By Bryan O’Keefe
That’s the question that Charles Murray, a prolific thinker and our friend up at AEI, asks in a provocative essay in today’s Wall Street Journal. Murray’s basic answer is yes and I would be inclined to agree.
Murray bases most of his argument on IQ scores, which is a topic that he has written about frequently over the years. He argues very persuasively that, based on IQ scores, only about 25 percent of high school graduates – at the max – should be attending college. Unfortunately, that number has soared to 45 percent in recent years, meaning that many students simply do not have the intellectual capabilities to sustain themselves in higher education – no matter how hard they try
He also makes the excellent point that many students really aren’t learning anything in college these days and that these students would be better off in either two-year colleges or pursuing vocational careers. I can second his notion about vocational careers with my own personal experience. A very good friend of mine from high school decided that instead of going to college, he would learn how to become a plumber. Through a combination of classes and apprenticeships, he has mastered the trade and now works as an industrial plumber and steamfitter, working on various large-scale industrial piping projects in the Pittsburgh area. He has a satisfying job and his income is well north of my own. Contrast that experience with many other people from my high school who were labeled as “not college material”. Most of these students took two paths: They tried to go to college and they failed miserably. Or they graduated from high school and didn’t do too much afterwards. Both of these groups usually end up in low-wage jobs and probably harbor some resentment about why they cannot get ahead more in life.
There is no doubt that both of these groups would have benefited enormously from learning a vocation or trade, like my friend. But psychologically, we have unfortunately conditioned students these days to think that it’s either succeeding in college or serving up hamburgers at McDonald’s, when, in reality, there are many more options available.
I won’t steal any more of Charles’s thunder, especially since he lays out the case better than I can.
(Another author who has written on this topic is Jackson Toby, a noted sociologist from Rutgers University, and somebody that CCAP is working with now on this subject.)