Wednesday, December 3, 2014

It is madness to borrow money for six years to get a four-year college degree

Complete College America, a nonprofit public advocacy group located in Indianapolis, issued a report recently entitled Four-Year Myth. The report starkly documents what everyone in higher education already knows: The vast majority of college students do not complete their four-year degrees in four years.

Here are some of the report's key findings:
  • Only 5 percent of students in two-year associate degree programs graduate on time.
  • Only 19 percent of students in four-year programs at non-flagship universities obtain their degrees within four years.
  • At flagship institutions, where the nation's top students attend college, only 36 percent of the students complete their four-year degrees on time.
Moreover, the report points out, a lot of students accumulated significantly more credit hours than they need to graduate.  On average, students at non-flagship institutions have 133 credits on their transcripts although most need only about 120 credit hours to graduate.

The report acknowledges that there are many good reasons why many students cannot graduate on time.  Nevertheless, as the report succinctly stated, "[S]omething is clearly wrong when the overwhelming majority of public colleges graduate less than 50 percent of their full-time students in four years."

The report lists several reasons for the low on-time graduation rates at most public colleges and universities:
  • Lighter course loads.  Many students don't take enough credits while in school to graduate on time.  A full course load at most colleges is 15 credit hours per semester, but only 50 percent of the students at four-year institutions take a full course load.  Only 29 percent of students in two-year programs take full course loads.
  • Remediation courses.  According to the report, 1.7 million students take remediation courses each year but only 1 out of 10 remedial students graduate.
  • Uninformed choices.  Too many students make poor choices when enrolling for classes, which causes them to take courses that won't move them toward on-time graduation.  Part of this problem can be attributed to an inadequate number of counselors at many universities.
/As Four-Year Myth points out, students who take six years to obtain a four-year degree often have significantly more student-loan debt than students who graduate on time.  At the University of Texas, for example, students who graduate on time accumulate on average about $19,000 in debt. Students who take six years to graduate are burdened (on average) with $32,000 in student loans.

Four-Year Myth is a very useful report, but in my mind, it did not place enough emphasis on the role that student loans play in the downward slide of on-time graduation rates.  I believe a lot of unmotivated students are taking just enough credit hours to qualify for student loans without realizing that they are accumulating a lot of unnecessary debt by taking a more leisurely path toward graduation. When a mandatory course is unavailable to them in a given semester, some of them will enroll in an unnecessary course solely to meet the minimum number of hours they need to qualify for student loans.

The report makes several good suggestions for improving on-time graduation rates, which I will not repeat here. But I would like to add an additional suggestion: The federal student loan program should only be available to a student for a maximum of four years of full time study.  Thus, students in four-year programs who take six years to graduate or students who take longer than four years to graduate because they changed colleges or changed majors should be required to pay the cost for delayed graduation out of their own pockets if those costs exceed the cost of being enrolled full time for four years.

Call it tough love if you like. But the federal government is doing America's young people no favor by allowing them to borrow money semester after semester while they wander around colleges and universities for five, six, or seven years when they are enrolled in four-year degree programs.

And we should pay special attention to one of the report's most shocking findings: Only 5 percent of students enrolled in two-year associate degree programs graduate on time.  Our community colleges, which purport to serve disadvantaged students, have fallen down on the job if they cant' get their on-time graduation rates above five percent.


Four-Year Myth. Complete College America, 2014. Accessible at: file:///C:/Users/wrf7707/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/Temporary%20Internet%20Files/Content.IE5/9UM6POWU/4-Year-Myth.pdf

Tamar Lewin. Most Don't Earn Degree in Four Years, Study Finds.New York Times, December 2, 2014, p. A14. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Friends don't let friends go to college in Boston

The New York Times ran a front-page story recently about what it called Edgar Allan Poe's "love-hate relationship with the city of Boston."  Actually, based on what the Times article reported, it doesn't appear that Poe had any love for Boston at all.

Edgar Allan Poe
Bostonians have no soul
According to the Times, "Poe sneered at the city's luminaries," whom he referred to as "Frogpondians"because to Poe's ears, the "moralistic works" of Boston's literary elites sounded "like the croaking of so many frogs."  Poe concluded, rightly I believe, that Bostonians "have no soul," although he conceded that they were "well bred--as very dull persons very generally are."

