What if I told you that you could start a business and sell a product that a majority of society thought they “needed” but did not produce the results it stated and the customer could not return the product and the price increased every year more than inflation. I don’t know about you but I want to invest in that business. Welcome to the modern day higher education system. We now live in a society that pushes everyone to go to college as a fundamental right and that all of us should strive to be doctors, lawyers and accountants.
This mindset has diminished the value that is created by other careers, skills and trades that are paramount to our society. Yet we are constantly told that we have a fundamental right to get a college degree and nearly every counselor and advocate for education in our country pushes for this standard. The unintended consequences have definitely been in full force on this matter because this push for education has allowed for a higher education system to go unchecked for decades. In essence, we have created a monster.
As a result, tuition has skyrocketed and tenure-ship has gone from prestigious distinction and responsibility to arrogance and selfish agendas. Many tenure professors have their own agendas that do not match up with that of the private and public sectors which has resulted in unprepared college graduates and higher unemployment rates. This is an issue that I could write about for days but in the essence of time I will keep my thoughts to three problems and three solutions for higher education.
- The Numbers Don’t Lie: Job availability data does not support current college graduate data which has created a significant supply and demand issue in the job markets. On a regular basis I hear from companies that have a hard time finding qualified computer programmers and engineers for their business yet when a marketing position opens they will be flooded with applicants. This is also an issue with skilled labor and trade. A recent study came out that half of college graduates work jobs that do not require a degree. We have over-flooded the market with graduates that are all trained in the same disciplines, thus, creating career uniformity in our society.
- The Career Uniformity Issue: Our culture has continued to put high paying white collar jobs on a pedestal as we look down on blue collar skill and trade careers as work beneath us. This is absolutely unintelligible at its core due to the fact that a functioning society is like a car that requires many parts working in unison to operate. Therefore, how can you put more value on one part over the other when the elimination of any part will render the vehicle inoperable. I’m not saying that all jobs are equal in effort or pay scale but that each has a role in the overall healthy functioning of our economy. Some parts may have more monetary value and work load than others but it still requires every part for full operation. Any career that gives to the greater good of society and is done with excellence is what I would call honorable work and as a society we must take this view or risk failure of our society.
- The Next Bubble: There is currently $1.2 trillion in college debt among our citizens which has created a major liability to our countries financial stability. When societies start to change their thinking on rights it creates a domino effect. At one time each citizen in the United States had the right to “pursue” education and home ownership but over time as a society we dropped the word “pursuit” and decided it was everyone’s “given” right. Although this seems like a minor interpretation it has devastating results. You see, this change in thinking creates a dismissal in logic and decisions start to be based on emotion. Even if the emotions and intentions are good it does not make them right. As we saw with the housing crisis we had to drop logic in order to give everyone their right to home ownership and it has had significant negative impacts on our society. We are on the same course with college education and it will be our next bubble and crisis. As I stated above, the higher education system is selling a product that is not wanted by the private and public sector and they are selling this product through leverage (college debt). This creates a significant issue considering that most students will not be getting the career or pay that they were promised and thus struggle to make payments on the product they were sold. Eventually this will lead to massive default and illiquidity in our markets…..AGAIN! I do not blame higher education for this for they are only delivering a product that the market demands and that would be shifting respnosbility. I blame society as a whole for breaking away from pragmatic thinking in order to get what we want.
- Private Sector Education: The corporate world has been fighting with higher education for years to train their students in such a way that will make them valuable upon graduation. This battle has rendered useless for the private sector and resulted in outsourcing and off-shoring in order to meet their demands. There is a new trend happening in the private sector to deal with this issue in education that is specific to computer programming. Companies like Zappos and others are offering education programs before or after their college education to properly train students on the technical skills that students need for the private sector. Some of these private sector programs are even basing their tuition on the students ability to obtain a job and/or salary amount upon graduation. Imagine that, you actually get to take my education product back if it doesn’t work. What a novel idea.
- Bring Back The Trade Schools: The trade schools have been greatly diminished in high schools and colleges over the decades as we have started to diminish their value in society. We have become a specialized and consumable based economy which only values the new and throws away what is broken. Most of us have a very specific set of skills for a particular niche and rely on the rest of society to fix and make whatever falls outside of that niche. The comedy behind this is that we are no longer training or educating certain trade and skills vital to our economy which in a specialized culture has left major supply and demand issues in on our work force. When all careers are looked upon as honorable this helps to alleviate the supply and demand of careers in our economy. Thus, we should respect trade schools along the same lines as higher education institutions. It should be just as prestigious to enter into a trade school as it is a liberal arts school. This will not only create pride in all honorable careers but also a higher standard of excellence in every field.
