Is College Education Worth It?

By Walter E. Williams

Tools Trades Carpenter Mechanic
The bottom line is that college is not for everyone. There is absolutely no shame in a youngster's graduating from high school and learning a trade.
Walter E. Williams
Walter E. Williams

USA – -( August is the month when parents bid farewell to not only their college-bound youngsters but also a sizable chunk of cash for tuition. More than 18 million students attend our more than 4,300 degree-granting institutions.

A question parents, their college-bound youngsters and taxpayers should ask: Is college worth it?

Let's look at some of the numbers. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “when considering all first-time undergraduates, studies have found anywhere from 28 percent to 40 percent of students enroll in at least one remedial course. When looking at only community college students, several studies have found remediation rates surpassing 50 percent.” Only 25 percent of students who took the ACT in 2012 met the test's readiness benchmarks in all four subjects (English, reading, math and science). Just 5 percent of black students and 13 percent of Hispanic students met the readiness benchmarks in all four subjects. The NCSL report says, “A U.S. Department of Education study found that 58 percent of students who do not require remediation earn a bachelor's degree, compared to only 17 percent of students enrolled in remedial reading and 27 percent of students enrolled in remedial math.”

The fact of business is that colleges admit a far greater number of students than those who test as being college-ready. Why should students be admitted to college when they are not capable of academic performance at the college level?

Admitting such students gets the nation's high schools off the hook.

The nation's high schools can continue to deliver grossly fraudulent education — namely, issue diplomas that attest that students can read, write and compute at a 12th-grade level when they may not be able to perform at even an eighth- or ninth-grade level.

You say, “Hold it, Williams. No college would admit a student who couldn't perform at an eighth- or ninth-grade level.” During a recent University of North Carolina scandal, a learning specialist hired to help athletes found that during the period from 2004 to 2012, 60 percent of the 183 members of the football and basketball teams read between fourth- and eighth-grade levels. About 10 percent read below a third-grade level. These were students with high-school diplomas and admitted to UNC. And it's not likely that UNC is the only university engaging in such gross fraud.

Many students who manage to graduate don't have a lot to show for their time and money. New York University professor Richard Arum, co-author of “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” says that his study shows that more than a third of students showed no improvement in critical thinking skills after four years at a university. That observation is confirmed by the many employers who complain that lots of recent graduates cannot seem to write an email that will not embarrass the company. In 1970, only 11 percent of adult Americans held college degrees. These degree holders were viewed as the nation's best and brightest. Today, over 30 percent hold college degrees, with a significant portion of these graduates not demonstrably smarter or more disciplined than the average American. Declining academic standards and grade inflation tend to confirm employer perceptions that college degrees say little about job readiness.

What happens to many of these ill-prepared college graduates?

If they manage to become employed in the first place, their employment has little to do with their degree. One estimate is that 1 in 3 college graduates have a job historically performed by those with a high-school diploma or the equivalent. According to Richard Vedder, who is a professor of economics at Ohio University and the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, we had 115,000 janitors, 16,000 parking lot attendants, 83,000 bartenders and about 35,000 taxi drivers with bachelor's degrees in 2012.

The bottom line is that college is not for everyone. There is absolutely no shame in a youngster's graduating from high school and learning a trade. Doing so might earn him much more money than many of his peers who attend college.

About Walter E.Williams

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. Williams is also the author of several books. Among these are The State Against Blacks, later made into a television documentary, America: A Minority Viewpoint, All It Takes Is Guts, South Africa's War Against Capitalism, More Liberty Means Less Government, Liberty Versus The Tyranny of Socialism, and recently his autobiography, Up From The Projects.

  • 15 thoughts on “Is College Education Worth It?

    1. There are two reasons to go to college One is to learn a marketable skill. The other is to satisfy desire to learn in an organized, disciplined manner with the full understanding that they are not learning a marketable skill. Nowadays people are promised that completing the second will accomplish the first. In fact, many who honestly accomplish the second may express contempt for trying to cash in on that part of their education.

    2. Too many kids go to college and NEVER Learn a Skill or Trade…… and too many PARTY too much…..
      I told my 3 kids that I did NOT care what they Majored in…… as Long as they Learned a Marketable Skill….. so that they could Earn a Living at it……
      1 is an Aeronautical Engineer (3.46 GPA) , the 2nd one is a Manufacturing Maintenance Engineer (3.67 GPA) and the 3rd one was a Business Major in HR (3.36 GPA)…..
      All are Earning a Living in their respective fields…….

    3. Thank you Mr. Williams!

      I am nearing the end of a career in public education and the words of Mr. Williams should be heard by prospective college students, their parents, and high school guidance counselors. In my experience, and for the majority of high school graduates, the traditional college track is one of the worst choices (in terms of employment opportunities) that a student could make. College is far too expensive, takes too much time, and the skill sets developed are often far behind industry needs.

