Thursday, June 12, 2003

College for Everyone?

We have an internal discussion board at work, and it occasionally digs into some interesting ideas. I thought this question from my interaction-design partner-in-crime was particularly astute:

Gwen: One of the questions that's come to my attention and has been swirling in my head is "Are college degrees the new high-school degrees? In other words, is it even more imperative now that people go to college?" As expected, there are differing answers to this. Some say that it's silly to expect all kids to get college degrees. We just don't need that many educated workers. Not all students are cut out for college.

Others say that the base level of skills/knowledge needed to succeed is such that a student must have a college degree in order to survive. This is where the quote about college grads making 90% more than high school grads is brought in. Where does our company and its products fit into this? How do we position ourselves if the trend is towards pushing all kids to college regardless of their interest in it?

Here's an editorial on "college hype" from the Center for Jobs and Education in Wisconsin:
Why must all be prepared for college? (Word document -- use "guest" as username)

My response: Fascinating find, Gwen. That guy is really fired up. Some of his stuff is a rant, but you can't really argue with his numbers. Even though 79% of jobs in 2010 will require less than a bachelor’s degree, there's the sense that we (middle-class folk, or everyone who aspires to be) don't really want to get stuck in those jobs. So competition heats up for the other 20% -- the supposed good jobs -- and level of education becomes the differentiating factor. Personal example: I didn't need a Bachelor of Education degree to work in customer service when I started here, but it probably got me in the door ahead of someone who didn't.

I thought this paragraph summed up the crux of this issue:

"Individuals who have higher educations are more likely to have higher incomes and be more successful in life. Therefore it is claimed that “all” students must be prepared to enter higher education and hopefully graduate because “all” students who are not prepared for higher education are doomed to “dead end” jobs and failure in life. The problem is that the great majority of jobs require only short-term or moderate length training or on the job training and many of these jobs do not pay a family living wage."

Tough questions...and worth asking. The entire discussion takes place in the context of the American Dream. We want to believe that everyone can succeed, own new cars and fancy houses. Even though we know that's just a dream for most, we certainly don't want our kids on the wrong side of the equation. And for most of us, success is defined by wealth. And as a corporation, we follow the dollars. We have to create products and services that parents or schools or whoever are willing to pay for. Ideally, those products/services don't trample our collective values, but the guiding value of a corporation is to generate profit to prolong its existence.

Today's comments: Is this focus on capitalism too cynical? If it's true that most of the jobs in the future will not require college, but those jobs won't pay a living wage, isn't that a recipe for some huge societal clash? One right-wing rebuttal I've heard is that all those college grads will create their own new and wonderful types of employment...which implies that the Department of Labor's forecasting isn't even close...but who gets stuck doing that 80% of the work that won't pay decently? Perhaps the whole discussion is based on old-school assumptions about jobs and work, but it does seem kind of scary. Here's a depressing chart showing the 30 Occupations with Most Annual Job Openings. Granted, it's Wisconsin, but I doubt the rest of the continent would be much different.

No comments: