Posted by: Discover Scholars | October 29, 2008

Too Many College Students?

As tuition costs continue to increase and college enrollment reaches an historic high, various commentators have argued that too many students are attending college in the United States (see further commentary here, here, and here). The common thread throughout these arguments, besides being aimed against government subsidies of higher education, is that a political focus on “access” has induced additional students to attend college. These pundits further argue that the influx of additional students has resulted in higher dropout rates and/or lower academic standards.

Cato’s Kevin Cary sums up the counterargument to these views:

The main benefit of a good college education: It teaches students not how to do but how to think in ways that are applicable across varied careers. And such skills are much more important to many more people now than they were eighty years ago. The future economy will hold vast numbers of jobs that have yet to be invented. The bachelor’s degree will qualify students to pursue all of them and graduate education besides, while a narrowly defined certificate, by definition, will not.

As we’ve mentioned in other contexts, each side makes persuasive points. We agree that increased government involvement often leads to a reduction in academic standards and increased tuition costs. However, we also agree that the future economy will be increasingly dynamic, and that it’s important for education to help students become flexible learners for their future jobs.

Ensuring that education effectively provides the skills for the current and future economy is important, but also difficult. As Michael Offerman points out:

There is no question that our higher education system is less than efficient in linking the number and types of graduates produced to job market needs.  And that is not an easy undertaking to solve.

While the undertaking is extremely complex, we believe that provides a crucial part of the solution. First, our venture helps make higher education more efficient, both at educating students and at providing a quality labor force to the economy. Since is driven by donor choice, we provide a means for donors to direct funds to students who are most likely to succeed and benefit, instead of those likely to drop out.

An important caveat to this point is that we give employers a logical reason to fund students in fields from which they anticipate drawing their employees. As Givewell’s Holden Karnofsky has explained, most of the time it makes little sense for corporations to give to charitable causes — doing so shifts resources from a company’s strength to things about which it knows comparatively little.

But imagine Apple and Microsoft’s charitable contributions funding the next generation of computer programmers, or Toyota and GM funding future engineers. Whereas corporations who currently give to higher education may be misguided, firms who fund students through could benefit their shareholders while also helping those in need.

Help us continue to grow:

Students: Apply today!

Donors: Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the students of your choice.


  1. […] higher education. The following analysis further explores some of the data that underlie the rise in tuition prices and increase in financial […]

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