Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Should college not be for everyone?

I have a friend who claims that not everyone should be going to college. His point is that students are shuffled, en masse, to University, even when they don't have the motivation, grades, ambition, or skills to be there, and that perhaps they'd be better suited to something occupational or technical.

I can't say I disagree with him completely, but as a proponent of higher education (hey, I work there!), it's hard for me not to think, "Yes, come children, come to college, the bastion of learning and experience that it is. There is room for all!"

I was a motivated student. I am a bit of a nerd. I like school. I'm good at school. Not everyone is, which I have trouble understanding sometimes. I'd hate to narrow opportunities for students, but my friend has a point in that we don't advertise the OT (occupational/technical) programs enough.

For instance, in Virginia, there is a huge shortage in people to fill the needed jobs in nearly all of the health fields (many of whom make a lot more money than I do, and I have a bachelors degree).

I also blame parents. Helicopter parents of this new generation of millenials-and-younger push students to go to the big 4-year school in the sky. Higher education was their ticket to a better life when they were growing up, and they want it for their children.

What do you all think? Are we pushing the wrong people into college? What do we do instead?

1 comment:

J said...

The first thing that comes to mind is the German educational system. After the German equivalent of elementary/middle school, students essentially have three options:

a) The Gymnasium, which focuses more on the classics/humanities and is the track to the University.

b) The Realschule, which is sort of a broad-based intermediate option that tends to focus more on the sciences.

c) The Hauptschule, which offers vocational education and funnels students into apprenticeships.

Usually, elementary/middle school teacher recommendations determine which of the schools a student will end up in.

Compare that to the U.S., where yes, we essentially shuffle everyone to college. It doesn’t matter what your GPA and SAT score is, there is a college out there somewhere for you whether it be a University, community college, 2-year program etc., or so they tell us.

Why? Because there is a massive social stigma attached to not going to college.

We all laugh at those ads for Lincoln Technical Institute that appear on TV late at night but the world needs auto mechanics and HVAC technicians, and there a lot of motivated people out there who weren’t cut out for a traditional four-year college, but are willing to put in the time and effort at a technical school to get a blue-collar job that pays pretty well.

I think the problem ultimately starts at the high school level. A large percentage of students have a fairly good idea of what they want to do by the time they’re 14, 15, 16 years old. If someone really wants to be a registered nurse, why saddle them with inane courses on U.S. history and English literature? Let them start taking the anatomy, medicinal chemistry, nursing practices classes before they start nursing school.

My suggestion is to keep K-6 education as it is (well, as imperfectly as it is). Then roll 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th grade into one and call it whatever you want. Throw a broad range of subjects at students for the first three years and then focus on mandatory life skill classes in 10th grade (personal finance, writing skills, computer literacy, civics [everyone needs a civics class!]). After 10th grade, students have the option of two more years of humanities/general science classes in preparation for a four-year University education, or they can choose from a myriad of professional and technical programs (sponsored by existing or new higher learning institutions) in fields such as: Automotive Sciences, Nursing/Physical Therapy (both are in incredible need), Engineering (the U.S. is shockingly deficient in new engineers) etc etc etc.

K-12 public education is a $50+ billion business, so any change will be arduous and slow. But a fundamental reorganization of secondary education is a must.