Regarding college enrollment, there seems to be a growing trend. Perhaps we should call it a shrinking trend because fewer students are going to college. From 2008 to 2013, the percentage of students enrolling into college went from 69% to 66%.

From fall 2015 to fall 2017, the total percentage points has fallen 4.3% (about 500,000 students).

Image from National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

If that’s news to you, then you’re in good company. It was news to me. After conducting a thorough investigation into the student loan debt crisis last year, I noticed the exponential debt increase year-over-year. It led me to believe that more students were attending college. This is not the case. College is simply getting more expensive (that’s not news to anyone).

These enrollment numbers show that the idea that everyone is going to college is far from true. It also proves that the sentiment that everyone should go to college isn’t getting through, which is a good thing.

Is going to college a bad idea? Yes. For far too many Americans, the answer is an absolute yes.

I’m certain plenty are decrying this statement and covering the eyes of their children. But if anyone should read this, it should be those children and those parents.


For too many kids, college has become a crutch they believe they can lean on forever, when in fact they might be able to lean on it throughout the duration of their college tenure (about four or five years—a far cry from forever).

Many high school students think they simply need to get out of high school and go to college, rather than focus on becoming smart while in high school and then possibly going to college. There is a sentiment that college is where the learning really takes place. But if students are graduating from high school, having shown little to no interest in learning, then college won’t remedy that. College does not create a desire for learning; it just offers students more classes to sleep through, skip, or fail, but with a high price tag attached to it.


The requirement for learning starts very young. Very young. If kids are only starting to learn when they arrive in kindergarten or first grade, then they are way behind the rest of the students who started beforehand and no amount of federal programs, like No Child Left Behind, is going to help the situation. It is a disjointed system that enters every classroom and anyone who thinks it will help to demand more from the teachers is only fooling themselves.


Think of it this way:

A child of six (we’ll call him Johnny) walks onto the baseball field to play T-ball. Johnny has never played before. He has never thrown a ball, much less picked one up. He’s never held a bat. He doesn’t even know which way to run once he knocks the ball off the tee. The other kids have been playing baseball for the past year. They know how to throw, catch and hit (at least at the T-ball level). Just because Johnny is on the field with the other kids, doesn’t mean he is at their level. Out of the kindness of the coach’s heart, Johnny may receive an extra 10 to 15 minutes of practice with the coach. By the end of the season, Johnny might just be at the level of where the other kids had been at the start of the season. The other kids, however, are still ahead. Quite ahead. But let’s say that Johnny loves baseball now. He wants to play every year and he wants to be just as good as or better than the other kids. He will have to work harder and longer than the others in order to catch up, but he can catch up depending on how much time he is willing to put in. But that’s a lot to ask of little Johnny.

This scenario is no different than what happens in education with children entering kindergarten or first grade. Yes, the child will be able to catch up. But he or she will have to work harder and longer than the other kids. Oh, and it would be extremely helpful if that student loved learning, which is quite a lot to ask of that kid.


The difference between these two scenarios is that we don’t demand that the coach make the other kids compete at the level of little Johnny. Teachers in the school system, however, are required to do so, which means the children who had been learning during the previous year must have their pace of learning slowed in order to allow the little Johnnies of the world to catch up.

This may be why college readiness for high school seniors continues to decline. The most recent numbers in The Nation’s Report Card of 2015 from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that 37% of seniors are ready for college reading and only 25% are ready for college math (don’t even get me started with the 12% for US history). Both of those numbers are 1% lower respectively than the previous report of 2013 (I’m afraid to see what the 2017 report will indicate when it comes out). To be forthright, that 37% and 25% of students are considered “proficient,” which means the student is only “likely” to be successful in the next grade.

BUT in the event that a student doesn’t fall in love with learning and doesn’t catch up (which is a large percentage of students—38% in math and 28% in reading are below the “basic” level), why should they consider college? It would simply be a repeat of entering kindergarten or first grade. They would enter way behind the rest of the students (at least those not at their level). The difference is college isn’t nearly as forgiving nor do they have egregious federal education policies requiring professors to dramatically increase the learning curve. It would seem that this would be a poor investment of a student’s time.


Think of it this way:

Little Johnny has now grown up and he put all of his effort into baseball. It was fun while it lasted, but it didn’t pan out how he dreamed. He lives a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle. He doesn’t know what a credit score is, nor does he know that he has one. But he wants a house. He has dreamed of owning a house since he was a kid. Johnny is told he should go to the bank and apply for a loan to get a house. He goes to the bank. The bank gives him a loan. Johnny buys his house. Unfortunately, Johnny really can’t afford this house. He begins missing payments just to put food on the table and gas in his car. He realizes that he will have to foreclose on his house. And so the bank takes his home away.

This scenario, much like Johnny wanting to play baseball, is hypothetical, but it is based in reality. The Great Recession of 2007-08 was caused by loans being given to people who could not afford them. They were uneducated in finance. Their credit scores were poor.


This scenario is no different than poorly educated students going to college. These students are provided loans. They finish college or drop out. On average, they are stacked with about $40,000 in debt and a piece of paper with theirs and the school’s names on it. But really they didn’t learn much because most of their time was spent struggling to catch up. Then they realize that, much like the housing market before the Great Recession, the job market is oversaturated with applicants waving their degrees. They can’t get a good paying job because someone with a degree from a better school keeps getting the job they want. That would be the person who cared about learning in high school, and most likely started on the right foot in the beginning. Few students understand that the competition continues at a higher level after college.


Many students view college as something that is still under the guise of “free” and that it is something that will be paid off in the far future (adults understand how fast years go by). Unfortunately, the high cost of college is rarely the incentive necessary to compete and do well.

The fact that college is a given, if only they can get out of high school, transcends to career goals. There is the false notion that a good job is guaranteed, if only they can get their degree. The sad truth is that students are guaranteed to go to college if they have their diploma or GED because they are guaranteed a federal student loan. It’s using the Woody Allen logic that “80% of success is just showing up.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate to college, despite the fact it does in secondary school (as well as applying for a federal loan).


If you want to go to college, then start working toward it now. If you think your kid should go to college, then start demanding they get smart now. Before they enter kindergarten or first grade, start teaching them to read and do math (and maybe even learn some history). Don’t let your kid be a Johnny.

I hear parents so often talk about saving money for their kids to go to college. For what? What’s the point of going if they aren’t ready?

If you are one of those kids in high school who knows they aren’t ready and your tests prove that you aren’t, then do one of two things: don’t go, or prepare to go. Regarding the latter, you should start learning things you decided not to take the time to learn while in school. Get on YouTube or visit some math, English, literature, and spelling websites. Go to the library. There are tons of free online classes. To an extent, the very idea of public education is obsolete. There is way more knowledge to get outside of school rather than inside it (but that’s a topic for a different day).

If you are going to lean on anything, lean on knowledge, not just on the mere idea of going to college.

P.S. – It seems that colleges are more apt to give students A’s than ever before; and we all know it’s not because they are smarter than ever before. The numbers have proven that point. Check out the #6 link in the sources below to see how colleges look to be skewing grades.