The College-for-All Society: Successes, Shortcomings, and Possible Solutions

Project: Research project

Project Details


Issue: In today’s labor market, automation and offshoring have drastically reduced the availability of well-paid jobs that do not require high skills, so more individuals need post-secondary education to get good jobs. Society’s response has been “college-for-all” — all students are encouraged to enroll in college, often in BA or BA-transfer programs. As a result, college access has expanded. However, for many students, college access does not lead to college success. For instance, 40% of college students attend community colleges, and most of these students plan to get a BA degree, but only 20 percent will get their BA within eight years, and almost half will leave with no college degree at all (Rosenbaum et al., 2015). These students are left with debts but no payoffs in the labor market. Despite these issues, high schools rarely warn students about common obstacles they may encounter in college and how to address them, and they celebrate high college enrollment rates as indicating students’ success. What more can high schools and colleges do to inform students’ choices and help more students prepare for success later in life by pursuing college degrees or taking alternate pathways to the labor market? Project: I propose a book that will report findings from several qualitative and quantitative studies examining how high schools and colleges are delivering on the college-for-all goal, how they could improve, and whether they can help students find alternatives to four-year college degrees. College-for-all offers new opportunities, but students must understand what kinds of college will benefit someone like them, especially if they did poorly in school. Rather than blame students for their lack of direction, we examine the many specific options that colleges offer, their odds, obstacles, and outcomes, how they work for different kinds of students, how students choose among them, and how schools help them make decisions. While the book will include studies that identify college options that have good earnings, good nonmonetary job rewards, and low barriers to completion, understanding these options is only helpful if we also understand what institutional actors (high school and college counselors and students) know about these issues and how they act upon them. By taking a close look at counselors and students, the book can better identify ways to help students understand how college leads to careers, ways to improve counseling at the high school and college levels, and ways to provide organizational procedures that support students' goals. Besides addressing academic scholars and policymakers, this book will target the wide range of educators in high schools and colleges who want to understand the new college-for-all reality. Policy Implications: The book will describe valuable job characteristics and often-unnoticed degree options that can lead to success in today’s labor market. In doing so, the book will provide a better understanding of today’s postsecondary landscape and the many options that can serve students with different achievement levels. Moreover, a distinctive feature of this book is that it will go beyond describing hard-to-see incentives, which has been done well by previous research (e.g., Carnevale et al., 2012; Holzer & Baum, 2017; Rosenbaum et al., 2017). Starting from the idea that students will not see and understand the incentives described by researchers unless high school and colleges implement procedures to make them visible and understandable, this book will strive to develop a
Effective start/end date6/1/205/31/23


  • Smith Richardson Foundation (SRF grant #2020-2157)


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