Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is College Right for Everyone?

I heard an interesting discussion about whether or nor college is for everyone on the Diane Rehm show on NPR Monday. The segment was called "Is College Right for Everyone?" and I really enjoyed it.
President Obama has called on every American to receive at least one year of higher education or vocational training by 2020. For most young people, that means heading to campus in the pursuit of a college degree. But for a small, influential group of educators and economists, pushing the college experience is wrong. A recent report from Harvard backs them up. It found that only one-third of future jobs will need a bachelor’s degree. The report’s researchers said it’s time to offer stronger alternatives. The debate over the value of a college degree is not new, but the current economic crisis has renewed discussions. Diane and her guests re-examine the “college for all” movement.
You can follow the link to listen to the conversation. Even though it's almost an hour long, I found it really thought provoking.

There were a few different points the guests talked about:

1. It's a myth that having a bachelors degree opens all kinds of doors. This is not to say people don't need any post-secondary education, but that four year degrees shouldn't be seen as the only option.

2. A lot of work is devalued and therefore other forms of education are devalued. Technical schools and trades are just as rigorous, and even more so than some majors, but are seen as less valuable. This is obvious but interesting to think about from an academic point of view.

3. Student debt is a burden, obviously, so people should focus on going to good local schools rather then funneling money into "prestigious" schools. Being half a million in debt doesn't help anyone.

4. Over-education is a major problem. How it works is people get masters degrees for jobs that only require bachelors. So then people with bachelors degrees are taking jobs from people who only have associates and so on. This also pushes out skilled workers who may have more work experience but less education.

5. We've romanticized the "college experience" in our culture which is actually working against against us since it reinforces the four year mentality.

6. There's a disconnect between the job market and what people are learning in college. People aren't majoring in the fields where jobs are needed.

There was also a lot of talk about why people go to college. Is it to get job training or is it for the sake of learning itself? Since people tend to disagree on the why, they also seem to disagree on how higher education should be handled. All in all it was pretty interesting.

I'm a firm believer that college isn't for everyone and it's wrong to equate intelligence with degrees. Obviously someone with a chemical engineering degree is probably going to be intelligent, but we know at least one person with a degree who is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Plus there are tons of people who decide not to go to college that are ridiculously clever. There are a lot of ways to learn and college is only one way. If you're going cause you think you have to, then I think that's the wrong reason. Then again, everyone should do whatever they want and just ignore me. In my experience though, school is much more satisfying and enriching now that I want to be there and value the experience.

I also don't think you should major in something just to get a job (unless you need a specific skill like technical schools or medicine). In a perfect world everyone would take classes that inspire them but the problem of the job market also complicates things. If we should major in things based on the jobs that are available then we may end up hating college and/or our jobs. If you major in something that doesn't have a lot of job options then you risk loving college but then not being able to get a job at all in the field you wanted. Either way it looks like you're at risk of being screwed.

ETA: I saw this on tumblr and thought it perfectly highlighted some of the points mentioned above.

You can read more at "So, How's That College Degree Working Out For You?"

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