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Too Stupid For College?

Over at Salon.com (see Diploma with a Side of Fries), Amy Benfer rightly decries an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which argues that because of the high cost of 4-year colleges, parents whose children are in the bottom half of their high school classes should think twice about sending them off to get their BA or BS, since those students are more likely to drop out.

This shows exactly what’s wrong with our education/loan system.  College is so expensive that for many, the risks may outweigh the rewards.  The problem, of course, is that it’s very difficult to predict who will be “successful” and who won’t, and the Chronicle’s advice risks seriously limiting some students’ futures.  Should people really be judged for the rest of their lives based on their performance in high school?  I agree with Benfer’s assessment:

Let’s face it: The kids at the top of the class include the kids who follow the rules, the kids who go to college because, in their social class, that’s just what you do, a smattering of reckless geniuses and original thinkers, and a bunch of generally smart, motivated kids. In the bottom half, you’ll have the kids who don’t follow the rules, the kids who won’t go to college because in their class that’s just not what you do, a smattering of reckless geniuses and original thinkers who might find high school boring and bureaucratic, and a bunch of kids who genuinely would be much happier getting the hell away from academia and learning any number of trades. But to pretend one can discern those who “deserve” to go to college from those who do not by lopping a whole class of kids off at the center, to borrow a recent political metaphor, is like using a hatchet when what you really need is a scalpel.

Student loans are supposed to open up doors for people, but the cost of education has become so ridiculously high that we’re seeing a backlash and doors are now being closed instead.  What’s sad is that the Chronicle article is really meant to offer a solution to the student loan crisis, aimed particularly at students who maybe weren’t meant for college, but started, took out loans, and wound up dropping out.  But instead of looking for ways to ensure that making the “mistake” of trying college doesn’t destroy a person’s life, the article suggests trying to cut them off at the pass. 

Stop them before they start – college is the new drug, and it’s up to you to just say no.  Unless, of course, you have rockin’ SAT scores.

  1. Tab
    November 1, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    One issue is that standardized tests are highly overrated. They are not conclusive in determing one’s success at the university level. I think to some extect ACT/SAT scores might be a bit of a myth. If a student is at the bottom half of his high school class, I can’t imagine that they would seriously consider a top notch university. There is nothing wrong with a small junior college. This game has been a lot about chasing the “Status quo.” You take a risk the minute you sign any educational loan. There is a risk that you might not be university material. There is a risk that a school might close in the middle of your school year. There is a risk that if you graduate you might not be able to obtain a job in your profession or a job that will offset the debt that you have incurred. It seems ideal to re-examine your motivation for why you want to go to college.

  2. Manuel Mejia, Jr.
    November 2, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    As a holder of a Master’s of Arts in political science and as a school teacher, I can tell you that that the standard bottom 50% of a typical high school class is HIGHLY UNLIKELY to be able to endure the rigors and the sacrifices needed for the BS or BA. I myself barely made it out with my Master’s. I do not agree with the wisdom that a student should go to a 4 year institution. Everyone should start with the junior colleges close to home. If they can excel there, then they can try completing 2 more years for the BS or BA. Those who have problems at junior college should see if a vocational program would better suit their needs.

    A good die tool machinist is hard to find and makes more money than I do with my MA. In contrast, I cannot even make enough money or even get a job to pay off my student loans ! High school graduates to be, consider your options very carefully.

  3. trp1978
    November 4, 2008 at 3:41 am

    While I agree that junior colleges and vocational programs are good options for many students, what I take issue with is the idea that high school performance should be used as a guage as to whether or not a student should go to a four-year college after graduation.

    My reason for this is that I fear that some of those “bottom of the class” students are there less because they can’t do the work than because they just don’t take high school that seriously or they are non-conformist in some other way. Additionally, many of those students come from the lower socio-economic classes and I worry that we risk unwittingly perpetuating a caste system where only the students who had the most support as children can grow up to pursue their career goals, whatever they may be.

    I also don’t like the implication that the chief benefit of a college education is to make money because I feel that only certain students are forced to look at it that way. For example, people rarely advise valedictorians to become die tool machinists, even if they could make more money doing that than, say, becoming a college English professor.

    I truly believe that college is a time to explore who you are and what you want to do with your life, and I hate the idea that people will miss out on that because they made some mistakes in high school. I think I would feel differently if junior colleges were of a high-quality across the board – for example, the California community college system is absolutely superb – but the fact of the matter is, many of those colleges simply will not give students the opportunity to explore their personalities and potential in the same way as 4-year colleges. And I would also feel differently if vocational schools were recommended equally to the bottom 50% and the best and brightest, but they simply aren’t.