I gather that Poe's main beef with Boston was that many of its literary figures were "didactic."  In other words, Boston's literati tended to be preachy and self righteous.

Poe is not the only literary figure to disparage Boston. In Mr. Blue, Myles Connolly's deeply Catholic novella about a modern-day St. Francis, the book' narrator makes this observation: "The site of the gold dome of the statehouse above the white trees of [Boston] Common almost made me forget what an incoherent, clique-ridden, unproductive settlement Boston is."

Of course, Poe and Connolly's criticisms are dated. Maybe the city has changed from the way it was when Poe and Connolly were alive.  I don't think so. Just a  year ago, Joe Keohane  summarized the popular view of the city in just a few sentences:
For as long as there’s been a Boston, people have hated Boston. The reasons have been impressively consistent across the past two centuries. Bostonians are smug, puritanical, inhospitable, racist and/or pinko, and hopelessly blinkered and insular, and they go about all this in a manner that makes it next to impossible to tell if they’re suffering from the world’s worst inferiority complex or the world’s most gigantic superiority complex (in reality, probably both at once).
And Keohane quotes Drew Magary, who sums up the city of Boston even more succinctly: “People from Boston labor under the mistaken belief that being a relentlessly cynical asshole makes you tough. Endearing, even. They believe their deliberate misery makes them harder and deeper than you.  It’s all BULLSHIT…. "

I agree with all these criticisms of  Boston; and having lived for a few years in the Boston area, I can tell you that they're all true.  And every flaw in Boston's culture is magnified ten times in the city's colleges and universities, which are more common than liquor stores. Indeed, the academic class that infests Boston's higher education institutions makes up the most insufferable segment of Boston's provincial, condescending and arrogant culture.

All across the United States, people foolishly believe that institutions like Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, and a  dozen or so other elite New England universities provide the best quality post-secondary education that money can buy; and hundreds of thousands of young people apply to these institutions every year. They are even willing to borrow large sums of money to finance their studies.

But the elite colleges are empty, hollow, and vain institutions, lacking in all values except the postmodern notion that life is to be lived in the pursuit of fame, wealth, and self-gratification. People should be running as fast as they can from these places instead of clamoring to be admitted.

And Boston, crammed to the gunwales with snooty colleges and universities, is the epicenter of all this. Elitist, self-righteous and preachy, the Boston academic scene represent all that is wrong with American higher education.

And in case you think I am nothing more than an anti-intellectual curmudgeon, I invite you to do a Google search for the words "hate Boston"  (in quotes). You will get more than 31,000 hits.


Connolly, Myles (1928). Mr.Blue. Chicago: Loyola Press, 1928.

Seelye, Katharine Q. Edgar Allan Poes' Feud With Boston? Nevermore. New York Times, October 5, 2014, p. 1.

Keohane, Joe. The Burn is Back. Boston Magazine, October 31, 2013.  Accessibel at

Monday, December 1, 2014

If you have the right credentials, it's not hard to get into an elite college. But why would you want to do that?

All across America, middle class high-school students are sweating over college applications. If only I can get into an elite college, young people tell themselves, I will make the right connections, get in the right graduate school, marry the right person, and become wealthy.  In short, a lot of high-school students are telling themselves that their lives will be better if they attend a fancy school back east than if they go to the nearby state university.

They shouldn't worry so much. If they have the right credentials--beginning with a very high SAT or ACT score, they are most certainly going to get into a prestigious college. That is the message that Kevin Carey delivered in a recent New York Times essay.  According to Carey, 80 percent of applicants with combined SAT scores of at least 1300 or above and who applied at several institutions will get into at least one elite college.

As Carey explained:
Since there has never been a time when 100 percent of well-qualified students were successful in the college admissions market, the truism that elite colleges are far more difficult to crack than in years gone by can't be correct: 80 percent is too close, mathematically, to nearly everyone.
It's true of course that admission rates at elite colleges have been heading downward, but that is largely because more people are applying to the top-tier schools.  Many applicants will be winnowed out after only a quick glance by pitiless admissions officials. But the applicants with high SAT scores and at least one other attractive attribute (musical talent, outstanding athlete, minority status, etc.) will likely get in somewhere.

