A College Degree for Every Child?

By now, most in national education policy circles realize we are transitioning from the era of AYP to the era of college/career ready.  Instead of using middle school reading and math proficiency as our yardstick, we will soon be using the college- and career-ready common core standards to determine if states, districts, and schools are truly making progress toward student achievement.

Over at National Journal’s Education Experts Blog, they’ve been spending the week discussing EdSec Arne Duncan’s Blueprint for ESEA Reauthorization.  Lots of interesting opinion here, from Sandy Kress’ significant disappointment to Michael Lomax’ support to real concerns about the “5 percent rule” to a general feeling that lack of details is a good thing in planning legislative policy.

But this morning, your NJ ring leader Eliza Kligman broke a bit from protocol and posted an anonymous comment from a reader in South Carolina.  (For those who don’t realize the participant list for the Education Experts Blog is a virtual who’s who.  There are MANY in the chattering class who desperately want to be added to the list, but haven’t yet.  And to focus on these experts, National Journal doesn’t allow readers to post comments to the blog.  A general concept that usually means the kiss of death for a blog, but seems to work for National Journal.)

But I digress.  This reader raised an important question with regard to the next generation of ESEA and our intent of getting every child in the United States “college ready.”  In fact, the comment is a little more pointed, with the reader stating, “if everyone is highly technically trained or college educated who is going to check out my groceries, cut down the dead tree in my back yard, tow my car when it breaks down, or take my money when I buy gas at the convenience store?  If you think the illegal alien problem is bad now, just wait until all of us middle class soon-to-be-elderly are told we have to pay highly skilled wages tot he guy who cuts our grass.”

While SC is mixing and matching a wide range of policy issues that shouldn’t be joined together (such as who is worthy of earning highly skilled wages and the immigration issue), he does start to touch on an interesting point.  But Eduflack would ask a more important question — does being college ready mean that every student should actually attend college?

In today’s global economy, just about everyone who holds a full-time job likely needs the sort of knowledge and skills that would be deemed “college- and career-ready.”  That guy fixing his car is most likely ASE certified and needs to be well versed in computers, math, and other subjects to successfully repair what are now four-wheeled computers with AC and a killer sound system.  The guy cutting the tree now needs to know ecology and life sciences and hopefully some math to generate accurate invoices.  And regardless of the job, we want everyone to be literate with some level of social skill.  So the fear expressed by SC and many, many others is a bit of a straw man.

It opens the larger question, though.  As a nation, though, we have set a national goal to have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by the year 2020.  Why?  Is it more important for someone to hold a diploma or a good-paying job?  What is the measure of a successful nation?  A strong economy?  A robust workforce?  Or the total worth of outstanding student loans?

I don’t mean to be negative here, but Eduflack has long believed we are selling students a bill of goods by telling them everyone should go to college.  First off, when we say college, most mean four-year degrees (and that’s even how that national goal is being measured).  But what about the knowledge and skills that are earned through community college programs and career and technical education programs?   What about military service, where four years of Army training may be far more beneficial than a BA in the liberal arts?  What about those whose passion is pursuing a trade, or the true entrepreneurs who are itching to open a business and pursue their passion?  Are all of those pursuits worth less because they don’t come attached to a four-year degree?

When Eduflack got into this discussion a few years ago, it generated an ongoing offline debate with a liberal arts professor from a college in the Pacific Northwest.  He regularly called me a complete idiot, saying I completely missed the point.  The role of college, he would say, is not to prepare kids for career, it was to broaden their minds and open them up to new experiences.

The ESEA Blueprint is correct is seeking to ensure that all those who graduate from U.S. high schools are ready for either college or career.  But we need to have a much deeper discussion of who should go to college, why they should pursue postsecondary education, and what the expected return on investment is for such a pursuit.  In an era where an aspiring college student can drop more than $200,000 to earn a BA from a private liberal arts institution, ROI becomes an important topic — for lenders, potential employers, and the students themselves.

49 thoughts on “A College Degree for Every Child?

  1. The TOP STUDENT of one graduating law class never practiced law, but ran his own auto repair shop. Throughout the years, he likely got paid whatever the market allowed.Knowledge (college or other) is not the enemy.

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