On Whether Too Many People Are Going to College

Charles Murray (2017) did not mince words when he wrote, “It would be nice if everyone could acquire a fully formed liberal education, but they cannot” (p. 377). Murray (2017) further explains, “We are once again looking at the 20 percent tops, and probably closer to 10 percent, who have the academic ability necessary to cope with the stuff of a liberal education at the college level” (p. 377). However, we must question how Murray determines who belongs to the top 10 or 20 percent. Studies including Aguinis, Culpepper and Pierce (2016) and Bernal (1981) have reported on cultural bias in both college admission (e.g. SAT) and intelligence tests (e.g. IQ). Beyond standardized tests, we also must examine the complete flowchart of gatekeepers to post-high school education. Depending on the school district, testing and access to “advanced” curriculum begins as early as Kindergarten.

Courville and DeRouen (2009) reported, “It is well documented in the field of gifted education that minorities, namely African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, are underrepresented in gifted programs nationwide” (p. 3). Students who participate in advanced academic programs during K-12 education are essentially being groomed for college. For the remainder of students, the first official gatekeeper they will encounter is the SAT suite of tests. The PSAT can be taken as early as 8th grade, with an expectation that the SAT will be taken as early as 10th grade. The proliferation of SAT preparation courses seems to indicate that many students (and their parents) do not feel that a K-12 education is adequate preparation for the SAT and allows some students to be better prepared and therefore perhaps more successful than students whose only preparation is their K-12 education.

Access to counseling about post-high school options is another type of gatekeeper. The counselor-to-student ratio, which is determined by the district, and whether the counseling department offers any support at all, governs how much assistance a student (and their family) receives when making the critical decision about college or career. Next is the college admission boards, about which there is no shortage of news articles about lack of equity and corruption. While it may be true, as Murray (2017) claims, that many students who are accepted to colleges and universities are ill equipped to digest the content of academically rigorous coursework, it should be noted that the systems that create this predicament exist in the equity and access poor K-12 environment. Until we can say that all students receive an equitable and resource-rich K-12 education, we cannot say that any student has a purely natural aptitude for college education.

Murray (2017) somewhat cynically wrote, “College looms so large in the thinking of both parents and students because it is seen as the open sesame to a good job” (p. 382). Murray (2017) intended this statement to demonstrate a fallacy, that a college education does not necessarily guarantee a good job. I believe we need to give credence to the idea that, for parents who themselves did not go to college, the desire for their children to go to college may come from the impression that the members of the upper class in our society are nearly all college educated. It follows, therefore, that if a family seeks to achieve upward mobility in socioeconomic class, a sure path is to encourage and support the college education of their children. If what Murray says is true, that only 10 to 20 percent of the population is suited for college, it is because our society has created the conditions that make this so. We need to examine the systems that exist that create barriers and replace them with supports that will promote equity in preparation for and access to a college education. If we do not… we risk returning to a system of higher education that is dominated by the wealthy, the white, and the male.

Works Cited

Aguinis, H., Culpepper, S. A., & Pierce, C. A. (2016). Differential Prediction Generalization in College Admissions Testing. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(7), 1045–1059. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.spu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip&db=eric&AN=EJ1115464&site=ehost-live

Bernal, E. M. (1981). Intelligence Tests on Trial. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.spu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip&db=eric&AN=ED249295&site=ehost-live

Courville, K., & DeRouen, Z. (2009). Minority Bias in Identification and Assessment of Gifted Students: A Historical Perspective and Prospects for the Future. Online Submission. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.spu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip&db=eric&AN=ED507650&site=ehost-live

Murray, C. (2017). Chapter 28. Too Many People Are Going to College. In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Authors), The curriculum studies reader (pp. 369-393). New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

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