What does the perfect Ivy League applicant look like? Meet Kwasi Enin, who received acceptance letters from all eight Ivy League colleges.  That's right: Kwasi was admitted to Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia, Penn, Cornell, and Princeton. He scored in the 96th percentile on his SAT, plays three musical instruments, threw the shot put on his high school track team, and volunteered at a hospital. Kwasi's achievements are remarkable, especially when one considers that he is a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Ghana.

You may not have all the attractive attributes that Kwasi Enin has; but if you have some of them--starting with a very high SAT score--you are likely to be accepted by at least one top-tier college.

Nevertheless, before you decide to go to an elite American college, you should ask yourself two questions:

How will I pay for my elite college education?

 First, you should ask yourself how you plan to pay for the privilege of attending an elite college.  Ivy League schools now charge around $50,000 a year for tuition, room and board.  It is true that the actual price is often a lot less than the sticker price. You might be offered a financial aid package that will reduce your costs substantially. But unless you have credentials like Kwasi Enin, you are probably going to take out some loans to attend Ivy League U.

So before you say yes to an admissions offer at a fancy East Coast school, ask yourself how much debt you are willing to assume for the right to wear a Dartmouth sweatshirt.  How will you manage a debt load of say $100,000 if you don't get a good job after you graduate or if you go on to graduate school and take on even more debt?

Do I want to become the kind of person that elite schools are producing?

Second, ask yourself an even more important question. Do you want to become the kind of person that our nation's elitist institutions are turning out? Without question, most of the people who teach in  our nation's most prestigious colleges are postmodernists. In other words, they are relativists and secularists. Most professors and administrators who populate our top-tier universities believe there are no ultimate human values and that all values are shaped by self interest or by race, class, and gender. And most of the people who work in our elite colleges are atheists.

Of course it is possible to be an atheist and still care deeply about other people. In fact, most atheistic academics will make that claim. Many prefer to call themselves humanists rather than atheists because the word humanist conjures up a picture of a warm and caring person.  But in my experience, most of the people who don't believe in God are materialists. After all, one has to believe in something in order to avoid nihilism; and a great many atheists have made material things their god.

In addition, I have observed that most postmodernist academicians have another characteristic--they are disdainful of people with traditional American values. Having embraced materialism, atheism and relativism, many postmodernists are contemptuous of  ordinary Americans.

MIT professor Jonathan Gruber is a prime example of elite-college arrogance. He bragged publicly that the Affordable Care Act that he helped design only passed Congress because the American people were too stupid to realize what the law would cost them.

As for the secularist leanings of the nation's most prestigious colleges, it is no accident that some of our most elite institutions have driven Christian student groups off campus even as they appoint atheist chaplains.  That's right--some of our most exclusive and expensive colleges--Harvard, Stanford, and Tufts, for example--have atheist chaplains.  They aren't called atheists, of course; that would be too transparent. Most of these folks call themselves "humanist chaplains." You should check it out. The Harvard humanist chaplain, Greg Epstein, and his Stanford counterpart, John Figdor, have both written books that promote atheism.

So here's the bottom line. Before enrolling in a prestigious and expensive private college, come to terms with two realities: First, you will probably have to borrow a lot of money to get an elite-college degree. Second, you will spend at least four years immersed in an arrogant and materialistic postmodern culture that has rejected religion and is disdainful of traditional American values.

If you accept these two realities and still want to to attend an elitist private college, I say go for it.  

Greg Epstein: Good Without God at Harvard

Lex Bayer & John Figdor.  Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the 21st Century. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Kevin Carey. The Truth Behind College Admission. New York Times, Sunday Review Section, p. 2.

Frank Eltman. Suburban NY Student Picks Yale Among All 8 Ivies. Huffington Post, April 30, 2014. Accessible at:

Greg Epstein. Good Without God: What A Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe.   New York: Harper Collins, 2009.

Martha Ross. Making case for atheism's friendlier, humanist face. Baton Rouge Advocate, November 29, 2014.