Don’t Make the Sheepskin the Scapegoat

With college costs continuing to soar, and the bad economy ravaging lives up and down the educational staircase, it’s easy to get cynical, or even angry, about President Obama’s insistent rhetoric on increasing college attendance and completion. Is he just another “New Democrat” who can’t stop talking about improving education and skills because he can’t start doing anything to protect jobs in the first place? Is our national habit of valuing college becoming a vice?

Not really, notes Jamie Merisotis at College Guide today. College-doesn’t-matter talk is vastly oversold:

Two recent analyses from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce describe what is happening. The first is that roughly 60 percent of American jobs will require some level of education beyond high school by 2018. Unfortunately, only about 40 percent of American adults have a two- or four year college degree, and around 5 percent more have a certificate or other credential of high value in the workplace. That’s a big gap.

But what about all those unemployed college graduates? The other analysis by the Georgetown Center found that 22 to 26 year olds with a bachelor’s degree have an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent. That’s high by any measure, but the unemployment rate for young adults with only a high school diploma is 22.9 percent, and it’s a staggering 31.5 percent for high school dropouts. And it is almost certain that those college graduates will be the first one hired as the economy recovers.

College is no automatic panacea for Americans individually or America as a country, and too many students have to assume too much debt to pay too much tuition. As Merisotis argues, there are many steps that can and should be taken to make colleges more efficient and less costly. But it really is worth the effort.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.