It’s time to ditch college for all, writes Robert Samuelson. Enrollment has soared since the GI Bill was passed after World War II, he notes.
College became the ticket to the middle class, the be-all-and-end-all of K-12 education. If you didn’t go to college, you’d failed. Improving “access” — having more students go to college — drove public policy.
We overdid it. The obsessive faith in college has backfired.
Although college has been “dumbed down,” dropout rates are high and some graduates “aren’t learning much,” Samuelson writes. Surveys show college students are spending less time studying and doing less writing. Some 36 percent show no improvement in four years, according to the Academically Adrift study.
Worse, the college obsession is bad for high schools, Samuelson argues.
The primacy of the college-prep track marginalizes millions of students for whom it’s disconnected from “real life” and unrelated to their needs. School bores and bothers them. Teaching them is hard, because they’re not motivated. But they also make teaching the rest harder. Their disaffection and periodic disruptions drain teachers’ time and energy.
. . . Yet, vocational education is de-emphasized and disparaged. Apprenticeship programs combining classroom and on-the-job training — programs successful in Europe — are sparse. In 2008, about 480,000 workers were apprentices, or 0.3 percent of the U.S. labor force, reports economist Robert Lerman of American University. Though not for everyone, more apprenticeships could help some students.
The rap against employment-oriented schooling is that it traps the poor and minorities in low-paying, dead-end jobs. Actually, an unrealistic expectation of college often traps them into low-paying, dead-end jobs — or no job.
Lydia Dobyns of New Tech Network agrees in One Size After High School Does Not Fit All.
While 68.3% of 2011 high school seniors enrolled in college the year they graduated, “college persistence and graduation rates are shockingly low,” Dobyns writes.
We do our high school students a great disservice by suggesting they should immediately go to a four-year college upon graduation from high school — or they’ll be sentenced to a life of unskilled labor. Without introducing relevancy, rigor and career skills into high school, the college drop-out rates will continue to be unacceptable.
. . . Students need to feel they have options — to attend a community college, to delay entering college to work, to volunteer or to travel.
The unprepared and unmotivated may end up with college debt but no degree: Nearly 30 percent of college borrowers don’t complete a degree.