Has the college push gone too far?

Should all kids go to college?

For years, school board members and educators have been told that a college education is essential to getting a job that earns a decent living.

But with many students dropping out of college or graduating with massive debts and little employment prospects—plus the need for more “middle skills” workers—some experts are starting to question whether the push to go to college has gone too far.

Lawrence Schlack, a consultant with the Kalamazoo, Mich., Regional Educational Service Agency, presented a growing body of articles and research that shows there are plenty of opportunities for students who may not want to go to a four-year college, or may just want to wait a few years after graduation. He spoke at a Monday Annual Conference session.

There are many good jobs, and there will be plenty in the foreseeable future, that do not require a four-year degree, he said. Further, he added, too many students enter college without a good sense of what they want or why they are there. They use it as a “very expensive career exploration exercise,” end up changing majors, or dropping out.

One of the most notable recent examples is the number of people who have taken out six-figure loans to enter law school but can’t find jobs because the field is saturated, some jobs have been outsourced, and many more people are earning law degrees after many colleges and universities rapidly expanded their law schools to make a greater profit.

Schlack cited a quote from a recent New York Times article on the law-degree surplus: “Deans say graduates are working. They don’t say how many are at Home Depot.”

He cited a 2004 quote from former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who told the National Governor’s Association, “Every kid should have it drilled into their head that they are going to college.”

That message—which has been reiterated in different forms by education leaders and President Obama, groups such as Achieve, and documents such as the Common Core Standards—unnecessarily stresses many students who are not sure of their career goals, or who have talents and interests in technical or other fields, Schlack said to an enthusiastic audience.

Schlack cited an eighth-grade student who told him, “College is like your life. If you don’t go to college you can’t have a good life.”

“How do we make it honorable for a student to say, ‘I don’t want to go to college?’” Schlack asked. “Could your school become proud of the number of students who don’t have to go to college?”

Schlack suggested that high schools need to rethink their curriculum and focus on ways to instill more skills at the high school level. Moreover, there has been a resurgence of career and technical education that has helped many students gain skills to find good jobs immediately after graduation, he said.

High school counselors should show students alternatives to the four-year college pathways, and give information about growing fields in the “middle skills” jobs, which might require some postsecondary education but not a bachelor’s degree. These include jobs in health care, construction trades, transportation and manufacturing.

Students need to know that they can go to a four-year college later in life, he said.

Students also should ask questions other than, “which college should I go to?” Schlack says some helpful questions might be, “What are my strengths, talents, and interests?” and, “What do I want to do in life?”

Joetta Sack-Min|April 11th, 2011|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2011, School Board News|

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