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Statements and Letters

Letter to the Editor of The Washington Post
From: Debra Humphreys, Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs, Association of American Colleges and Universities

September 10, 2010

To the Editor,

The article, “Is College Overrated?” (September 10, 2010) was one of the worst reported stories I’ve read in a long time. The reporter bases the article on one interview with a privileged and highly successful businessperson who did, in fact, go to college and then notes the handful of other famous people who dropped out of college. She presents the views of one economist without, apparently, checking with any other economists to see if his views are at all in the mainstream. The evidence is, in fact, very clear that, contrary to what this article suggests, college is extremely important, well worth the cost, and more people need it now than ever before.

Your readers would have been better served if Kaufman had made a phone call to Anthony Carnevale of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Economy, who authored the extensively researched report, “College is Still the Best Option.“ (pdf). He reports that, while real wages of workers with BA degrees may have declined a bit in recent years, the wage premium between a BA degree and a high school degree has declined very little. In 2008, college graduates still earned 1.94 times as much as high school graduates, down from a peak of 2.13 times in 2006. Georgetown University research also shows that the jobs open to adults without college degrees are the ones most likely both to be swept away in a downturn and, subsequently, never to return.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities also just published a survey of employers suggesting that 28 percent of those surveyed planned to place more emphasis on hiring people with BA degrees while only 5 percent plan to hire more people with high school degrees.

Kaufman cites current unemployment data to support her point, but she notes that, if you didn’t go to college, you are more than twice as likely to be unemployed today. That’s an argument for skipping college? She also notes the high debt load of some college graduates. That, indeed, is a serious issue, but not, as she suggests, for most community college students. Kaufman notes loan default rates of these students, but misses the more important point that only about 10 percent of community college students borrow anything to finance their educations! Publishing this article—and discouraging young people from pursuing a college degree—is just irresponsible. I guess your advice to parents is, ““If you think your kid is the next Bill Gates, forget about college.” My advice would be, “if you’re the least bit unsure about that possibility, make a better bet on your kid’s future and send them to college—unless you want to be supporting them forever.”

Debra Humphreys
Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs
Association of American Colleges and Universities