Not everyone should go to college

Not everyone should go to college

Economist Thomas Sowell has some difficult words for those who decry the rising cost of college. Rather than offer a blanket criticism of “greedy” colleges or issue a challenge for Congress to increase grants and funding for student loans, he suggests that maybe fewer people should be going to college. He suggests that sending kids to colleges, especially when you use taxpayer funds to do it, shifts the burden of paying for that college onto the whole of society, diverting limited resources.

How many people would go to college if they had to pay the real cost of all the resources taken from other parts of the economy? Probably a lot fewer people.

Moreover, when paying their own money, there would probably not be nearly as many people parting with hard cash to study feel-good subjects with rap sessions instead of serious study.

There would probably be fewer people lingering on campus for the social scene or as a refuge from adult responsibilities in the real world.

Some may accuse Sowell of elitism, but I think he’s just anti-dilettantism; opposed to the frivolous waste of scarce resources on kids who spend four years partying, copulating, protesting, and taking the equivalent of “basket-weaving” classes. I agree with him.

Job application creep has pushed companies to require bachelor’s degrees for work that a skilled— as in properly educated — high school graduate could do. I’ve mentioned before that our local state college offers a degree in pool management.I’m not kidding. Somebody is getting soaked (pun intended) and among them are the students and their parents paying for this, as well as the Massachusetts taxpayers.

Note: Sowell continues his analysis in Part II and Part III. In Part III, he addresses the argument that because college costs so much we need government subsidies by pointing out that colleges can charge so much because they know the government will subsidize it. It’s a vicious circle.


  • I’m a graduate from Villanova U. (a Catholic college, class of ‘85).  Back in ‘85 the cost of tuition (not counting room & board – I commuted – or book fees) for a full year undergrad was less than $6000/yr.  Today???  It’s OVER $34,000/yr!!!  For a B.A. degree!

    I’m sorry.  Inflation has NOT increased by nearly 600% in these last 24 years.  And the quality of education there is no better now than it was back in the mid-80s (Villanova always ranked in the Top 5 for it’s size, type and region in the annual college rankings; even back in the 70s and early 80s the school was know for quality education).  And they certainly have been raking in a lot more dough off of the basketball program since winning the championship in ‘85.

    Needless to say, I’m p*ssed at my alma mater.  And Villanova isn’t the only university (Catholic or otherwise) that has gone this route, leaving the middle class students/families out to dry.

    So, I disagree with Thomas Sowell on this one.  There is a legitimate gripe on the two main financial strains on families today:  Education (at all levels, especially colleges), and housing (the obnoxious housing “boom/bust” over the last 10 years – trend started in ‘99 – with way, way over-inflated housing prices).

  • Both of my children attend university part time because they have to work to support themselves.  They will have a very big debt to repay to the government when their post graduation income reaches a certain level but they think that this is only fair.

    IF the government didn’t have this scheme in place my two bright children would not be able to attend university because we are a poor family.

  • Not everyone should go to college – that is a fair statement.  However, what determines whether one goes or not should be ability and motivation – NOT finances.  Using finances IS elitist and worse, unjust, further it is detrimental to our society.

    It is difficult to argue that more qualified and motivated students should be limited by resources relative to better heeled individuals.

    Therefore, finances SHOULD be removed from the equation – to do so promotes the common good (a function of government).  This is one of the legitimate government programs that helps both the individual AND the society.

    If we want to limit who gets in – we need to use a measure more appropriate to the task – ability and motivation.

  • I couldn’t agree more. I’m a recent college grad (three years out) and most of the jobs my fellow graduates have don’t require anything beyond an HS diploma. As a scientist, I am one of few exceptions in that my work requires special training.  I agree that the cost of school is ridiculous and I agree that in the end most BAs and BSs, really are BS. 

    Personally, I would like to see more schools focusing on educating properly rather than “promoting diversity” or expanding study abroad programs (read: year-long vacation and debauchery at parent’s expense). I’m glad I majored in the sciences, because at least professors there need empirical evidence to back up their ideas.  It’s not like philosphy or poli sci where you can just get up and spew communist ideology (among other things) out your mouth with no basis.

    I think the best thing colleges could do is to downsize.  Not in terms of numbers of students or programs but in terms of dorms, extracurriculars, etc.  Why can’t students live in apartments and commute to class and when outside of class live as regular adults? When I look back I would have prefered this because my money to the school would have been about school and not about subsidizing orgies for other students. If schools made moves like this, there would be a lot few students going, specifically the students who are not academically inclined.

  • I am sorry to say it, but not that sorry. Many students would be better off getting a trade or at least stopping at an AA. We allow them to just get by, when many of them can not articulate or think critically through the most basic concepts. AND that should be ok. Not everyone has to be an accountant or director. Society needs garbage men and warehous workers, etc. It should not be a shameful thing.