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College: Worth it, or worthless?

Is a college degree worthless? An article this week in New York magazine poses this question, which has generated lots of commentary and controversy in recent years, what with The Atlantic’s anonymous professor tell-all and a series of books (including one whose findings we detailed here).

New York magazine’s “The University Has No Clothes” is a vehicle for two anti-college pundits who have railed against the college industrial complex—as well as an opportunity to feature a photo of several nearly naked and very fit 20-somethings, in case the pundits’ contentious claims don’t draw sufficient attention.

That’s unlikely, however. In the education world, getting increasing numbers of young people to and through college is an Obama administration goal that has been embraced by everyone from union heads to charter-school leaders. But there is a brewing sense of crisis over what happens to young people once they arrive at college. As New York magazine points out, many students drop out, most leave with enormous amounts of debt, and those who do graduate are not always prepared to work in the real world.

Does this mean we should do away with college, or that college—like many have argued of K-12 education—is overdue for some major reforms?

This isn’t a question that is being asked only here in the United States. Around the world, countries that are competing with America for global preeminence are trying to figure out how to improve the skills of their future workforces. Most have decided that college is indeed worth it. At the same time, what the “college experience” actually entails is changing—sometimes radically.

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