Are too many people going to college? A look at IQ distributions tells us why this is the case

This post is not meant for politically correct egalitarians who believe that everyone can be an Aristotle, a Goethe or a Michael Jackson through hard work.


Our education is suffering heavily from many things, but there is one thing that has barely been discussed that I will address here. I believe that the educational world is living a lie. The lie is that every child can become who he wants to become. There is almost no one who believes this, but still we are too afraid to say out loud that children differ in mental capacities. The belief that everyone, through hard work and good educational assistance, can become what he wants to become is doing more harm than good. We demand too much of people with low mental capacity, demand the wrong things from people with average capacity, and demand too little of those with high mental capacity.

Charles Murray has laid out in his book, Real Education (2008), the following four simple truths about education:

  1. Capacities vary;
  2. Half of the children are below average;
  3. Too many people are going to college;
  4. The future of our country is dependent on how we teach the intellectually gifted.

The first two truths are self-evident. I will focus on the third truth, as that requires more explanation, and I will save the fourth truth for a future discussion.

Too many people are going to college
We have to ask ourselves what percentage of the population have the mental capacity required to understand college material. This percentage, I think, is significantly lower than the percentage of people that are pursuing a college degree.

The average IQ of the population is 100. It is very difficult to obtain a college degree with an IQ of 100. If you are mentally average, you can understand some simple algebra in maths, but you will have difficulties with differential calculus. This is no life-devastating deficit. You are still intelligent enough to perform well for hundreds of jobs, but you will likely be unable to succeed in gaining a college degree. It is possible for the student to attend Macro Economics 1 classes with an IQ of 100-110, to read the textbooks and to do the tests. However, the student will probably only take in a hodgepodge of ideas. It’s also very well possible that the student will have the illusion that he possesses reasonable knowledge of Macro Economics. One way these students can pass the test is by focusing strategically on how they can pass tests instead of truly understanding the material. I have seen many student peers passing tests through strategic learning. Instead of reading and understanding the material, they can for example, learn previous tests by heart.

There is no magic IQ number with which a person can go through a reasonably good college education, but an IQ of around 110 is quite problematic for most college degrees. College majors differ in difficulty level. I looked into the IQ distribution of different majors and have found that the majors that have the highest average IQ scores are:

  • Physics & Astronomy (133)
  • Mathematical Sciences (130)
  • Philosophy (129)
    Materials Engineering (129)
  • Economics (128)
    Chemical Engineering (128)
    Other Engineering (128)
  • Mechanical Engineering (126)

This would put the average college student in the above majors (almost) acceptable for Mensa – the high IQ organization that only accepts people within the highest 2 percentiles (IQ of around 132).

The majors with the lowest average IQ scores are:

  • Administration (107)
  • Home Economics (106)
    Special (106)
  • Student Counseling (105)
  • Early Childhood (104)
  • Social Work (103)

For a full list of average IQ’s per major, look at this article.

Our education has degenerated
If we assume that a college degree requires an average IQ of 110-115, then it would be reasonable, looking at the IQ distribution of the population, to assume that around 15% of the population should pursue a college degree.

If you stretch it somewhat, maybe 25%. However, at the moment 45% of everyone above the age of 30 has a college degree.

I think that this is only possible when education has degenerated – that the level of education has decreased. The consequence is that more students have been able to get a college degree, and that a degree doesn’t represent a person’s mental capabilities well anymore. One way through which we can see that our education has degenerated is by looking at grade inflation, which is utterly shocking!

Grade inflation in the USAI think that Murray’s statement that too many people are going to college is very reasonable. If ‘Higher Education’ becomes more accessible for people with lower mental capabilities, then the term ‘Higher Education’ becomes more of an oxymoron.

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