Let a Thousand Schools Bloom
The New York Times ran an excellent article on Friday critiquing the idea that all students should attend college. A college education can certainly lead to a better career and higher pay for those who prosper in that academic environment, but for millions of others, it is ultimately a very expensive distraction:
The idea that four years of higher education will translate into a better job, higher earnings and a happier life — a refrain sure to be repeated this month at graduation ceremonies across the country — has been pounded into the heads of schoolchildren, parents and educators. But there’s an underside to that conventional wisdom. Perhaps no more than half of those who began a four-year bachelor’s degree program in the fall of 2006 will get that degree within six years, according to the latest projections from the Department of Education. (The figures don’t include transfer students, who aren’t tracked.)
For college students who ranked among the bottom quarter of their high school classes, the numbers are even more stark: 80 percent will probably never get a bachelor’s degree or even a two-year associate’s degree…
College degrees are simply not necessary for many jobs. Of the 30 jobs projected to grow at the fastest rate over the next decade in the United States, only seven typically require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Among the top 10 growing job categories, two require college degrees: accounting (a bachelor’s) and postsecondary teachers (a doctorate). But this growth is expected to be dwarfed by the need for registered nurses, home health aides, customer service representatives and store clerks. None of those jobs require a bachelor’s degree.
Despite the steady drumbeat from politicians and educators over the last 50 years, college is not the one true way in education. Training in a skilled trade and on-the-job experience are just as valid educational paths as college, and can be just as lucrative — often, more so. Government policy, both at the federal level and in Missouri, encourages people to attend college instead of pursuing other routes. We could both save money and achieve better outcomes if the government were to cut back on spending for colleges and shift some of that funding to need-based scholarships for trade schools.
The near single-minded focus on college as the best educational path is just another example of government’s tendency to impose a monolithic solution for a host of varied and complicated problems. Such problems can best be solved by a greater role for the market, which offers numerous alternative strategies for achieving similar goals.