by michael on January 25, 2011

So, your little angel wants to go to college. College is an expensive endeavor for many families. I know very few parents that can simply write a check for their child’s college expenses. Most have to dip into—indeed, leap into—savings and borrow money. And fewer and fewer parents are actually paying college tuition, at least the advertised annual cost.

But, in any case, college has a cost for just about every family that sends a child or children to those institutions of higher learning. Given that there is a cost, it is justifiable to inquire, what do you, as a paying parent, and what does you child get in exchange for this cost?

The answer seems to be, not much, at least according to this distressing but apparently well-researched article by George Leef, director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. His article “Does College Make You Smarter? No Work, All Play, No Job” appears in today’s New York Times

Leef’s article begins with an assertion and a question: “Students make little progress in intellectual growth in the first two years of college. Why is that?”

Leef discusses the new book “Academically Adrift” and what he describes as “a serious problem that has actually been brewing for several decades: for many young Americans, college is not about learning.”

For us parents that have gone into debt or gone into savings or have given up things and experiences we would have liked to have enjoyed, and for those of us concerned with the quality of our children’s education when they are young, here’s a disturbing paragraph:

“Owing to the generally weak state of K-12 schooling, most high school graduates are not accustomed to serious academic work. They enroll in college with the expectation that it will be a continuation of K-12, that is, undemanding. What most of them want is just a credential attesting to their employability, accompanied by as much fun as possible. At many colleges and universities, students who are academically weak and disengaged constitute the bulk of the student body, enjoying themselves at the expense of their families and taxpayers.”

Leef concludes:

“Thus, what passes for “higher education” is often just a costly experience that adds nothing to the individual’s knowledge and skills. Large numbers of young people who have college degrees wind up doing jobs that high school students could easily learn and because we have such a glut of graduates in the labor force, many employers now demand that applicants have degrees even for mundane jobs. And in the mistaken notion that the country needs to have far more people going through college, the federal government is making it easier for students to borrow the money for it. Consequently, we will lure more marginal students into college, further increasing the pressure to lower standards.”

I have long suspected that many students should work a year or more before going to college. I also suspected that many students were not trained to distinguish between knowledge and wisdom and they were not trained to relate wisdom to day to day lives.

So, for those parents scrimping and saving and forgoing some of life’s rewards and pleasures in order to have children with a college pedigree, perhaps your money might be better spent getting the yacht or, at least, having a few more lovely dinners.
More later

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