College For All?

The backlash to college tends to be cyclical. But this latest iteration, in which pundits and politicians have questioned a supposed crusade for “college for all,” has been bolstered by the double whammy of a prolonged recession and a presidential election.

Many in higher education say the argument merely knocks down a straw man, because neither President Obama nor the powerful foundations leading the “completion agenda” have said that everyone should go to college; instead, they argue that everyone needs some postsecondary training, and that those who do go on to college should graduate at higher rates.

Also, often lost in the debate is the distinction of what, exactly constitutes “college.” Critics of “college for all” often focus entirely on degrees, particularly the bachelor's degree, and neglect to account for other credentials, like certificates, which Obama and co. have been careful to include in their completion push. To listen to some, one might think Obama and foundations want every American to attend a liberal arts college, a far-fetched idea nobody has proposed.

“College for all is a false premise. It’s not an argument anyone is making,” says Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation. “Taking time to defend against a false premise is not a good use of time.”

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