The Myth of Higher EducationPosted: June 7, 2013 | |
Arthur Posey is a retired high school guidance counselor and freelance blogger who writes about issues that relate to education (including education reform and the importance of vocational schools. He spends his free time working on his motorcycle or taking his family whitewater rafting.
My dad was fond of saying that I had to go to college if I didn’t want to end up flipping burgers at McDonald’s. During my senior year of high school, he and my mother both pressured me to apply to prestigious 4-year universities. Taking a gap year or attending a trade school were not alternatives that my parents and I talked about. In retrospect, I wish we had. It would have been nice to know what other options were out there, even if I didn’t end up pursuing them, but our culture’s emphasis on higher education obscured my ability to search for other ways to advance my career prospects.
Decades later, little has changed. High schools still emphasize 4-year colleges as the best and, in many cases, only path to a successful career after high school. This is a problematic approach to the question of what students should do after high school. We can’t all be surgeons and CEO’s and—even if we could—most of us wouldn’t want to.
Creating a well-rounded, successful workforce means finding successful, affordable alternatives to traditional 4-year colleges. It means being willing to think outside the box—to consider the unique needs that every student has, to recognize that what works for some people doesn’t always work for everybody. The idea that every single young person in the world needs a 4-year degree to be successful in the workplace is a deceptive, self-serving fallacy propagated by the education system.
This is not to say that college is inherently evil. It isn’t. College does a lot of good things for a lot of people, but the acquisition of a 4-year degree should not be the universal standard by which we judge a person’s ability to succeed. There are other roads to success—other equally viable options that might actually be better for certain students. These roads might be easier to find if they weren’t hidden behind walls of self-serving rhetoric that elevate the importance of college education at the expense of other options, like trade schools.
In attempt to break down those walls and create an open space for the discussion of alternative options with regard to education, here are a few reasons why traditional 4-year universities might not be everything that they’re cracked up to be:
- They’re an Economic Sinkhole—
Colleges cost a lot of money. The average cost of tuition for the 2012-2013 school year (according to College Board) was approximately $29,000 at private colleges, $22,000 for out-of-state residents attending public universities and $9,000 for state residents attending public universities. Keep in mind, this figure only reflects the annual cost of tuition—it doesn’t take into account the living costs associated with 4-year university (books, dorms, parking, meal plans etc.).”
According to the New York Times article “A Generation Hobbled by College Debt”, almost two-thirds of people pursuing bachelor degrees are forced to take out a loan to pay for their education. The interest on those loans accumulates, which means many people graduate hopelessly in debt and are forced to work several years to pay back the money they owe. This isn’t a problem if your graduate degree lands you a high-paying job right out of college but, unfortunately, that almost never happens (especially if you majored in something like art history or philosophy).
- They’re a Rigged Game—
Families that can afford to send their children to expensive, private prep schools have educational opportunities and resources that students in low-income areas won’t ever have. This creates a circular system that reifies wealth and privilege: access to quality education begets increased access to quality education.
Low-income students can’t afford tutoring centers, laptop computers, top-notch SAT prep courses or any of the other things that help students remain academically competitive. They can’t afford violin lessons, foreign language tutors or any of the other extracurricular activities that college admission boards traditionally drool over.
In many cases, low-income students are already locked outside the college admission system by the time they hit middle school. This is one of the many ways in which colleges across the country protect the inherent advantages of the upper class, while simultaneously discriminating against people from lower income brackets.
- They Foster Intellectual Homogenization—
The problem with most traditional 4-year universities is that they restrict their curriculum to set standards that revolve around test scores and other traditional indicators of student success. The problem with this “one-size-fits-all” approach to education is that it ignores one of the first lessons we learn as children: everyone is different. More importantly, everyone learns differently. Some people are visual learners. Others are kinesthetic learners who need ‘hands-on’ experience to understand something.
This means that there are a lot of people who can’t succeed in traditional education systems—not because they have learning deficiencies or because they’re not as smart as other students, but because the education system only caters to a very select, specific type of learning. People who do well in school are not inherently smarter than their classmates—they’re simply more successful at maneuvering within the confines of the academic system.
According to a recent article in Time Magazine entitled “Who Needs College? The Swiss Opt for Vocational School”, approximately two-thirds of students in Switzerland choose to forego a university education in favor of Vocational Education and Training (VET). The results are spectacular—Switzerland boast an unemployment rate of less than 3%, one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the world. In addition, VET graduates can expect a starting salary of roughly $50,000 a year.
If you’re still not convinced, think about entrepreneurs and inventors like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and S. Daniel Abraham (the inventor of Slim Fast), who achieved success without any the advantages afforded by an undergraduate degree. Many of them have said, publicly, that the American education system was incapable of catering to their intellectual and creative needs.
We need to stop teaching our kids that a 4-year undergraduate degree is the only road to success. It simply isn’t true anymore. The world has changed. Institutions of higher learning no longer serve as the gatekeepers to a good education. Information is out there, in libraries and on the internet, easily available to anyone with the drive, ambition and intelligence to use it.