That’s pretty much how college works. Want to join the lucky ones in Club Upper Middle Class? Be smart and/or hard-working. And if you’re neither smart nor hard-working, the fact that most of the people who make it to the upper middle class did indeed obtain a college degree identifying them as smart and/or hard-working should be irrelevant to you. All the credentials in the world aren’t going to fool the bouncers who guard the doorway of the club. These bouncers are employers. And they don’t care about your feelings. Just as bouncers want people who will pretty up the place, employers want people who will add value to their company. If you can’t provide it, they’ll tell you to take a hike.
But many young Americans haven’t caught on to this. Economist Bryan Caplan of George Mason University has crunched the data for years from every angle and argues devastatingly in a piece in The Atlantic (adapted from his forthcoming book The Case Against Education) that college is, for many of those who go there, a boondoggle. Forty-five percent of those who enter college fail to graduate within five years. If you are in the bottom 25 percent of your high-school class, you are not going to make it through college. It’s much worse than a waste of time. It’s a waste of money, perhaps a great deal of it. If, at age 22, with a college degree, you settle in for a career in retail that doesn’t require a college degree, laden with student loans, you’d have been much better off if you had started your career four years earlier instead of spending four years puzzling over T. S. Eliot, post-revolutionary Africa, and trigonometry.