Education Opinion

The ‘Aspirations-Attainment Gap’

By Walt Gardner — October 28, 2016 1 min read
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With the college application season now underway, it’s worthwhile taking a closer look at what researchers call the “aspirations-attainment gap” (“College Is the Goal. Will These Three Teenagers Get There?The New York Times, Oct. 26). It refers to the difference between students wanting to get a degree (aspiration) and actually receiving it (attainment).

The gap is largely the result of wildly overselling the importance of a bachelor’s degree. The reality is that not all students are college material, even though they have been repeatedly told that they are if they possess “grit.” I fail to understand how grit alone is enough to overcome deficits in academic ability. It takes a certain IQ to be able to do college-level work - or at least it used to until standards were lowered.

I maintain that young people are being fed a false message: No college degree means certain failure in life. But there are many unemployed or underemployed college graduates. Conversely, there are many high school graduates who learned a trade through vocational classes in high school or through community college who are making a steady living. (I’m not talking now about the satisfaction and pleasure that is given short shrift in the debate.)

It’s time to tell high school students the truth about a bachelor’s degree. Yes, it can enhance chances of landing a job in certain fields immediately after graduation, but a certificate can be even better in other fields. It all depends on one’s interests and aptitude.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.