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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About the Author

 

Charles
Murray
  • Charles Murray is a political scientist, author, and libertarian. He first came to national attention in 1984 with the publication of Losing Ground, which has been credited as the intellectual foundation for the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. His 1994 New York Times bestseller, The Bell Curve (Free Press, 1994), coauthored with the late Richard J. Herrnstein, sparked heated controversy for its analysis of the role of IQ in shaping America’s class structure. Murray's other books include What It Means to Be a Libertarian (1997), Human Accomplishment (2003), In Our Hands (2006), and Real Education (2008). His most recent book, Coming Apart (Crown Forum, 2012), describes an unprecedented divergence in American classes over the last half century.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

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