this if colleges are continually lowering their standards for admission? Students glean but one message from this depreciation of education – college should hardly be taken seriously. Standardized testing scores are not dropping because successive waves of students are less intelligent, but rather because there is no overarching sense of motivation or determination. Competition has been replaced with a collectivist mentality that has gradually and surreptitiously pervaded our culture. In the process the notion that students with differing talents should pursue differing avenues of life was lost, with high school graduates instead relentlessly funneled into any of dozens of colleges and universities competing for their business.

In the last generation it seems that Americans have become so enamored with the idea of earning a college degree that society has forgotten one of its strongest attributes: diversity.

College used to be but one avenue among many, the refuge of those who are academically rather than technically minded, and certainly not the destination of all students. Trade, vocational and two-year degrees are all opportunities that are increasingly pushed to the wayside in favor of the four-year degree that is seen as the proverbial silver bullet. But these other options for higher education present opportunities themselves no standard bachelor’s degree ever could.

It is risky indeed to teach children the key to success is a standard degree from a four-year institution. The result is precisely what is happening today, with the job market overwhelmed by college graduates seeking employment. Students are made to look for career opportunities wherever they can find them, calling into question the worth of the degree for which they studied for several years and paid many thousands of dollars. Meanwhile in some parts of the country highly skilled laborers earn far more each year than white-collar workers with post-graduate degrees, and the recipients of two-year degrees find themselves in a position of perpetual demand.

Colleges and universities should not by any means be closed to all save a fortunate elite, nor should the doors of higher education be cast open to all who can afford to attend. Instead, the qualifications and standards should be raised and responsibly maintained to generate a sense of competition and motivation in students who seek a university degree.

Simultaneously, the idea college is the end destination of every student needs to be eroded, so all may fairly pursue their interests and strengths. Above all each student must be guaranteed an opportunity so all may determine their future.