Friday, October 30, 2015

May we please stop pushing college degrees for all?

Consider the following, which are the concluding sentences from James Surowiecki's "Financial Page" column in the New Yorker:
We should also rethink our assumption that college is always the right answer, regardless of cost. Politicians love to invoke education as the solution to our economic ills. But they’re often papering over the fact that our economy just isn’t creating enough good jobs for ordinary Americans. The notion that college will transform your job prospects is, in many cases, an illusion, and for a while for-profit schools turned it into a very lucrative one.
Now, read the following sentences from the concluding paragraph in Rebecca Schuman's column at Slate:
The university classroom benefits from a diversity of backgrounds, including first-generation students who absolutely should get any support they need with college readiness. Every American who wants to attend college should be able to (and for a lot less money than they’re currently laying out). But those who don’t want to shouldn’t feel like they have to
Here is the problem: Surowiecki and Schuman are not higher education "insiders."  Yes, Schuman, is an adjunct faculty after earning her doctorate.  After being on the doctoral path at Yale, Surowiecki became a journalist/writer.  For all purposes, both are "outsiders" looking in at higher education when they conclude that the push for college degree for all is not worth the talk, leave alone the money that we invest.

It is an open secret anymore that we are unnecessarily pushing college degrees down the throats of young, and older, adults.  All we have managed to achieve through this is an enormous level of credential inflation.  Which is what Schuman notes as well:
the solution is to stop requiring a bachelor’s degree to be an office assistant, or a paralegal, or any number of professions that up until recently could be staffed—successfully—by the holder of an associate’s degree or high-school diploma.
The first ever op-ed of mine that was published along these lines was about two decades ago.  Yep, back in California, not too long after earning my doctorate, I argued in that opinion piece that we were committing a double crime of pushing college degrees and undermining vocational education.  Nobody cared then because I was an outsider--I was not in academia at that time.  (Well, ok, there was one wonderful benefit from that--a Mike contacted me after reading the column, which later led to dinners as well.)

As an academic, of course, I have written quite a few op-eds by now criticizing the overselling of college degrees and the under-investment in vocational education.  The only time that a fellow academic responded to it, well, it was pretty much a personal attack.  Otherwise, the higher education professionals remain silent as ever.  Why?  It should not surprise you by now--this college degree issue is merely one of the many examples for why I loved the George Bernard Shaw quote as the title for this blog itself: every profession is a conspiracy against the laity.

(BTW, keep in mind that the criticism is against the push for college degrees; having a degree is not the same as having been educated, wherein lies a huge part of the problem.)

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