So we’re going to expand access to college with a huge education reform that was packaged with healthcare reform (Hey, why not? No need to have an actual, you know, debate over it).
Half of all high school graduates currently enroll in four-year colleges, which is already far too many. The kind of academic abilities required to do well in college—not just survive for four years taking the easiest available courses, but cope with genuine college-level material—are possessed by only 10 to 15 percent of young people.
This discrepancy between enrollment and aptitude may help explain why more than 40 percent of those students who enroll in four-year colleges drop out before getting their degree—often burdened with debt, feeling that they’ve wasted both time and opportunities.
And yet we want to “expand access.” Even the Obama administration’s one sign of good sense, its interest in expanding the community college system, is phrased in terms of eventually producing more and more graduates with BAs. Might I suggest some modest proposals? Make it tougher to get college loans, not easier. Tie loans to evidence of educational preparation that gives students a realistic chance of succeeding. And at the same time do everything we can to demystify the BA—a degree that no longer means anything. Almost all high school graduates need more training after high school. The use of the BA as the one-size-fits-all symbol of success in that training is stupid and cruel.