There was an editorial recently in “The Huffington Post” by John Hrabe entitled “Harvard University or Community College? Why the Choice Isn’t As Crazy As It Sounds.” While the editorial is amusing and the author tries to use statistics to buttress his argument, the argument at its core is inherently flawed. Mr. Hrabe argues that community college can often be a better alternative to attending a top university like Harvard because the professors are typically better teachers who are more interested in their students, students don’t incur massive amounts of debt as they do at prestigious four-year universities, and a firm like Goldman Sachs believes community college is the future of higher education. In fact, Mr. Hrabe argues that getting into top colleges is essentially passé, a trend of the last 50 years that will not persist in the future. With all due respect to Mr. Hrabe, he could not be more wrong and here’s why.
Mr. Hrabe argues that professors at community colleges are more invested in their students. They aren’t wasting time with research and getting published in various journals. They’re committed first and foremost to their students and because of that, they are better educators. In fact, Mr. Hrabe writes, “Just as price doesn’t correlate to value, academic publications are not the best bellwether of quality instruction. The most accomplished academics are often the worst teachers. Without the pressure to publish, community college professors have more time to invest in their students.”
Are there professors at prestigious universities such as in the Ivy League where professors are leaders in their field but poor teachers? Of course. The cancer researcher published in “Cell” may not like having to teach Organic Chemistry every Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Does that make the professor a worse teacher because of his lack of interest? This might well be true. But let’s give college administrators and department heads some credit in their hiring decisions. Most prestigious undergraduate colleges stress that their professors excel both in research and in undergraduate teaching.
Wouldn’t it be cool to learn about cutting-edge prostate cancer research from the scientist who actually made important discoveries rather than from a scientist who didn’t get published? You bet! To be able to learn from the very people who are at the cutting edge of research in the fields that interest you is a wonderful experience that we suspect no community college can offer. Also, to argue that you likely would be taught instead by a second-year graduate student is also an erroneous statement. Are there graduate students who teach courses at some schools? Yes, particularly at the introductory levels. But at most prestigious universities, TAs don’t teach the vast majority of classes. Professors do. It’s something top colleges love to brag about.
Mr. Hrabe agues that the debt students incur to finance a four-year college education just isn’t worth it in today’s economy. He even writes that this debt impedes the entrepreneurial spirit. To support his argument, Mr. Hrabe cites statistics from the Bureau of Labor. Writes Mr. Hrabe, “Last July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than half of 16-to-24 year olds were out of work. It marked the highest youth unemployment rate in history and the first time that rate exceeded fifty percent.”
It’s always important to draw from appropriate (and accurate) statistics. What do 16, 17, 18, 19, or even maybe 20-year olds have to do with whether or not you should attend a two or four year college? Students between the ages of 16-19 (and maybe even 20) would theoretically still be in college – be it two year community colleges or four year top colleges. To include this data to support his argument makes little sense.
And, finally, Mr. Hrabe argues that top firms like Goldman Sachs see the future in community college when he writes, “With significantly lower costs and comparable teaching, we are back to where we started: prestige. Going to a junior college is perceived as a failure. Funny, that’s not how Goldman Sachs sees it. The global investment firm is making a $500 million bet on the next big economic opportunity in higher education. They aren’t working with the Ivy Leagues; they are working with the country’s community colleges. Through their 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative, the firm is using a network of community colleges to provide small businesses with business classes, mentors, networking opportunities, and capital. If it is good enough for Goldman Sachs, it should be good enough for any high school senior.”
Wrong again, Mr. Hrabe. Community college graduates don’t get interviews at top investment banking, consulting, venture capital, private equity firms and the like. It’s not that they don’t get jobs. They don’t even get interviews. McKinsey won’t hire you if you don’t have an Ivy League degree (or a degree from a top college such as Stanford University, MIT, or Duke University). Neither will Bain. Or Goldman Sachs for that matter. Goldman Sachs doesn’t show up to job fairs at Bumbletown Community College. They show up to Dartmouth College, Princeton University, and Caltech. The fact that they think it wise to invest in community colleges does not mean they think community college graduates are good enough for them. Are there smart people who come out of community college? You bet. But there are smart people at top universities, too, and that’s where they hire year after year. “The Pursuit of Happyness” was a movie. It wasn’t real life.
We at Ivy Coach consult with high school students and work with them to help improve their chances for admission to top colleges and universities. So, yes, we do have a vested interest in prestigious colleges and all the wonders they have to offer their students and alumni just as you, as a community college graduate as you claim, have a vested interest in saying community colleges are a better investment than universities like Harvard. Oh, and Mr. Hrabe, we wonder why you chose to attend the London School of Economics as cited on your USC bio. Many publications rank the London School of Economics as one of the most prestigious schools for the social sciences in the world. In fact, The Fulbright Commission states it “is the leading social science institution in the world.” Guess you don’t follow your own advice.
Check out Mr. Hrabe’s editorial in “The Huffington Post” here.