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College Isn't For Everyone

Publication Date: 2004-06-16

Nemko's view goes against the current Business Roundtable claim that schools must prepare everyone for college. Unfortunately, USA Today Editorial doesn't address his point.

We already send too many students to college. Among the bottom quarter (below 2.6 high school GPA and 850 SAT), only 20% graduate, even if they're given six years!

And among those in the bottom quarter who defy the odds and do graduate are students who are rarely at the top of their class. So, faced with today's oversupply of degree holders, they must often settle for a job they could have gotten without college. Don't you know many degreed people who have non-professional jobs?

Colleges trumpet the statistic that college graduates earn more during their lifetime, but that doesn't apply to those in the bottom quarter. They would likely earn more if they chose one of the post-high-school options I suggest below.

Of course, college isn't just about career preparation. As colleges ever remind us, it's about enhancing the life of the mind. Unfortunately, those in the bottom quarter (and many other students) don't experience such loftiness. Too often, they're bored by professors' arcana and confused by their theories. And then there's calculus. What the bottom quarter typically gets is an ongoing assault to self-esteem and a lot of student debt.

I'm particularly concerned about colleges' failure to disclose this information to low-achieving minority students. In colleges' eagerness to diversify, they admit, indeed woo, minorities with poor high school records. Of course, college won't kill them; it will just decrease their chances of success and happiness.

And Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., wants to send 1.5 million more people to college?

If my child had bottom-quartile high school grades and SAT scores, I'd suggest he or she consider a Small Business Administration program on how to start a business, or courses on how to become an effective yet ethical salesperson. If my child preferred a hands-on career, I'd encourage an apprenticeship or military stint to become, for example, an electrician or surveyor.

If I were president, I'd fund more apprenticeship programs and cut funding to colleges that admit students who'd be better off in a non-college alternative. I sure wouldn't, as presidential candidate Kerry has proposed, send 1.5 million more to college.

Marty Nemko has been a consultant to 15 college presidents. His latest book for the college-bound is The All-in-One College Guide.Lower-performing students would do better pursuing other options.

from USA Today


Options for the needy shrink

The daughter of a heavy-equipment mechanic, Aleksandra Wojtalewicz ? Aleks, for short ? was born in Poland and raised in Long Beach.
She graduated from high school last week with a 3.86 grade point average, eager to join the latest generation of Americans who use college degrees to move up in life.

Moving up for Aleks isn't easy. Her father, who was laid off for about five months this year, can't contribute much to tuition. So she turned down a highly regarded private college that accepted her and next year will attend nearby California State University-Fullerton with the aid of a private scholarship that pays the far-more-affordable tuition.

Aleks is among thousands of students forced to change plans for lack of the financial aid that used to be routine.

While college costs have skyrocketed 30% since 2001 alone, federal spending for grants has been flat, and the maximum value of a federal loan for a college freshman hasn't changed since 1986.

The impact is most severe for the poorest students. In 1975, Pell Grants ? the federal program that is the primary resource for students whose families today have an average income of $22,000 ? paid 40% of the expenses at public, four-year colleges. Today, they pay only 15%.

Needy students are not shut out of college as a result, but the difference does create a set of choices that drives students away from the more expensive and highly rated private colleges many of them would prefer to attend.

This is not good for the students, who lose opportunity, or the colleges, which lose diversity. Aleks is a case in point.

Attending her first choice, Occidental College in Los Angeles, would have required borrowing tens of thousands of dollars on top of the state and private grants she was offered to cover half the cost.

So she opted for California State-Fullerton, where the $2,859 in tuition and fees will be fully covered by the grants. By living at home and working, she can cover the cost of books, living expenses, food and transportation, which bring the yearly cost to attend Fullerton up to about $13,000.

What's most worrisome is that the trends creating the problem aren't turning around. The number of graduating seniors will rise in the next five years before peaking, the percentage trying to go to college is increasing, and tuitions are expected to keep rising.

The outlook for extra help from the federal government is dim. Last month, the Republican leaders overseeing the Higher Education Act announced that any changes would be "revenue neutral."

That means tens of thousands of students will be feeling the crunch Aleks did.

Unless legislators and educators raise the priority of aid to the poor, thousands of students will have to downsize their college dreams.


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