Opinion: Should everybody go to college?

Shawn Mercer

In light of President Obama’s recent bus tour regarding his new plan to control the cost of college, an examination of who should be going to college seems appropriate.

First it is useful to know that for first-time, full-time students entering Kent State main campus in 2006, the 4-year graduation rate was 27.0%, 5-year, 45.8%, and 6-year, 51.6% (national 6-year, 58%) according to Kent State’s website. Year-over-year the percentage of students graduating has appeared to be increasing but even the latest 6-year graduation rate available is only a little over one-half according to the National Center for Education statistics. This means that about half of these students who enroll in Kent State do not obtain a degree at Kent.

What they do obtain is student debt. And no degree. It is true that some students may transfer and graduate elsewhere, but it is also true that many students leave this university worse off than they arrived. Even worse, had these students been in the workforce during their stint at college, they could have been earning an income and gaining valuable experience.

Enter the gap year. Taking a break from high school before entering college may be just what students need after twelve or more years of education.

For those not receiving significant scholarships, this decision is much easier because waiting will not cost more. Taking a year to volunteer, travel, shadow different professions and spend time working in the real world may be the best thing for students unsure about whether college is right for them or for students who simply are unsure what direction they want to take their life.

From my experience, it is everything else besides the 4-year degree that sets you apart. I have worked around many political science majors and their degree is useless unless they demonstrate real-world experience working in and around politics. Practically, this means that many 4-year degrees are a checked box that employers need to see but won’t necessarily take you anywhere special.

On the University’s end of this issue, making college more exclusive rather than inclusive may be a way to prevent many cases of debt without degree. Examining trends that predict success or failure in particular programs, directing students to attend regional campuses to save them money, and designing transfer programs from local community colleges may all be ways in which the University may prevent students from getting in over their heads in debt.

When I was in high school, I was taught very little about all of the options in front of me. What I do remember is the excitement and the encouragement from my teachers and counselor about the merits of attending college. On his bus tour, the president seemed to share their sentiments, speaking about college as if it was a cure to poverty and a sure bet to a great life. But what I now realize is that such a medicine applied too liberally can be toxic.

Contact Shawn Mercer at [email protected].