      Kids who are unsure of what direction to take in their education post-high school should give consideration to the military (often a good choice regardless) or, if hard-working go to work for a year at a temp. Employment agency. The student will incur no student loan debt and have the chance to work in a variety of fields and, in this way, discover what they are gifted to do. Over the years, I’ve counseled many such students to try this approach; the vast majority expressed how this experience helped them discover a suitable career direction. By so doing, attending college or a professional-technical school had purpose.

      Additionally, there are scores of short-term training programs that can give a young person an advantage in the competitive job market over students with only a traditional liberal arts degree.

      I have 4 degrees from 3 different colleges/universities and I love what I do and by objective measures, successful. However, it is important to note that my three neighbors are all in the trades. They are successful, smart, and make meaningful contributions to their families and community, and make more money than I.

      College is a path, not the path.


    4. The degree graduates here are not broken out by type of major. Were these degree graduate janitors, cab drivers and bartenders college majors in Acting, Theater, Liberal Arts, psychology, marketing, music, group dynamics, etc.; you know, the type of degrees where you don’t have to show up for class much, you don’t do the homework, and you pass. Or are we talking about technical graduates in engineering, mathematics, chemistry, physics, computer science, etc.; you know, the type of degree where you have to keep up by showing up for every class, put hours of brain strain type homework in, etc.?

    5. So many liberal arts-type bachelors degree graduates with very few jobs for which those degrees at the bachelors level are applicable. They end up under(or un)-employed and resentful, hating others who are successful, wondering when their turn to be Jeff Bezos will come along. All the while turning into tin-pot Marxists with their circle-jerk group of other under(or un)-employed wankers who whip themselves into an ever-increase swirl of hate and resentment.

      Both my wife and I have one or more degrees. In both cases the degrees provided opportunities in our chosen fields that would not have otherwise existed. My eldest is going to school for his masters so he can be a PA. My youngest has plans to go to trade school to get his foot in the door as a diesel mechanic (a job both my uncle and grandfather had and had good lives for their families). I support both of their decisions as they are both good career fields. Had one of them wanted to get a Bachelors in Sociology…

      A degree is a tool box. What tools are in it, and whether the holder knows how to use them, are other things altogether.

      1. My nephew majored in “philosophy”. His professors told him that he would be able to teach philosophy. Yeah, sure in theory with a masters and ph.d. He became too ethically superior to join the military. Now, he is a philosagopher. He goes and gets what ever the boss wants. He can not even afford a car, much less getting a life or seeing the world. He is, of course a spewing democrat. He thinks I am going to leave hime something. I am going to leave him the joy of working until the day he dies.

    6. Another point is universities and college’s are in the business of making as much money as possible. I have three children in university now and the rule that forces students to buy a meal plan and housing on campus is pure greed. My kids could live and eat at home but the rules wont allow it. So the universities bring in lots of kids who have no business in college in order to increase profits. Plus my kids say the food is low quality!

    7. I went to college for 2 years before I figured out its a scam, sure there are people like doctors who I prefer go to school but they still call what they do after practice. I got scammed into $20,000 worth of debt for nothing sure I’m bitter but not at who they want me to be bitter towards. I had to take up farming and odd jobs after I left college. because my credit is now terrible and I’m in bankruptcy I can’t get a normal job just s*** jobs that illegals do. Let’s just say I’ve roofed my fair share of houses in Texas

      1. @Jtx, All these odd jobs that you are doing are not a waste of time. You are learning how to run a business. A contracting business or a roofing business. And you have already learned that nothing is easy… nothing. Life is taking you somewhere become an expert as you go. Figure out where you want to be, and get those skills as you go. Have a family yet or are you high speed low drag?

    8. These unemployed graduates acquire something that is very important to the Democrat Party; resentment. This is the crude oil that they can tap into and push their agenda with. They can also hire these people to government jobs that bloat government bureaucracies and insure their power. Either way, they win, you in the private sector lose.

    9. You hit the nail on the head Boris. As a small business employer we see it all the time, young persons come in to fill out an application and they can’t read or write, some have to have Mom fill it out for them. The vast majority thinks that because Johnny gets a college education that he’s smart and should make 100000.00 a year and this is taught to them by their teachers in college. Our son attended a tech school for HVAC and he comes home and tells me that he’ll make 20 plus per hour, I told him that he better blow his nose and get that Sh– out of his head and that he’ll learn just enough to get his toe in the door. When I was in high school the ones that went to college went to be doctors, lawyers, engineers ect. not to study Opra and other non-producing vocations. These young people lack work ethic which comes from Mom and Dad so that’s a big problem, that and they believe everything that these others tell them. They feel entitled, boy are they in for a wake up call. Hello real world. Nice article by the way.

    10. We’re making the same mistake with college education as we did with home loans.

      Since people who own homes tend to be better off fianncially and in retirement some folks in Washington concluded that home ownership was the cause of being better off. Oops. Once again we learned that correlation doesn’t equal causation and … well, welcome to the housing bubble.

      Same with college. If you’re smart and self motivating enough (with the latter being more important, arguably), and get a degree in something useful (aka hard), college can do good things for you. But simply having a college degree in “something” isn’t a guarantee of a high-six-figure job.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *