Find Alternatives to the B.A.

W. H. Brady Scholar
Charles Murray

You are the college-age child of middle-class parents, told since you were sentient that you must go to college. You're smart enough, but academics aren't what you like, and getting a traditional liberal education would be like having a four-year toothache. You're a sports nut and want to get into the pro-sports industry. So you check out some college websites. Good news: There are colleges that offer majors in sports administration. You look at the course catalogues and find eight or ten courses that you really want to take. You can get those out of the way in two years, maybe a year and a half.

Then your high-school counselor tells you the bad news: Getting the classroom training you need isn't enough. If you don't get a bachelor's degree, you will not get a job interview. You can earn the degree if you must, filling out the other two years with gut courses. But your parents' middle-class income doesn't leave money for college tuition, so you're going to have to take out student loans. You'd much rather skip the two needless years and get on with your life.

Employers routinely report that they get applicants with B.A.s who cannot write a coherent paragraph.

The existence of so many residential colleges isn't the problem. Colleges should continue to be full of students, some of whom will be pursuing a traditional liberal education. But students shouldn't have to stay there for four years just to get a piece of paper that costs so much and signifies so little.

So let's stop it. Let's use the CPA exam as a model, and substitute certifications for the educational credentials that young people take into a job interview. The certifications can be based on multiple-choice tests, writing samples, and work samples in any combination--whatever enables the employer to assess what applicants know and are able to do, not where they learned it and how long it took them.

New laws aren't necessary. Resentment of the B.A., with its five or six-figure price tag, already hovers near the boiling point. Students, faculty, parents, and employers are all increasingly aware of the sham it so often represents. Tearing down the gate-keeping role that the B.A. has acquired in American life could be as simple as starting to talk about it.

Charles Murray is the W. H. Brady Scholar at AEI.

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