Charles Murray, in his essay, “Are Too Many People Going to College?” discusses the American culture’s take on higher education. In short, Murray claims that too many young people are going to college even though it is unnecessary to do so. In order to make his argument, Murray focuses on several factors: (1) not everyone who can absorb higher education needs higher education; (2) attending a four-year school is unnecessary to make a living; and (3) going to college simply is not all that it is made out to be.
Additionally, Murray provides a counterargument discussing how going to a four-year school is a healthy experience for most young people in a variety of ways, and the academic issues that may plague the lower ranks of students can be modified to fit with each student’s context. Although the counter argument is solid, Murray makes a solid, correct assertion when he states that too many people are going to college.
In order to understand the argument of why too many people are going to college, it is first necessary to understand the purpose of higher education. In his argument, Murray identifies two reasons why higher education exists.
First, it is designed to enhance individuals as productive members of society: “Their object is not to make skillful lawyers, or physicians, or engineers, but capable and cultivated human beings” (Murray 2008). Taken from John Mill’s On Liberty, this quote essentially states that the purpose of education is to create a more holistic, well-rounded individual that will be a benefit to society.
Murray’s second reason for higher education is to create an avenue for individuals to gain knowledge about specific professions: “The two-year community college and online courses offer more flexible options for tailoring coursework to the real needs of the job” (Murray 2008). Therefore, the two primary reasons for attending an institution of higher learning are both positive. However, the question is not whether it is a good thing, but whether or not it is necessary.
According to Murray, while school is a good thing, too many people are attending school who simply do not need to: “If our young woman in the 80th percentile of linguistic ability, should she be pushed to do so? The answer is no. If she wants to, fine…Try to force her…and she will transfer to another school, because she is in college for vocational training” (Murray 2008).
There simply is no need to attend a four-year school when the additional level of liberal education will neither be enjoyed or needed. While these vocational workers are certainly capable of working hard for an education, it simply does them very little good in the long run.
The high level of academic work should be left for those who are interested in it, not the 65% who have a chance of doing moderately well in school: “Getting a liberal education consists of dealing with complex intellectual material day after day, and dealing with complex intellectual material is what students in the top few percentiles are really good at…For these students, doing it well is fun” (Murray 2008).
For everyone else, lower education should serve them with the same purpose. Obtaining a liberal education is important. The core knowledge that comes from any society is what holds that society together: “Full participation in any culture requires familiarity with a body of core knowledge” (Murray 2008).
However, this can adequately be obtained – if it is properly taught – by the eighth grade, making higher education a redundant experience with no substantial value. The individuals are already able to exist within society and forcing them to participate in a disliked experience will not improve them further.
This ties in to the fact that going to school to earn a living is also redundant: “For a student who wants to become a good hotel manager…four years of classwork is ridiculous” (Murray 2008). It just isn’t necessary in order to become a good professional, which is Murray’s second argument.
The third argument that Murray gives in his essay is that going to college just is not what it is made out to be, and often ends up costing in the long-run: “Reaping the economic payoff for college that shows up in ecometric analyses is a long shot for large numbers of young people” (Murray 2008).
The promise of college is that it leads to a stable, high-paying job, but this just isn’t the case. Rather, degrees are used as gate keepers by employers more than anything else: “Employers do not value what the student learned, just that the student has a degree” (Murray 2008).
There are many professions that require skill, certifications, and experience, and individuals who are good at what they do can earn more in the top of their field than they could at the bottom of a degreed field. Simply put, young people must do the math from a realistic perspective in order to determine the best decision for them.
Finally, Murray offers a counter argument, and that is that college offers more than just academics: “…but four years of college still give youngsters in late adolescence a chance to encounter different kinds of people, to discover new interests, and to decide what they want to make of their lives” (Murray 2008).
While this may be true, it simply doesn’t measure up to the waste of time, money, and expectations spent by the students, nor does it make up for the over saturation of college degrees in the workforce. The social aspects, while certainly different from other social arenas, can still be reasonably achieved elsewhere without having to pay the price and waste the time to get a degree.
Murray posits an excellent argument as to why there are too many people going to college. Based on three specific reasons: (1) not everyone who can absorb higher education needs higher education; (2) attending a four-year school is unnecessary to make a living; and (3) going to college simply is not all that it is made out to be, he develops solid reasoning as to why college is a meaningless redundancy for a large portion of students.
On top of that, it raises education expectations for the general population which does nothing but inflate the value of a degree. Even though the social experience may be unique, it is not enough to account for the waste of four years and a considerable amount of money that most people will waste. Therefore, there are too many people going to college.
Murray, Charles. “Are too many people going to college?” Retrieved from: http://www.aei.org/publication/are-too-many-people-going-to-college-2/
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