College for all?

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Being that I am a frequent reader of Bill Maxwell’s column in the St. Petersburg Times, I have stumbled upon this recent column that debates the worth of a college education..

Maxwell brings up some important questions in this column.

Do we have a moral obligation as a society to send as many young adults to college as possible?

The column states that many educators and parents feel differently about the issue.

Hard-line conservatives, such as Charles Murray, political scientist and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, do not believe everyone should go to college who wants to go. Best known for his positions on race and intelligence, Murray argues that we should listen to the research.

“It has been empirically demonstrated,” he writes, “that doing well (B average or better) in a traditional college major in the arts and sciences requires levels of linguistic and logical/mathematical ability that only 10 to 15 percent of the nation’s youth possess. That doesn’t mean that only 10 to 15 percent should get more than a high school education. It does mean that the four-year residential program leading to a B.A. is the wrong model for a large majority of young people.”

Though this opinion, like any thoughtful opinion should, is based upon fact, I’m not sure that students should give up a college opportunity because their linguistic and mathematical skills aren’t up to par. I think that students, no matter their intelligence or skill level, should strive to learn as much about the world as they can. College isn’t solely about academic learning, it is also about social growth. It is often the coupling of a new social experience and academic rigor that can incite new potential for learning.

The two camps sharply disagree on whether we have a moral obligation as a society to send as many students as we can to college.

Murray is unequivocal: “We have a moral obligation to destroy the current role of the B.A. in American life. It has become an emblem of first-class citizenship for no good reason.”

Like Murray, Bryan Caplan, associate professor of economics at George Mason University, is blunt, if not cynical: “From a moral point of view, far too many students are going to college — just as far too many people stand up at concerts.”

W. Norton Grubb, professor of policy, organization, measurement and evaluation at the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, argues the opposite of Murray and Caplan.

“We do have a moral obligation, emerging from several centuries of concern with equity in a highly inequitable country, to make access to and completion of college more equitable,” he writes. “But rather than proclaiming College for All, we should be stressing High School Graduation for All, emphasizing that such completion requires either college readiness or readiness for sustained employment — or for the combination of the two that has become so common.”

As a society we have a moral obligation to encourage the pursuit of a college education. We should never undervalue the importance of higher knowledge and new experiences. The human mind is a vast landscape left mostly untapped. If we encourage all students to pursue a higher level of education, we are encouraging them to expand their minds, which will ultimately alter the way they view the world. College is a great vehicle for the expansion of consciousness, as I said before, because it is a social experience as well as an academic one. It should not be looked at solely as a degree-providing institution that will land you a job that pays well. Money, though important, is not essential in the construction of character.

What do you think readers, do we have a moral obligation to send as many students to college as possible? What is a college education worth?

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