Continuing our discussion from yesterday with Dr. Archibald, a few follow-up questions:
There’s been discussion in the media recently (from Robert Samuelson and Richard Vedder, among others) that a “college for all” agenda is being pushed, and that such an agenda is unwarranted. They observe that thousands of janitors and parking lot attendants hold college degrees, and that such training is both expensive and unnecessary for these professions. What do you think? Are we sending too many to college, or too few?
This is a difficult question. I do not believe in “college for all.” There are lots of people who lack the maturity and/or the aptitude required to take advantage of college. This does not mean that there are too many people going to college. In fact the data showing that the return to a higher education has grown and the data showing that the unemployment rate for college graduates is much lower than the unemployment rate of high school graduates suggest that we are far from having an over-educated population. Also, the fact that other countries have passed us in terms of the percentage of young people with college degrees should make one stop and ponder. Are these countries even more over-educated? I think there is room for us to increase educational attainment broadly conceived, and college attainment is part of that story.
As for the “thousands of Janitors and parking lot attendants,” I do not think that they are evidence of an over-educated population. They may be evidence of a sour economy. They may be evidence of chemical interference of some kind. More fundamentally they are evidence of a system that grants opportunities to many people. We, states, families, and the federal government, offer young people an opportunity to go to college. In any endeavor of this kind some will succeed, and some will fail. We cannot force people to work hard, we cannot force them to specialize in fields that yield good jobs, and we cannot force people to locate where jobs are. As a result there will be college graduates unemployed and underemployed. This is not new, and it would not be possible to completely eliminate it.
If people think that we are educating too many students, I want to know what they think we should do about it. Is there something that colleges and universities can do to be sure to not admit people who will become janitors or parking lot attendants? I don’t think so. Colleges and universities do provide students with an education that will increase the chances that they will be successful. But I am quite sure that colleges do not have a way of insuring they will be successful, so there will be some college educated people who do not succeed.
In your book, you propose the concept of a universal college savings account, and to make this savings account the sole basis of federal financial aid. The government would give every child a set amount of money that would grow, over that child’s first 18 years of life, to the amount of a Pell Grant that could be tapped for four years. Kind of like a Social Security program for a college education. Did I get that right?
Yes, you have summarized our proposal accurately. We find this proposal appealing because it is simple and universal. With this proposal people will not have to fill out complicated forms and learn about large number of confusing programs. We think it will make people more likely to take a high school curriculum that will make college a possibility.
What would happen to this money if someone opted to do something other than traditional college — i.e., pursue becoming an electrician, plumber, construction worker, etc.? Could they use this money toward their professional training? If not, do we run the risk of creating too much of an incentive for college, perhaps leading to an insufficient number of skilled workers in other fields?
The money could be used for post high school training at an accredited institution. The key for economic success is to increase the skill level in the economy. That said, the percentage students judged “college qualified” who actually go to college varies by income. Such students from high income families go to college in large numbers, but similar students from low income families do not go to college as frequently. The gap is large. This is what motivated our idea. We were convinced that financial aid programs that intend to eliminate this gap have not been successful.