Friday, April 22, 2011

Not Everyone Should Go to College

E.D. Kain at Forbes magazine basically sums up an argument I've been making in personal conversations for years.

Four year college is not necessarily for everyone and there's far too much emphasis in the United States on everyone (or at least more people every year) getting four year degrees. To put it crudely, society needs people who clean floors and flip burgers. And I don't mean that in an elitist sense, but as a simple statement of fact. And those people don't really need to go to college. Hell, they don't even really need a high school diploma.

Kain argues there should be more quality vocational training at the high school level. I agree.

My high school was somewhat exceptional in terms of what was offered. There were courses available in auto mechanics, there was a decent technology department which included design and drawing courses (one of which I took at a time when I was thinking about being an architect). But, my high school placed such a strong emphasis on going to college because it looks good in terms of statistics for a high school to be able to say, "92 percent of our graduating seniors go on to a four year college." The problem is that statistics don't follow up on how many of those students drop out and either never complete the degree or complete after a 3 year break (like I did).

I'm not saying I'm a person who was in need of vocational training. I'm academic-minded and I'm happy I got a college degree and I feel I'm a more well-rounded person, both socially and academically, for having gotten a BA. But I might have benefited greatly from any advice that suggested holding off on college for a year. Britain and Australia get it right, where most students take a "gap year" before starting university. They take that time to travel or work a bit and think about what they want to do. At the very least, it's a well-needed break from studying, reading, writing and thinking. Maybe I was just born in the wrong English-speaking country.

While this has turned into an excuse to ramble about my personal history with academia, I still think my situation reflects one of the core problems with the approach to higher education in America - college is regarded, if not as the only option, but as the all-around best option for most students. And that simply isn't the case. And as a nation we're spending far too much money sending students to college who should be receiving apprenticeship training in a technical field or some other vocation.

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