And now, we'll hear something from the other side

An English professor argues against adult higher education.  Hmmmm.  The Center for Law and Social Policy, noting a national decline in the number of high school graduates, advocates for more adult college graduates to meet the country's workforce and economic needs in The Economic Imperative for More Adults to Complete College.  Frank Donoghue, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, disagrees with the report. He questions if adding more adult students is the best answer.  He notes that it's hard for adults to finish their degree.  Hence, many don't.  And finally, he notes, that "adult higher education feeds the for-profit machine." I'm afraid he loses me on this last point. Unless we outlaw for-profits or forbid adults to pursue higher education, it's hard to see how the fact that adults are currently voting with their feet to attend for-profits is relevant to his argument against more adult college students. Wouldn't it make more sense to make non-profit higher education more accommodating and attractive to adult and non-traditional students and starve the for-profits to death?  Wouldn't it make more sense to offer incentives for colleges and universities to improve their graduation rates?  Wouldn't in make more sense to offer better financial aid opportunities to adults to help offset debt?  If you're a critic of for-profits, which I take Dr. Donoghue to be, doing those things would limit their influence. 

I've linked to part of his essay below.  I'd call attention to a sentence in the first paragraph: "First, the notion that all Americans are entitled to a college education, regardless of their level of preparation, the degree of their intellectual curiosity, and, most basically, their ability to afford increasing tuitions, is increasingly unreasonable." I think if we held traditional students to those three standards, we'd find few of them in any of our institutions.  Especially the last, since financial need is why we created financial aid and Pell Grants and even the G.I. Bill.

More Adult College Students: A Frightening Proposal
It’s a simple demographic argument: Fewer high-school graduates mean fewer traditional college students. But the causes of my anxiety are threefold. First, the notion that all Americans are entitled to a college education, regardless of their level of preparation, the degree of their intellectual curiosity, and, most basically, their ability to afford increasing tuitions, is increasingly unreasonable. It rests on an uncritically accepted assumption, an odd amalgam of American exceptionalism and the delusion that the United States doesn’t have a markedly distinct class system.

Just because there will be fewer traditional-aged college students in the coming years, must we make up the shortfall by populating colleges with adult students? Must everyone go to college in order for us to compete in the global economy? India and China certainly don’t take that position.

Second, the report calls for adult college students to finish their degrees. Across the board, the U.S. college-graduation rate currently stands at about 50 percent, according to The New York Times. Among other wealthy nations, only Italy has a lower graduation rate. That statistic is appalling enough, but further details are even worse: just 20 percent of first-time students at public community colleges get a degree or certificate within three years.
Non-traditional students, however one defines them (with a partner, with children, with full-time jobs), can, I imagine, only face even tougher odds. So the exhortation that we send more adults to college rings hollow, since it’s so clear that very few of them will actually complete a degree program and therefore put themselves in a position for a good job in the new global economy. And many of those who don’t complete their degrees will find themselves in the worst possible economic crunch—they’ll essentially be high-school graduates with unaffordable amounts of debt racked up while they were in college.

Finally (a hobbyhorse of mine you may have come to see regularly), adult higher education feeds the for-profit machine. I’m hardly against people in the 25 and up age category going to college—it’s admirable, and in some cases even inspiring. The fact is, though, that traditional colleges and universities aren’t set up to deal with an influx of non-traditonal [sic] students, but for-profit higher-education companies are, and always have been.


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