Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The College Con

Working where I do is giving me a unique look at higher education in this country.  I see where the meme has morphed from 'we must provide worthy underprivileged kids with a chance to go to college' to 'all kids must go to college' with a myth that this path is the only way to be happy and increase future earnings.  The federal government and organizations like the Lumina Foundation have been perpetuating this morphed meme and have been supporting it financially--allowing the cost of education to go up astronomically in the past twenty years.

Aside from the fact that there are many paths to happiness and a good living, the perpetuation of this meme has placed students into situations for which they are unsuited and as a corollary, is starting to create a dearth of skilled labor.

I still think of a conference I was attending where a representative from the Lumina Foundation was expounding on the idea that more students must go to and graduate from college.  An older man stood up and asked something along the lines of 'In your conversations regarding the value of a college education, have you included ANYONE who hasn't attended college?'  Of course the answer was no.

This meme is causing what Glenn Reynolds and others are calling the 'Higher Education Bubble'.  You have students graduating from college with unreasonable expectations of salaries, who are still functionally illiterate because colleges and universities are being pressured into graduating them, and who are saddled with incredible amounts of student loan debt with absolutely no way to pay it.  High school kids who should be learning how to become mechanics, electricians, plumbers, welders, or other skillsets are instead being frustrated by a system that cannot live up to what their career guidance counselors, advisers, and the media have been telling them.

7 comments:

Old NFO said...

OUTSTANDING post! And you are absolutely correct... We are a dying nation because we can no longer produce anything, because we've lost the 'technical' skills necessary (much less find a plumber who can come in the next 48 hours and is actually under 50, or an electrician, etc.)!

God, Gals, Guns, Grub said...

Sometimes I just classify myself as an educated redneck, but being in the teaching profession of "higher education" (which may be an oxymoron)... as the most intelligent people I know learned what they know from "lower" education...

My father-in-law is a tool and die machinist who has cleared six-figures annually for the last two decades and truly enjoys his work...

Most of what I teach didn't exist when I was an undergrad, or even a graduate student... it comes from work experience... which is why many couldn't do, much less teach what I do despite their doctorates in the field... we forget Einstein, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Dale K. never finished college...

Dale K. was a farmer and friend I worked for over the years who passed four years ago, still driving his rusty 1975 Chevy pick-up truck, a farmer, an almost unknown board member of a large banking corporation he invested in in the late 1960s, and left an estate worth $110 million...

He's set down and have coffee with anyone, a humble man, and someone I learned more from than any college class or degree...

We've really lost sight of what education really is... Sorry for the lengthy comment...

Dann in Ohio
Dann in Ohio

North said...

Cliff Claven. Remember the mail man from Cheers? :-) John Ratzenberger has become a spokesman for increasing awareness of the dire need for skilled tradesmen.

Some High schools students would be better off staying out of college and learning a skill. Unfortunately things seem to be set up against them.

John "co-founded the Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs Foundation, dedicated to raising awareness of skilled trades and engineering disciplines among young people."

Midwest Chick said...

NFO--that's part of the point. My dad is an electrician, my cousins are mechanics, my brother is a painter. My dad is lucky enough to have an apprentice/helper but they are few and far between.

Dann--That's my experience as well. The best professors are those who had experience in the real world--either they grew up on a farm, worked both in high school and college, or held private jobs in positions of responsibility before teaching.

North--I'll have to look into that. Thanks for the heads-up!

Old Grouch said...

When I first saw this story, I thought, "Before you start bitchin', you'd better make sure that your personnel department hasn't been rejecting all applicants who don't have masters degrees..."

Seriously, the everyone-has-to-go-to-college paradigm won't change until companies stop requiring college degrees for jobs that only need what used to be called "a good high school education."

That won't happen until: (1) high school diplomas again mean something other than an attendance certificate, and (2) companies are no longer terrified of "civil rights" lawsuits for rejecting unqualified people as unqualified.

I expect these to occur shortly after the moon falls out of the sky.

North said...

- won't change until companies stop requiring college degrees for jobs that only need what used to be called "a good high school education." -

College IS where you get a good high school education.

Midwest Chick said...

Grouch and North--The problem is that a high school education means bupkis now so it's put on the colleges to actually bring the students to the level of what a high school education used to be. But now colleges are starting to follow the same trend so it's going to take a masters... etc. wash, rinse, repeat.