Young people need education and skills: Most will need some form of postsecondary training. However, a bachelor’s degree isn’t the only worthwhile path, write Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson in a Chronicle of Higher Education column.
In an important recent article by James Rosenbaum and his colleagues, “Beyond One-Size Fits All College Dreams” (pdf), the authors argue that the over-simplification of the “college for all” movement threatens the futures of many young people with high—but too frequently unrealistic—aspirations.
Pushed to try for a bachelor’s degree, poorly prepared students usually fail to earn any credential. If C and D students were urged to aim for a vocational certificate at a community college, their odds of success would go way up, along with their incomes, researchers say. And those who want to go on to a higher-level degree can do so.
We must “combine realism, pragmatism and idealism,” Baum and McPherson write.
We can’t accept the limited opportunities facing people as a result of accidents of birth or unavoidable life circumstances. But we do have to recognize that there is wide variety in capabilities, interests, attitudes and preparation. There is a vital need for people with many different types of training in our economy. We should be sure that everyone has all of the information available about both the potential benefits and the potential risks involved in whatever choices they make.
I’ve met high school students just barely passing the easiest possible classes who say they plan to go to college — and sometimes graduate school. They don’t know the difference between going to a community college to take remedial classes and qualifying for the University of California. It’s all “college.” They have no idea what academic skills or work habits are necessary to pass college classes — or to qualify for an entry-level job. If they knew they were on the remedial/dropout/unemployable path, some might work harder to get on the certificate-in-a-year path. Students on the some-college path might work to get on the associate degree path or even the bachelor’s path.