A majority of American workers have jobs that do not require a college degree, according to a new Gallup poll. This finding wouldn’t be particularly surprising if it were only blue-collar workers saying this, but the poll also found that four in ten college grads agreed that they don’t need a college degree for the work they do.
It’s not exactly a shock at this point that college grads haven’t been able to make the most of their degrees, but when nearly half of the country’s college students are wasting money on degrees that they believe have done nothing to prepare them for their jobs, there’s obviously a problem.
These findings can’t be chalked up entirely to undergraduates’ poor choices; college degrees have increasingly become prerequisites for jobs that could easily be performed by high school grads. In many cases, employers are just looking to a college degree as a quick signifier of an applicant’s determination and work ethic, not as a sign of skills learned.
Perhaps there’s a way to reform the employment system so we stop wasting time and money on degrees that are only useful as behavioral signifiers. What would this kind of reform look like?
For starters, it would seek to separate training from education, so that students could accomplish the former as quickly and conveniently as possible without necessarily taking on the latter. This likely means a shift away from the four-year college model for many, toward something that looks more like vocational training, with a greater focus on specific skills and less focus on campus life and subject diversity.
Next, it would reduce dumb bachelor’s degree requirements, so that job seekers and employers could be brought together based on aptitude and achievement tests rather than meaningless but expensive paper credentials.
Old-school academics may balk at these general ideas, but they shouldn’t; none of this has to mean the end of classical education as we know it. A liberal education, for those who want one, is valuable in itself, but the educational experience that many American students get has little or nothing to do with the serious intellectual and cultural education that the liberal arts curriculum involves. Rather than force all college students into a bizarre hybrid of liberal education and skill training, we need to figure out how to make a true education more widely available to those who want it, including adults who wish to continue their education later in life.
The US educational system has a lot of reform ahead of it, and most professors and administrators aren’t all that eager to get with the program. But the public (which ultimately pays the bill) isn’t very happy with the product or its cost at present. Americans have seen far too many years and dollars wasted on useless degrees.
[College quad image courtesy of Shutterstock]