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Are Too Many Students Going to College?

On Monday, The Chronicle of Higher Education posted a dialogue that asked several experts a the loaded question, “Are too many students going to college?”  The editors not only asked the participants who should and should not go to college, but also how they think number of students going to college influences the economy.  The participants provided an interesting variety of answers on the topic.  What do you think?


Katherine Price

Educational Consultant

Reader Interactions


  1. I’m a high school senior. I don’t like the perspective from which almost all of the answers are being given. All of these experts are speaking of college as if it’s primary purpose were training workers. I am not going to college because I want a higher salary, and I do not care how my education affects my personal economic status nor the nation’s economy as a whole. I am going to college to learn as much as I can about something I am passionate about. If most students really are going to college not because they want to learn but because they want a piece of paper that says “I’m a good worker, hire me,” then I would agree with the experts who say those people should be going to trade schools.

    In Germany, secondary education is divided into two sections: students planning to go to college, and students planning to go into the work force. The former get a rigorous set of courses providing a firm basis for going to college, while the latter get apprenticeships and training in their chosen career. In America, almost all of our high schools are just college preparatory institutions. This is why we have 70% of graduates going to college even though many of them probably shouldn’t. Furthermore, this is really screwing over the other 30% who are relatively directionless because, unless they are really lucky, nobody told them about their options after high school.

    Of my closest group of friends, most of them are in that 30% and graduated a year before me. It took them all a few months to decide what to do next, which in some cases was to go to a local technical institute. The rest are just going to work dead-end jobs and play video games. Why? Because that is all they learned to do in high school while I was being prepared for college.

  2. Education is the stuff of life, learning what makes life worth living and the means for enjoying it more fully. This is a skill I learned in college and it has continued to serve me well. I would hope even more of the population would attend. Better education enhances the quality and quantity of our economy and what is possible.

  3. Hi, Robert. I’m really happy you stopped by!

    I agree that education is super important. But it does give me pause to think that only 63% of the students who enter the University of Colorado at Boulder will graduate in six years. What is happening to that other 37%? Many of those students will have a lot of debt but no degree. Might we have done better by them to help guide them better before they embarked on an educational journey that led to a dead end? Education is great, I agree. But what sort of education, and for what sort of people. You and I know lots of folks who never would have enjoyed the academic life of the College you and I were fortunate to attend. How do we guide those for whom higher education is not the answer?

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment, Robert, and to comment on Facebook, too.

    All the best!

  4. Hi, Mike. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    You correctly point to the example of Germany–where students are guided from an earlier age regarding their post-secondary options. In Germany, it is not a sign of personal failure to opt for a pre-professional, pre-vocational track in secondary school. In the US, you are a big, fat, loser if you don’t do college prep courses (at least that is the cultural bias…does your high school even have vocational training anymore…mine had a great program 30 years ago, but it’s gone–and every kid is now on the “college track”).

    I’m glad you have made a decision for yourself to continue on to college, and it’s also good you have a healthy respect for those who educate themselves in other ways. What’s important is to receive decent guidance–so that kids don’t end up like your friends who are in “dead-end jobs and play video games.”

    Thanks again for your insights!

  5. We need to start thinking about variations of the “one size fits all” K-college curriculum. The top 10 industries with the fastest growing wage and salary employment ( all require various levels of education & training; some require no formal four-year college education at all but thrive from individuals who choose hands-on experience and vocational training to get the job done. I think the healthiest way of approaching your career for long-term satisfaction (both mentally & financially) is to be truthful with yourself about your skillset and aspirations and not to pursue a degree just because everyone else says you should.

  6. Financial consultant and economist Gary North wrote an article several months back about the educational bubble. His opinion is that just like the housing bubble which recently burst, education will soon face a similar leveling off process, due to the fact the cost of education is outpacing the level of inflation. Interesting subject to ponder.

  7. There may be some leveling off at some point. And yet the University of California system just raised tuition by over 30% for next year. I think another trend to watch is that the cost of a public education may rise faster than the cost of a private education, especially in states with strong anti-taxation lobbies. If we stop paying taxes, then we stop funding higher education from government coffers, which means we shift costs to the consumers of higher education: students and their families.

    As you say, interesting subject to ponder.

    Thanks for visiting.

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