I really liked “Shut Up About Harvard”, a piece from FiveThirtyEight by Ben Casselman:
It’s college admissions season, which means it’s time once again for the annual flood of stories that badly misrepresent what higher education looks like for most American students — and skew the public debate over everything from student debt to the purpose of college in the process.
Here’s the reality: Most students never have to write a college entrance essay, pad a résumé or sweet-talk a potential letter-writer…. According to data from the Department of Education, more than three-quarters of U.S. undergraduates attend colleges that accept at least half their applicants….
“College,” in the mainstream media, seems to mean people in their late teens and early 20s living in dorms, going to parties, studying English (or maybe pre-med) and emerging four years later with a degree and an unpaid internship. But that image, never truly representative, is increasingly disconnected from reality. Nearly half of all college students attend community colleges; among those at four-year schools, nearly a quarter attend part time and about the same share are 25 or older. In total, less than a third of U.S. undergraduates are “traditional” students in the sense that they are full-time, degree-seeking students at primarily residential four-year colleges.
The people who write news stories about college, who make movies about college, represent a tiny minority of the reality of higher education, but they create our cultural image of higher education, so it doesn’t mirror reality. Casselman’s argument is that our focus on elite schools makes us miss the huge cuts happening to public colleges and universities and the crisis of many students being saddled with huge debts while being unable to complete their programs of study.
(Thanks to Tony Sindelar for the tip.)