The College Numbers Game

Barry Lenson

"I also had other seniors whom I still feel guilty about passing, and they, too, are among the 80% whom we boast about going to college . . . High schools like mine, always eager for good press, can boast that they have prepared an ever greater percentage of their charges to move on to the halls of academe. And though colleges blame us in the high schools for sending them kids who are woefully unprepared, they blithely pocket the tuition from such students lest they have to downsize and lay off professors and administrators.”-Patrick Welsh, a high school English teacher from Virginia, writing in USA Today

“Is College Overrated,” Patrick Welsh’s recent article in USA Today, offers a frank and honest analysis of a numbers game that permeates American higher education, from high school through college.

 To summarize Welsh’s article, the game goes something like this . . .

High schools promote undeserving students and make sure they get good enough grades to enter college . . . colleges then accept those under-qualified students to boost enrollments . . . the students can’t cut college work, so they drop out . . . and those students end up in severe debt.

What’s the solution?

Welsh offers an opinion that more American students should avoid college and start vocational training instead, so they can become health care workers, hospitality workers and electricians. He could be right – maybe the time is right for more students to skip college and train for jobs that are waiting in the real world.But I have a few other questions. Why shouldn’t electricians know about economics? Why shouldn’t hospitality workers be able to write at a professional level? And why shouldn’t healthcare workers know the basic principles of accounting? (Heck, they might start businesses of their own one day.) After all, knowledge has a way improving a person’s quality of life and income.

So maybe the real problem with the numbers is something that Welsh doesn’t mention directly – traditional college courses cost too darn much.

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