Too many students in college?

A debate rages as public universities lose money, and many students struggle to graduate and pay loans

As the recession forces states to slash budgets, many public universities are struggling. California, once considered a "utopia for higher education," is facing its biggest education cuts since the Great Depression, and one of its crown jewels -- Berkeley -- is plummeting in some rankings as top professors look elsewhere. At the same time, student debt is rising, and fewer students are managing to graduate in four years. The Chronicle of Higher Education, noting these trends, gathered experts to ask whether enrolling in a university is right for everyone. Are too many Americans going to college?

YES. Fewer people should go:

"Doing well (B average or better) in a traditional college major in the arts and sciences requires levels of linguistic and logical/mathematical ability that only 10 percent of the nation's youth possess. ... The four-year residential program leading to a B.A. is the wrong model for a large majority of young people." -- Charles Murray, political scientist, American Enterprise Institute

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"There is generally a negative relationship between state support for higher education and economic growth. Sending marginal students to four-year degree programs, only to drop out, is a waste of human and financial resources." -- Richard K. Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity

"We now send 70 percent of high-school graduates to college, up from 40 percent in 1970. ... Meanwhile, there's a shortage of tradespeople ... And you and I have a hard time getting a reliable plumber even if we're willing to pay $80 an hour -- more than many professors make." -- Marty Nemko, career counselor in Oakland, Calif.

NO. Everyone who wants should go:

"The evidence for the individual economic benefits of college is overwhelming. ... typical four-year-college graduates earn more than 50 percent above typical high-school graduates. ... Going to college is not a guaranteed investment ... But it is a wise investment." Sandy Baum, professor emerita of economics at Skidmore College

"With the disappearance of virtually all highly paid, low-skill jobs, the only way that most Americans can fulfill their aspirations for middle-class status is through acquiring a higher-education credential and the skills that go with it." -- Daniel Yankelovich, founder and chairman, Viewpoint Learning Inc.

"Blue-collar workers benefit nearly as much as white-collar workers from a year of college education. That is, going to college makes you a better plumber than you would have been otherwise. Why? One reason might be that college imparts nonacademic, social skills that can benefit blue-collar workers, who often must interact with customers and clients who are themselves college-educated." -- Marcus A. Winters, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute

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