Should a College Diploma Be a Goal for All?

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To the Editor:Re “College Isn’t for Everyone,” by Oren Cass (Op-Ed, Dec. 12):I was somewhat saddened to read this Op-Ed, which seems to be saying that college is valuable only as it relates to earning power. Of course, having employment and making a decent living wage are important for everyone. But there’s more to college than that. Being exposed to somewhat higher levels of learning — a little literature, slightly advanced sciences, a dash of humanities — are equally important to earning power.I believe that every high school graduate should have free community college, at least. Some of them will go on to four-year colleges, some will go on to a job, some will probably drop out, but a lot of them will gain something they never experienced before.Looking back, I think my first two years of college opened more windows for me to a broader look at the world and my place in it than probably any other two years of my life. Let’s give everyone a chance to have at least a little of the brain-opening experience that college can be.Carol S. FrielCincinnatiTo the Editor:Oren Cass is absolutely correct that college is not for everyone. Over my 42 years of teaching undergraduates I estimate that at least a third of my students should not have been in college. Either they were not prepared academically, were too immature or were simply not suited for it. Mr. Cass’s idea of providing better options supported by vastly increased public funding would do these students far more good than failing or dropping out of college heavily burdened by debt.Colleges should award certificates for each year successfully completed so that students who leave after their first, second or third year have something to show for it. As it is now, they are viewed as failures and would have been better off never to have attended. Mr. Cass suggests a better option for them that deserves consideration.Martin RossBostonThe writer is professor emeritus of geology at Northeastern University.To the Editor:If we want to offer a genuine alternative-to-college plan, as Oren Cass argues for, we first need to know why so many students don’t make it to college or fail to graduate. I have found in my research that they are not college-ready because they have been failed by our tiered public education system, in which rich suburban districts fare much better than poorer urban and rural districts.Fix this pernicious structural system that reinforces inequalities and invest instead in college bridge programs like Upward Bound, which succeeds in giving underprivileged students a chance to learn the habits of mind, organizational skills and reading strategies necessary to make it in college. Do this right and more young people will thrive in college, regardless of the ZIP code they were born in.Pamela HollanderGrafton, Mass.The writer is an associate professor at Worcester State University and author of “Readiness Realities: Struggles and Successes During the Transition to College.”To the Editor:As a college professor who has struggled for 30 years to hold the interest of a great many students who didn’t really want to be in my class, I understand very well Oren Cass’s argument that young students not inclined to academic achievement should be offered a meaningful alternative to higher education.But as an American who has seen our political system dominated by a demagogue who loves the poorly educated, I think it is essential to teach all students the importance and the habits of critical thinking. It is a disaster for our country to be driven by the most poorly informed and easily led members of the electorate, and it testifies to serious failures of our educational system. Eric L. BittmanAmherst, Mass.To the Editor:Few, if any, parents who send their children to elite private schools do so with the expectation that they will not go on to college. These parents fully understand the economic advantages that a college degree confers and the social capital that the college experience helps to build.Why should this be any different for students from less privileged backgrounds? We have an obligation to ensure that every one of our children has the very same opportunities. And our expectation should be that all students, regardless of background or circumstance, graduate from high school prepared for success in college and with at least one acceptance letter in hand so that college is a genuine option for them.This is an equity issue, even more than an economic or social one.Richard StopolLong Island City, QueensThe writer is president of NYC Outward Bound Schools.