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 16, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Calling treason by its name: A conversation with Liam Fox

Join us at AEI as the Right Honorable Liam Fox sits down with Marc Thiessen to discuss and debate whether America’s intelligence agencies have infringed on the personal privacy of US citizens.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The curmudgeon's guide to getting ahead

How can young people succeed in workplaces dominated by curmudgeons who are judging their every move? At this AEI book event, bestselling author and social scientist Charles Murray will offer indispensable advice for navigating the workplace, getting ahead, and living a fulfilling life.

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