George Leef of the Martin Center labels pundits’ concerns over college dropouts “overhyped.”

About 40 percent of Americans who enroll in college drop out before earning a certificate or degree. A high percentage of those who drop out are from poor families; they attended K-12 schools where academic standards were low and students who really tried to learn faced peer rejection for “acting white.” Still, some graduate and get into college. Then what?

In The College Dropout Scandal, author David Kirp, an emeritus professor of public policy in the University of California-Berkeley’s Goldman School, argues that what happens to those students should be regarded as a national scandal because the colleges that enrolled them often fail to get them “across the finish line” to their diplomas. …

…[L]eaving college without a credential isn’t necessarily a tragedy that consigns the student to a low-income life of drudgery. In a recent article, the Martin Center’s Shannon Watkins looked into the belief that community college students who leave school without receiving a credential have wasted their time.

She found that University of Michigan professor Peter Bahr’s research shows that a substantial percentage of community college “dropouts” chose to leave school because they had accomplished the learning they wanted. It makes far more sense for people to go to college to fill their perceived skill and knowledge gaps than to get a credential for completing some formal educational program.

Kirp’s error is in thinking that leaving college is almost always a disaster, while staying in college just to get a degree is necessarily beneficial. His goal of maximizing the number of graduates creates the appearance of national gain in terms of educational attainment.

That gain, however, is largely an illusion: Many of the students will be worse off for having spent too much time and money on unnecessary schooling.