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College Is Not For All


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The American Conservative

The countless ceremonies playing out across America this month are called “commencements,” supposedly, because they celebrate not the conclusion of an education but rather the start of whatever comes next: after high school, heading away to college; after college, the exciting new life of a young 20-something pursuing a career. This is the pathway idealized in the American imagination, and the one we spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year to pave. Yet it is not one that most young people follow.

Having belatedly discovered this fiction, progressives are now demanding widespread forgiveness of the student debt many young people accumulated as they stumbled along and then off the path. But this too misunderstands the typical experience of young Americans and only reinforces the obsession with college students as the population to be served.

According to new data from American Compass’s “Failing on Purpose” survey of 2,000 young adults and parents, only one in eight young Americans aged 19 to 22 are enrolled in college more than one hour from home. By comparison, half are still living at home. Look further down the road, and only one in eight young Americans in their mid-to-late 20s have earned a degree, moved out of their parents’ house, and found work that they consider a “career” rather than “just a job.” One in four never went to college at all; one in four dropped out.

This reality has made little dent in America’s commitment to “college for all.” Under the twin banners of “equal opportunity” and “upward mobility,” we continue asking our public schools to identify the most academically talented children and prepare them for leafy academic enclaves, from whence they can be sorted into well-paying jobs in the globe’s most prosperous cities. In our zeal to optimize this system for extracting each diamond from the rough, we willfully neglect everyone else. :snip:

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