Is A College Degree For Everyone?

A group of economists and educators are questioning the value of a college education.

Is A College Degree For Everyone?

The New York Times reports on an unconventional idea being pushed by some economists and educators that supports vocational courses for students who are unlikely to be successful pursuing a higher degree and thus, ending up without a degree and considerable educational debt. These economists argue that college degrees are simply not necessary for many jobs and quote a report that says, of the 30 fastest growing jobs over the next decade in the US, only 7 require a bachelor’s degree. The supporters of this argument advocate more investment in vocational programs and on-the-job apprenticeship training.

The Times reports:

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.

Professor Vedder likes to ask why 15 percent of mail carriers have bachelor’s degrees, according to a 1999 federal study.

“Some of them could have bought a house for what they spent on their education,” he said.

Professor Lerman, the American University economist, said some high school graduates would be better served by being taught how to behave and communicate in the workplace.

Such skills are ranked among the most desired — even ahead of educational attainment — in many surveys of employers. In one 2008 survey of more than 2,000 businesses in Washington State, employers said entry-level workers appeared to be most deficient in being able to “solve problems and make decisions,” “resolve conflict and negotiate,” “cooperate with others” and “listen actively.”

Yet despite the need, vocational programs, which might teach such skills, have been one casualty in the push for national education standards, which has been focused on preparing students for college.

Opposing this idea is another group of scholars who say if such a move is implemented, they could be accused of lowering expectations for some students. Supporting them is a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which says that people with college and graduate degrees generally earn more than those without them, and face lesser risk of unemployment.

NY Times: “Plan B: Skip College”

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