Students are enrolling in to colleges across the country at increases rates in the hopes of obtaining a job that allows them to reach middle class economic status. Despite this fact, many college graduates are finding it more difficult to acquire a job in their field of degree. So then the critical question is: Is a college degree the route to the middle class?
According to a report by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, vocational education is becoming important to economic access in Europe. This report is called Pathways to Prosperity.
Here’s an excerpt from Pathways to Prosperity:
By now, the vast majority of American young people and their families have gotten the very clear message that a high school diploma alone is no longer a sufficient passport to the middle class. Surveys show that middle school students overwhelming aspire to go to college. And college enrollment has continued to escalate. So our national failure to better prepare our young people cannot be explained by poor communications or low aspirations. Rather, the paradox is that even though young people understand they need post-secondary education to make it in 21st century America, huge percentages continue to drop out of high school and college.
This is true. Only 30% of adults in their mid 20’s obtain college degrees. According to the Pathways to Prosperity
report, 56% of students in four year colleges in the U.S. meet their goals and has the highest college dropout rate in the international community.
The report goes on to say, “We fail these young people not because we are indifferent, but because we have focused too exclusively on a few narrow pathways to success.” American federal spending on education has focused its interest on STEM since the late 1950’s. This has narrowed the pathways to success by increasing educational opportunities in the STEM subjects. Despite this fact, federal spending hasn’t been able to create as many jobs in the STEM fields to keep up with the rate of students pursuing careers in those fields.
Pathways to Prosperity states that the problem with the educational system is, “that our system has not evolved to serve young adults in this radically different world. Behaving as though four-year college is the only acceptable route to success…” There was a time when it was necessary for society to promote college as a route to success. Now it may be necessary to promote vocational education in that same manner rather than create a culture of educated individuals with no skills to acquire a job.
Two Final Quotes
Given the barriers—including weak or nonexistent career counseling, rising college costs, inadequate financial aid, and the frequent need to balance their courses with jobs that are often totally disconnected from their programs of study—it is a minor miracle that so many still manage to complete a degree.
These are the challenges of secondary education. As mentioned in a previous diary, it is necessary to look at the root causes of a system that does not lend itself to the needs of society. One of the roots is the dramatic shift from self-reliance to subsidized “success.” People have gone from being able to make a living to being able to educate themselves into being overqualified or unqualified for jobs. Education is extremely important but not at the expense of being able to live and be self-reliant.
As a nation, we currently spend over $400 billion annually on post-secondary education, but the returns on this investment are inconsistent. Efforts to hold colleges accountable for their graduation rates are finally gaining some traction. Complete College America, established in 2009 with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others, is working to dramatically increase the nation’s college completion rate through state policy changes. And at least three states—Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee—have changed their funding formulas to reward completion, not just enrollment.
If the returns on any investment are inconsistent, then it is time to look at the investment and decide whether not the desired result is possible. Holding colleges accountable for graduation rates is useful, but the focus should be on whether or not those students who do not graduate should have been encourage to try other educational programs such as vocations.
Pathways to Prosperity expresses that the most advanced nations place emphasis on vocational education. Maybe it’s time for Americans to reconsider where the focus of secondary education should be. If the idea is to compete globally, why are we doing everything to disadvantage our students in this competition?
Please read the rest of the findings in the full report at Pathways to Prosperity
-by Bryant Muldrew