Friday, October 24, 2008

Why We Shouldn't Push All Kids To Go To College

It's crazy to think that every American kid should go to college. Look at the problems our colleges are having with remedial classes if you think otherwise.

Common sense should tell us that some people's talents lie in places other than school, but finally we have a data point:

I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later.

That's pretty telling. Now let me provide a little more information regarding that:

I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later. That figure is from a study cited by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education and now a senior research associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!

Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education.

We need more vocational ed programs in our schools.


Ronnie said...

But I think it's more of a question of were the students prepared for a 4-year college or were they literally not capable of learning the material. I highly doubt that such a large portion of society is incapable of college level learning and believe it is far more likely that these people were unprepared for college. For people who are unprepared and uninterested in becoming prepared, I agree that vocational educational programs would be a benefit, but for those who want to be prepared and aren't being in high school there is a failure in the school system somewhere. I'd say every kid going to college is crazy, but I think we could easily have more.

mazenko said...

While we have nearly twice as many kids going on to college as we had in 1950, the percentage of students actually earning a bachelor's degree has not changed at all. Clearly, we are sending kids on to college who aren't ready and, perhaps, shouldn't be there. It is a failure on all parts of the system, from the parents who didn't instill the values to the schools that didn't verify the skills to the colleges that admit them and take their money, knowing there is slim chance of success (though colleges will let them fail the same course numerous times, collecting tuition with each failure).

There is a huge difference between college-eligible and college-ready, and schools are not making a distinction. I've discussed this with Jay Matthews of the Washington Post, and he logically points out that many schools have consciously steered away from vocational education for two reasons - one is the changing nature of our economy (though we know Joe the Plumber is always in demand) and two is the history of this country that funneled minority and low-income kids into those programs without any attention to ability. Those problems must be addressed before we simply offer shop again.

The task force that produced "Tough Choices, Tough Times" addressed these issues and presented recommendations that blend some of the policies that allow European and Asian systems to more effectively place their younger generations. However, those too often unfairly restrict choice, and America must maintain all its freedoms, including the freedom to fail.

Hermit said...

I was so glad to see this article. For years, I've believed that one of our greatest mistakes has been to try to force all students into one college-bound mold. No matter how much money is poured into education, until equal respect is accorded to skilled individuals whose interests are vocational rather than academic, we will continue to fail the nation's young people.

I'm not anti-academics, as my own university-educated children can attest. I'm just saddened to see how discouraged young people can become when it's implied that they'll never amount to anything unless they have a university degree. And that is what our society is consistently telling them.

To my mind, an expert auto mechanic is as valuable to society and as worthy of respect as the person with a Ph.D.

Ellen K said...

The conventional wisdom is that "all kids are going to college." While I agree that all students who want to do the work and make the grades should have the opportunity to attend, instead we have a system where we have dumbed down freshman college course to adapt to the lower skill sets of graduating high school students. At this point, are we really giving them a college education? Or are we simply teaching them the things they should have known in the first place if they had been working and paying attention? Another facet to this is the erosion of the programs for students who need a job when they get out of high school. Our district used to have a construction program wherein the kids at freshman level learned carpentry skills, they learned plumbing skills junior level and learned electrical skills at the senior level. These kids built a house under the guidance of master craftsmen and teachers. The house was then sold to fund the program. Everyone won. The kids got training, the district got money to run the program and the town got sales taxes and property taxes from some very nice new homes. What happened? TAKS happened. And with that a whole slew of testing initiatives scuttled many of the programs that would have given kids working skills for after high school. Instead these same kids are stuck in PreCal or Physics-which is necessary for college bound students, but is a barrier to graduation for kids who don't have those goals. It's time to allow kids to have some say in their own futures. If you want proof, I can walk down the hall to the Bridging and TU classes and every kid there will say they are going to college after graduation. Even if they can't read or write. Is that really what colleges should be doing in the 21st century?

rightwingprof said...

"To my mind, an expert auto mechanic is as valuable to society and as worthy of respect as the person with a Ph.D."

Indeed -- perhaps more so.

Mrs. Bluebird said...

Great post and I'm glad to see it. I stay with a friend of mine (and a fellow teacher) when I do my summer camp stint in Ohio and I had a conversation with her husband, the manager of a small tool and die company, about this same topic. The local schools around there used to have fantastic vocational ed programs - agriculture, nursing, engineering, machining, carpentry and more. Then the push of "everyone must go to college/Ohio State" happened. Where Vern used to have a lot of applicants to chose from for the jobs in his shop, his applicant pool is shrinking and shrinking. He has good paying jobs for people with the skills, but the high schools aren't providing them with these skills anymore. He told me he was actually worried about the day when he has no applicants, and he sees that coming. He has some guys close to retirement, and more work than he can handle. What's he going to do? He'd like to hire locally, but that may not be an option in the future.

Ellen K said...

I think we need to create a system similar to the British system. Kids would take tests at the end of middle school and if their scores were high enough for the rigors of a college prep program-a TRUE prep program not the watered down mess we have today-they would go to one school. Kids who wanted or only merited a vocational track, would get the skills they need to work. We need these people! My son's friend is making as much as I do working in an auto shop. And have you seen what electrical contractors make lately? And don't get me started on locksmiths. At over $100 a pop to unlock a car door, that's easy money for little training. We need to let kids know about this stuff and stop sticking them in community colleges to wither away.

MikeAT said...

One of my oldest friends is a sample of pushing kids the wrong way.

I met H in the fall of 83 when we were 18 year olds at the Army ROTC program. He was an engineering student and but he told his parents he wasn’t ready for college yet.

He flunked out.

After a year off his parents sent him back…and again he flunked out.

Well, life went on, H got married and I went on active duty. He worked for cable companies, engineering firms and a few other businesses, picking up skills and living life. By the mid-90’s he was back at college…making A’s in mechanical engineering. He now works for a NASA contractor and is doing great. But I recall something his wife told his parents at the graduation. “He told you years ago he wasn’t ready for college right out of high school….”

Often I see a problem with some young people just not knowing what they want to do and they need some time on their own to find out to do with their lives. Take a few years working in the “real world” may point them in the direction they want to go and they can work in that direction.

In another example, I have a nephew who went to college for one year and then walked away. It wasn’t for him. He got started working for a surveying company and now he’s doing great as a certified surveyor.

Increased vo-tech could also help giving poor and minority kids in an inferior school (read inner city schools) not only specific skills (mechanics or carpentry) but also work skills that used to be taught by parents, E.G. You are expected to be at work on time, you are expected to work while at the job, etc.

Sounds like a great plan to me…and the educational bureaucracy will fight it all the way.