Re-Thinking College

With the implementation of Common Core and an increased emphasis on college & career readiness, the government and educational community have been touting college for all. Every student should be college bound. A college degree is the key to success. College admission is the standard by which we judge our value. And yet while we are promoting college for all, we are seeing that all that are attending college aren’t finding the success they had hoped for.

A college degree used to be the golden ticket to a successful career. A previous generation could graduate high school, work hard, find meaningful employment and live a satisfying life. In the 1990’s we saw a considerable shift in that outlook. A high school diploma was no longer enough and the college degree was the standard by which we judged success. And so school across the country pushed students to pursue four year degrees.

In the past decade we saw college attendance rates explode. From 2000 to 2010 the US saw an increase of 37% in the number of college graduates. That’s over 5 million more graduates per year over the course of ten years. I wish I could say the employment sector and demand for those college graduates increased at the same rate. Unfortunately, as some of you are familiar with, the labor market did not demand an increase of that level.

Today we see that the job market is flooded with an abundance of college degrees, and sadly the holders of those degrees are working jobs where a degree is not required. In fact 53% of college grads under twenty-five are unemployed or employed in a field where their degree is not required.  These former students are now on average $26,000 in debt and lack the meaningful employment to begin paying down that debt. They have the book knowledge but not the real world experience many employers are looking for in an employee.

However, while the demand for college grads hasn’t grown among employers the demand for skilled trained workers has grown. You see while certain sectors of the economy have declined, others have flourished. We now see companies recruiting overseas because there aren’t enough skilled workers here in the US. These foreign workers have something US workers don’t have, specific training beyond high school that isn’t a liberal arts degree.

Today’s job market demands a skill set not a degree. Sure one way to achieve that skill set is with a degree but it isn’t the only way. Students can attend a community college, enlist in the military, apply for an apprenticeship or participate in a certificate only program. These students concentrate just on the skill set employers are looking for and then enter the workforce. All the while their college bound peers are taking gen ed classes, accumulating debt, and missing out on valuable on the job experience.

Students certainly need education beyond high school, because we all know that a high school degree alone doesn’t guarantee success but now neither does a college degree. As educators we need to push our kids towards building a skill set that will increase their employability, and not assume that the only way to build that skill set is with college. Common core is right, we need to focus on college & career readiness. Let’s try giving equal emphasis to both parts, college and career. College for all? Maybe. Post-Secondary education for all? Definitely.

*Update* Attached is a copy of a power point that can be used to highlight the benefits and access to jobs that do not require a degree. Rethinking college

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