Stop saying ‘college isn’t for everyone’

Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash

A troubling statement has worked its way into our mainstream political discourse recently: “College isn’t for everyone.”

The growing prevalence of this expression came as a surprise to me. After all, the promise of higher education has been a central precept of American life since World War II. It is what drew my parents to the United States, and in my household, like in those of so many immigrant families, college is synonymous with opportunity. So what changed?


In my conversations with those who hold this belief, it inevitably turns out that not only did they themselves go to college, but they also intend for their children to do the same. This response leads me to ask: If college was for you and for your children, who is it not for? I ask because as a cancer-surviving, fully blind Iranian-American from a mixed-religion immigrant family, there were many who doubted I was “college material.”

It is elitist to suggest that some students are not destined for learning beyond high school.

But college was for me, as were graduate school and law school. What allowed me to access those educational opportunities was a combination of growing up in an environment with parents and teachers who saw my potential and encouraged me, and having the resources to pursue the goals on which I set my sights. This environment—this college-going culture—is what we need to create for every student. It is a matter of economic reality and social justice.

Americans with a bachelor’s degree will, on average, earn twice as much as their high school graduate peers over the course of a lifetime. What’s more, jobs that require only a high school diploma have been steadily disappearing over the last 30 years, a trend that has accelerated since the 2008 financial crisis.

In a 2016 report the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found that of the 7.2 million jobs lost in the recession, 78 percent required a high school diploma, and of the 11.6 million jobs created since, over 99 percent have gone to workers with a college education. The jobs created during the recovery are not the same jobs that were destroyed in the recession. Accordingly, they require different skills, including communication, critical thinking and analytical reasoning. These hallmarks of a college education are the best safeguards against the disruptive forces of globalization and automation. A failure to expand access to higher education will widen the gap between the fortunate few and the disenfranchised many.

Some say it’s elitist to point this out. On the contrary, it is elitist to suggest that some students are not destined for learning beyond high school, particularly when the students who are most often dismissed as “not college material” are students of color, students with disabilities, and students from rural and impoverished areas. Instead, policymakers should afford every American the same educational opportunities we want for our own children.

A failure to expand access to higher education will widen the gap between the fortunate few and the disenfranchised many.

Now, does this mean that every student needs to spend four years studying existential philosophy in some ivy-covered quadrangle? Absolutely not. College degrees should run the gamut from traditional liberal arts programs to more applied technical subject areas. But in order to effectively prepare students for a rapidly changing labor market, post-secondary learning needs to offer more than narrow vocational training in a technical craft.

We must expand the college-going culture. We must instill in kids, at at early age, the belief that they can and will go to college. High schools should increase dual-credit opportunities such as Running Start, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate to allow students to build momentum and earn college credit while in high school and save money later. Governments must make the financial aid system more comprehensible in the near term and make long-term investments in need-based tuition assistance. Colleges should create more high-quality online degree programs so that working adults who must balance employment demands, child care needs and transportation challenges can complete a degree. And we should reward colleges not based on how selective they are, but rather on how successfully they admit and educate those who are the first in their families to attend college.

At a time when economic inequality threatens to leave an entire generation of Americans behind, we must reject the outdated idea that “college isn’t for everyone” and work urgently to prove that just the opposite is true.

J Cosgrove
1 week 1 day ago

One of the more out of touch headlines yet. I routinely run into people making over $100,000 a year who never went to college and who are quite happy. Try finding a good plumber or electrician in many areas. The experienced ones make over $70 per hour. Do the math. They have a respectable living and are contributing.

Elaine Boyle
6 days 16 hours ago

Colleges today offer too many non-professional degrees. These children end up being indoctrinated with SJW ideology, anti-white racism, and secular disbelief in a Divine Creator. Throw in all the partying and normalized sex perversion and then load it all up with DEBT. Lol. It's not for everybody, or it shouldn't be.

A Fielder
1 week 1 day ago

The author believes it "is elitist to suggest that some students are not destined for learning beyond high school." I would argue instead that it is quite naive to think that the only learning beyond high school is in college. Like many European nations have done successfully, our country should invest in more robust training programs for the skilled trades. Carpenters, electricians, plumbers, machinists, and so on can make a very good living. Mr Habib, who built your house? Would you prefer an outhouse to indoor plumbing? When your car or washing machine breaks down, who fixes it? The people who do this work are an important part of our community and our economy.

J Cosgrove
1 week 1 day ago

I stood by a fellow yesterday at a hockey game who was watching his son playing in a tournament. He was excitedly telling another parent about his blue collar job as an equipment operator. There was real pride in his voice as he described his new assignment with an even more complicated piece of equipment. No one should denigrate this.