- On The Job Degrees/Apprenticeships: The best education I ever received was by actually getting in and doing a job. I don’t think many would disagree with this statement. There was a point in time when all careers and trades were taught through apprenticeship. Someone with years of experience on the job handed down their knowledge and expertise to the apprentice. This was a great way to pass along knowledge and learn from the mistakes and successes of predecessors. As a result, this built up decades and eventually centuries of knowledge in a particular trade. I would be the first to admit that my education greatly impacted my critical thinking, strategic decision making and problem solving; however, none of that could teach me how to effectively run a manufacturing plant. Someone who has worked every job in that manufacturing line will always have the advantage of running that manufacturing line over any educated person with no experience in that field. Thus, my point is that we should strive for on the job training degrees and apprenticeships that are viewed with the same prestige as a bachelors degree. The problem we face is that a minimum requirement for most jobs is a bachelors degree which can automatically eliminate candidates who may have more qualified experience than those of their educated counter parts. To make a stronger point, individuals like BIll Gates and Mark Zukerberg could not apply for jobs with a bachelors degree as a minimum requirement. That really puts this requirement into perspective.
This blog entry only touches the surface with what is wrong with our higher education system but its a starting place for the debate that must happen. For me, education is one of the core issues in our society and something that must be addressed now or will have to be addressed once the bubble bursts. So lets be proactive and realistic and start tackling this issue with logical solutions and well thought our solutions.
I agree with your position to an extent. As a college student in my mid 20’s, I notice a lot of 17-19 year olds who simply don’t know what they are doing in college and don’t know where they want to go with their degree. Like you said, going to college is almost an expectation or “right,” it’s just something that successful people do. So the concept has changed from “go get an education and work hard in order to be successful” to “go to college and you will be successful.” The problem with this is that people almost expect success to fall in their laps, provided they follow the proper protocol. In addition, we have been told that in order to avoid “low-brow” jobs we should go to college, which in turn affects our perception of those jobs and makes us less likely to want such a job. In essence, we are over educating ourselves out of labor. However, I still think that college is a good route, provided that you know where you are going and what you want to do. As you mentioned in your blog, you could simply skip the college experience and get on the job training directly from a company. While certain aspects of this statement are true, you are assuming that college is only meant to prepare you for a job. If that were the case, you would be right in saying that one should skip college and go directly to OJT. What a lot of people don’t realize is that college is not only learning about how to do a job, but how to THINK. The entire degree program is structured around putting students in situations that requires them to think critically and solve problems. This is, in my opinion, much more valuable than simple OJT. As a former military serviceman, I can tell you that there are plenty of people that can pick up a skill through on the job training straight out of high school, yet they can’t reason through the simplest of problems. They basically learn how to push buttons but not how to learn why they are pushing them, which in turn affects their ability to solve problems that inevitably arise. I would assume that many of the college graduates who aren’t working in their field either didn’t know why they were pursuing their degrees or they didn’t learn how to think. I agree that our perceptions and expectations of college need a desperate change, but I still think that college is an excellent opportunity provided that people understand and respect the purpose of college in the first place.
Zach, very insightful thoughts and I definitely agree with you on all your points. Personally I really enjoyed college and the education process so I definitely see its value. The problem I have is that the data is disturbing because we are pushing too many people through college by using leverage and the jobs just aren’t there. So we are starting people off in life under a tremendous amount of debt and sending them into a highly competitive work environment. Currently, 50% of college graduates are in jobs that did not require college degrees. This is a major problem. Aside from that I am a big fan of the college experience but the numbers just don’t make sense anymore so we need to re-shift expectations in order to solve this problem. Part of the issue is colleges are operating much more like businesses now than educational institutions. An example of this is the high grade inflation we are seeing year over year, this to me is a product of keeping students paying tuition instead of having a high degree of excellence. I think that the early years of college should weed out the people that are serious about education and the ones that are not. I can attest to many students I graduated with that had the same degree as me but would I say that they were deserving, probably not. I think that colleges should run like a business but not to the point they are diminishing the value of their product. Always enjoy getting your thoughts.
Nothing like working “and” going to college. I think it helps you refine your path and strengthen your resolve and direction. It worked for me. I raised 6 kids working for Military Contractors while putting myself through nursing school. I knew what I had to do to get to a well paying and satifying career.
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