  4. Manuel Mejia
    November 4, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Vocational Education has been scorned since Ben Franklin derided apprenticeships in the 1700s. However, he was a rare, industrious person who was would have been restricted by the era vocational system.

    The key is DRIVE and HARD WORK. The current crop of kids going through the school system lack the work ethic that, say, their 1950s counterparts did.

    I have a unique perspective since I started school at a very disadvantaged level–I could not speak ENGLISH. Spanish is my first language. However, I was stubborn and not only did I learn English, I learned Russian as well ( I spent 2 summers in Russia to help with the polishing of grammer). Then I have my MA.

    I was in the top 1/3 of my class. However, high school counselors wisely suggested community college to see if I could do the work. If I was not successful, the vocational tract was open to me. Well, I was successful beyond anyone’s expectations.

    I can tell you that my high school colleagues at the lower half of the class most likely “crashed and burned” at state University. They did not have the work ethic. However, their parents were hell bent to get them to go to college so they followed the edict. Odds of success were as bad as roulette in those cases.

    There is nothing wrong with the vocational trades. They pay handsomely and you can escape the student loan trap that many people (myself included) fell into.

    However, that is another tale.

    Manuel Mejia, Jr., M.A.–Florida

  5. Robert A
    October 8, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Im sorry, but reading these articles make me appalled by such personal comments made by the upper 50% class. If any one could talk about the behalf of the Bottom 50% class, that would help me, for I fall in that classification. Its crazy, because you know those people that have a heavy passion for something. Those who have in mind that they are going to grow up and do what they love to do, and attend college. Yet, they are refrain to go on to college and further their passion, because they’re frustrated by their “stupidity”. What really enables those “dumb” ones are the loss of motivation token by the “smart” ones. Yes, exactly what most of you are doing now. Basically, “Your too stupid for college”; No they’re stupid for lessoning to you! And then a beautiful mind spoiled.

  6. RedDirt
    March 1, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    I might not be typical, however I graduated in the bottom quarter of my high school class and because my parents did not think I was smart enough, they would not pay for me to go to college. They could afford it, my father is a Speech Language Pathologist and my mother is an LPC, they both work full time and at the time of my wanting to go to college they easily made 130,000+ pretax.

    Of course financial aid for persons under 24 is non existent when your parents are not willing to co-sign your FAFSA. Add to this the fact that you may not even apply for financial aid without a completed FAFSA and unless your parents will co-sign for you when you are under 24 then you have no financial aid options.

    The summer after I graduated high school I began working in retail, however I soon took a night job at a convenience store as well. It was at these jobs that I learned to live lower class and began to hang out with people who had never wanted a college education. Years went by and suddenly I was one of the working poor, content to drink on the weekends, buy cars at tote the note lots, and working jobs with no chance to get ahead, and of course no medical insurance.

    One night a buddy from high school came into the store I was working at and we talked for a while. He had graduated law school at a top 15 and was employed by a large firm in New York. I asked him how in the world he ever got into law school, and he told me how his dad was in a fraternity when he went to college, so that made him a legacy and his fellow fraternity members had lots of pull. That night i went home and googled what first year starting salarys at top new york law firms were, as it turns out they are $140,000 a year. At that time I was making a little over $18,000 a year working two jobs.

    I applied at a local Junior College and failed out. In my experience Junior Colleges are tougher than Universities and have poor quality adjunct professors that do not know how to teach. I then applied at a local private Christian University and worked my butt off. It took me six years to graduate and I continued working full time through most of my bachelors studies.

    For grad school I went to OU and was given a position as a TA. After completing my Masters in Public Administration I became and adjunct professor at Oklahoma Baptist while pursuing my PhD. Today I am a full non tenure track professor at OSU.

    I personally think it is appalling that anyone would base future predictions of academic success from high school grades or class rank. I find that many students in my Sociology survey classes do not have the foundational study skills required for college, however these skills can be taught very easily.

    If a person wants to go to college it should be their decision and until such time as they prove that they are unwilling to learn I personally believe that it is our responsibility to offer them an education. I had poor grades in high school and failed out and was academically dismissed from a junior college, however if I had given into the current bias that a person who did such a thing could never graduate college, then I would not be where I am today.

    Honestly college is not rocket surgery, it is listening developing good study habits and reciting.

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