Stanley Kopacz
5 days 18 hours ago

Would you want your daughter to marry this guy?

Eric Collins
1 week 1 day ago

Jesus was a carpenter. Carpenters don’t go to college.

Jeffrey More
1 week 1 day ago

I wholeheartedly agree with the comments on this ludicrous article. College is most definitely NOT for everyone, and this fact in no way denigrates anyone who would find it fulfilling to pursue learning a trade. We do not need more people going to college - we need to encourage more young people to pursue things that will make them happy and fulfilled, and if that is plumbing, woodworking, auto mechanics, or such, good for them.

Harvey Milk, MD
1 week 1 day ago

Cyrus Habib has been blind since the age of 8. We need more heroes like Mr. Habibi. Truly breathtaking man and he does well to inspire others to great heights

"Habib was born in Baltimore County, Maryland, to parents who had previously immigrated to the U.S. from Iran.[2] A three-time cancer survivor, he lost his eyesight and became fully blind at age eight.[3] Shortly afterwards, his family moved to Bellevue, Washington, where Habib graduated from the Bellevue International School in 1999.[4]

Habib is a Rhodes Scholar, a Truman Scholar, and a Soros Fellow. He received his B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. He studied with leading cultural theorists Jacques Derrida, Edward Said, and Gayatri Spivak.[5] While an undergraduate, Habib worked in the New York City office of then Senator Hillary Clinton.[6]

Habib obtained a Master of Letters in English Literature from St John's College at the University of Oxford, where he was an active member of the Oxford Union,[7] and wrote his masters thesis on Ralph Ellison and Salman Rushdie.[8]

Habib then received a law degree from Yale Law School, where he served as an editor of the school's flagship law review, the Yale Law Journal, and was mentored and influenced by Judge Guido Calabresi and Professors Akhil Amar and Harold Koh.[9] While at Yale, Habib was a member of the university's exclusive Grand Strategy program, led by John Lewis Gaddis, Charles Hill, and Paul Kennedy." - Wiki

John Stepaniak
6 days 10 hours ago

No, college is not for everyone. There is a glut of liberal arts degrees in the United States, yet tens of thousands of students every year accumulate unsustainable student debt pursuing degrees of increasingly dubious value. My hope for my son is that he becomes a Machinist.

John Stepaniak
6 days 10 hours ago

No, college is not for everyone. There is a glut of liberal arts degrees in the United States, yet tens of thousands of students every year accumulate unsustainable student debt pursuing degrees of increasingly dubious value. My hope for my son is that he becomes a Machinist.

Chris Christenson
1 week 1 day ago

College requires considerable intelligence, commitment, and focus.
College would seem to be difficult and expensive for those who are challenged in any of these requirements. Further, college is expensive.
Given the cost and probability of success, good counselors should facilitate
the optimal path for each student. All should have the opportunity to
follow the path that enables them to succeed as much as they can.
All can be good people, loving, caring and serving God and their communities.

Esperanza Y Paz
1 week 1 day ago

Dear Lieutenant Governor Habib - I respectfully disagree, as do most of the commenters here. College is not for everyone! To wit my nephew, a fine young man, pushed unmercifully by his father towards college and university, with tutoring lessons galore, extra summer sessions, still just barely scraping by, an unhappy lad, yet one who even as a boy could put together my IKEA purchases with ease and in a jiffy. It took much persistence and persuasiveness to finally get my brother-in-law to relent and let him do an apprenticeship and attend trade school. He became a fine carpenter and is now a happy young man who is putting his God-given talent to work with joy and with passion, No, Lieutenant Governor, college is not for everyone! Learning, education, acquiring skills is for everyone - be it in social services, hospitality, trade, manufacturing, industry, wherever - and yes, for some even in college!

Will Niermeyer
1 week 1 day ago

Please now. As a retired teacher I can truthfully say that college is not for everybody. Let's be fair. Those who cannot do college work are not being put down by any means.

Tim Donovan
1 week ago

I felt fortunate that with a loan, by living at home with my parents, and by working part-time that I was able to graduate from college in 1989 with a degree in Education, and became a Special Education teacher who instructed children with brain damage, physical disabilities and/or behavior disorders. I agree that college is beneficial, not only because it often results in a greater income for the individual, but because it can encourage curiosity and exposure to a wide variety of ideas. I chose Sociology as my elective, and while I found it to be difficult in some respects and not especially relevant to my degree (or necessarily relevant to my daily life) I enjoyed the course material very much, as it broadened my knowledge). However, (and I hesitate to say this, as I believe I benefited both financially and in terms of general knowledge) I don't think college is for everyone. Although people with physical disabilities can (and are required by law to) have adapted learning environments that make it possible for them to attend college, which I absolutely support and encourage, people with severe or even moderate brain damage simply don't have the intellectual skills to acquire college level knowledge. I may be wrong, but I suspect that people with certain severe mental illnesses such as paranoid schizophrenia wouldn't be able to complete college. Finally, although I believe college is a very useful experience, I believe that some people (including among others, plumbers, electricians, and carpenters) do very well financially without a college education. My brother-in-law didn't attend college but graduated from high school and earns a very good salary as a train engineer. He's intelligent, and is a loving father , husband, friend and good member of our family. So, while I am very glad I graduated from college, and was very happy as a teacher (now retired), I believe that while college is increasingly necessary in our nation and beneficial not only in terms of (generally) higher incomes and expanded knowledge, that one can support oneself and be happy in life without a college education. My Dad was a college graduate, very intelligent and well-read, a loving husband, father, brother and good Catholic who practiced our faith and was very charitable, but unfortunately, although he worked hard, didn't like his job.

Phillip Stone
1 week 1 day ago

Smelled a rat, did some research.

This bloke is a new New Deal politician.
He is a Catholic, no idea whether notional or committed.
He is part of a group trying to offer a New Deal to voters.

Big government,

Worthwhile posting a reminder, FDR's New Deal was a damaging disaster, some other bunch offering a new New Deal are bound to be deluded about government and money.
Karl Marx is reputed to have been a Catholic too: Jesus is not a Marxist. Catholicism is not Marxism at prayer.

Phillip Stone
1 week 1 day ago

Now to address the stark nonsense of the headline.
A significant number of people cannot read or write and continue in this lack for life despite the most expert of teachers, tutors and educational resources. Many of these have average IQ.

Anybody with IQ lower than 86 are utterly useless for each, all and every job in the military - all recruiters are forbidden to recruit anyone with this IQ or lower as they have decades of experience which shows that it costs them more to get any job done than the work gains through their assignment to it.

Then there are artisans and artists, hands on experience repeated under tutelage of master craftsmen used to be called apprenticeship and impossible to substitute by institutional lessons.

Animal husbandry, stock breeding, agriculture and fishing likewise.

Arrant nonsense - partisan political propaganda

Shayne LaBudda
1 week 1 day ago

Not all, but some/most of the comments apply a utilitarian view of education; what earning power do I get for my expenditure? Good luck with that approach to living. It’s the same money-focus that is poisoning every other aspect of life in the US. Everything is commodified, including our very lives as consumers. God forbid someone pursue education for the sake of education, to explore and better understand the world and try to get a slight grasp on its richness. And don’t tell me that can easily be done without a university education; I’ve met very few people that have the curiosity and focus to self-educate themselves beyond what size snowmobile they’re gonna get next year. It’s an investment in your self, your whole life, and to reduce it to earning power is tragic. If someone has the chance to enrich themselves thus, then do it.

Ann Reid
1 week 1 day ago

I’m not finding most of the responses here to be “brief” or “charitable” or even staying “on topic”. Rather, many posters have gleefully used the writer’s politics or actual point of view to justify their own biases, rather than considering WHAT HE HAS ACTUALLY SAID.
I came from the bluest of the blue color families, and was the first of them to receive a college degree, and remain to this day, the first to earn a fellowship and a Master’s degree as well.
I then spent many years working in schools which produce the sort of students Mr Habib seeks to provide with OPTIONS for a successful life.
It may come as a surprise to some who proudly chant “College ISN’T for EVERYONE” to learn that the structure of education in this country evolves and grows, so that the HS education of 75 years ago, then a good foundation for employment and a TERMINAL credential, has evolved into a system of choice, including comprehensive vocational secondary school, 2 year community college granting an associates’ degree or certificate, 4 year, 5 year BA/MA program.......
OUR amazing young electrician is not only well versed in circuit breakers, but can also express himself well, run his own business effectively, identify the historical period of our antiquated lighting, and do the hands on electrical tasks needed to keep us lighted. In addition, should he wish to add electrical engineering to his list, thanks to his Associate’s degree, he’s prepared to do so.
Not the stratified, locked in system most of us lived within years ago. Why do some of us long for that educational past? Does it make us feel better about our own lives, when we grew up either being a “worker bee” or a “brainy bee”, and thinking that never should anyone aspire to be both?
I’m happy to think that aspiration and successful mastery can go hand in hand, and I’m also happy to be savvy enough to know that “College SHOULD be for everyone” AND that “COLLEGE” isn’t what it was when a loaf of bread cost $.05.

Stanley Kopacz
1 week ago

I wouldn't recommend someone NOT get a college degree. It certainly gives one a better chance for getting a job. Consider it a hunting license these days. The corporate overlords certainly want degrees. I don't think someone really needs a degree in Hotel Management to run a hotel but the hotel owners probably think so. This increased demand for degrees emanates from the corporations and the culture. That being said, I've met Ph.D's who were worthless and high school level technicians who were great.

Stanley Kopacz
1 week ago

I heard a story that when one of the twin towers was burning, a room full of financial geniuses were panicking because they couldn't get through the exit door blocked by fire. A blue collar worker simply punched through some wallboard to the next room and they escaped. Somebody has to look after the hothouse plants.

Mike Theman
6 days 21 hours ago

Bill Gates....Steve Jobs. ...Mark Zuckerberg. ...Larry Ellison. ...Jack Dorsey. ...Rachael Ray. ...John Mackey. ...Russell Simmons.

College wasn't for them. And those are just a few of the famous ones. Imagine how many others there are. For me, college was a huge waste of time; for that matter, so was law school. My successes all came from work experience and personal drive. College doesn't make people successful; people make themselves successful.

Stanley Kopacz
6 days 13 hours ago

You can add the founder of Polaroid, Edwin Land. Figured how to make inexpensive polarizing filters while at Harvard. Had to quit to start exploiting the idea. Was a competent scientist and inventor throughout his life. I think Harvard eventually gave him an honorary degree. But some people also got their degrees and did well.

Mike Theman
5 days 17 hours ago

"But some people got their degrees and did well." Yes! It's not for everybody.

Henry Brown
6 days 9 hours ago

I am in favour of anyone going to College, or a Trade School or working their way up
in a company that they started working for after High School, or going into the Military
and making a career of it.

What I am not in favour of is telling everyone they should go to College when they
have no desire/aptitude and refusing to consider any other alternative.

Given what I paid a plumber for three hours of work a while ago, I should have
become a Plumber and opened up my own business.

Stanley Kopacz
5 days 17 hours ago

Well, one can be their own plumber. You don't even have to solder joints any more. With Sharkbite® fittings, one can assemble and disassemble pipe joints at will. Plumbers move faster but one can do just as good a job by DIY.

Mike Theman
5 days 17 hours ago

And with flexible Pex tubing, you can eliminate most of the joints and you don't even need a pipe cutter anymore! Moreover, a homeowner can complete a Pex installation faster than a plumber could do copper or cpvc. But, shhhhhh! The plumbers don't want that to get out.

Louis Candell
5 days 22 hours ago

"It is elitist to suggest that some students are not destined for learning beyond high school.”

Perhaps elitist but, nonetheless, true. A four year liberal arts education is not for everyone, primarily, because not everyone is interested in these traditional subject areas. To pretend otherwise is the height of naivete.

John Rysavy
3 days 11 hours ago

What about the promise of life Mr. Habib? People are known by who supports them....NARAL is not one I would want supporting me. Life is precious! There is dignity in work that transcends education. Many plumbers/electricians/carpenters earn far more than the “art history majors”of today without the confiscatory debt ammassed during a 4-5 year stint in undergraduate studies. The military offers careers, and do not forget that there are still those who serve the family by following in the farming tradition.

John Rysavy
3 days 11 hours ago

good nite

Tom Wahl
2 days 14 hours ago

Cyrus, it's elitist to think everyone has to go to college - what you're doing is disparaging those who go into the trades. As a college instructor, I see a number of kids who shouldn't be at college but are here because they've been forced to think they need to tick a box. If someone wants to be a plumber, mechanic, app developer, etc. then college isn't the place for them.
Also, it is really hard to take seriously someone who has his sunglasses on in his profile picture. Are you trying to be cool?


The latest from america

A Vatican source confirmed that a high-level Holy See delegation will travel to the Chinese capital for the signing and that a date has already been fixed for this ground-breaking event.
Gerard O’ConnellSeptember 18, 2018
Swiss Guards salute as Cardinals Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston leave a meeting of cardinals with Pope Francis in the synod hall at the Vatican Feb. 21, 2014. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 
“The church has lost credibility in investigating itself.”
Jim McDermottSeptember 18, 2018
This economy is not working for human beings.
Brandon SanchezSeptember 18, 2018
Pope Francis leads a meeting with young people in Palermo, Sicily, Sept. 15. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Even after revelations about sexual abuse in the church, 79 percent of U.S. Catholics—but only 53 percent of all Americans—hold a favorable view of Pope Francis, according to a Gallup poll.
Michael J. O’LoughlinSeptember 18, 2018