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Higher Ed Shake Up
Beyond the BA

Over at the Brookings social mobility blog, Michael Petrilli makes the case for beefing up vocational education programs and shepherding fewer students to four-year universities. A taste:

Education reformers are obsessed with getting many more low-income students “to and through” four-year colleges.

… The trouble is, few children from poorer homes are likely to end up with a BA. As Andrew Kelly of the American Enterprise Institute shows in his chapter of my new book, just 14 percent of children from the bottom third of the income distribution will complete four-year degrees. Even if we doubled that number, most poor and working class kids will still need other paths to the middle class.

… A better approach for many young people would be to develop coherent pathways, beginning in high school, into authentic technical education options at the post-secondary level.

Read the whole thing. As we’ve made a habit of arguing at Via Meadia the existing higher education system is crumbling, with 40 percent of borrowers in default on their student loan debts, even as wages for young graduates stagnate and tuition rises faster than inflation. Moreover, millions of students are spending a fortune on a four-year degree only to drop out, or else to graduate and land a job that didn’t require a BA. Pumping more money and more students into the higher education system would only exacerbate its inefficiencies. Policymakers need to think creatively about ways for students to learn the skills they need to earn a good living without the time and expense of a BA—and it’s clear that expanded technical education is one piece of the puzzle.

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  • qet

    Everything old is new again. We now need “policymakers” to “think creatively” about something that had already been created which a prior generation of “policymakers” deliberately destroyed? Perhaps–and I know this goes against the grain of TAI’s DNA–perhaps the rest of us need to think creatively about “policy” as an idea, as a proper vocation for grown men, about the political functions we have allowed to be usurped from us by suffering everything political to be redefined as its cognate “policy,” about the likely irreparable damage we have done to ourselves by deferring constantly to “policymakers” in order that we may pursue and enjoy our material, senses-gratifying comfort without distraction.

  • Andrew Allison

    Good luck with ending the political obsession with getting many more low-income students “to and through” four-year colleges (which are, in fact, five-or-six year): it appears to be a sure-fire vote getter. As qet points out, we don’t need new policy, we need to replace the “you’ve got to have a degree” nonsense with “here’s why a degree may not be such a good idea” (graduate un- and under-employment might be a place to start), and stop admitting unqualified students (eliminating funding for remedial courses would be a good start). Maybe, just maybe, if the universities stopped accepting unprepared students because they are no longer being paid to do so, parents might start to insist that high schools did their jobs. Tightening up student loan requirements would be another (no loans for remedial classes, minimum grades and credit hours per semester, etc.).

    • Ellen

      Exactly right. More and better vocational education is the key and not just in the Bronx, where they have some very good programs in predominantly minority neighborhoods. How about suburbia, where most of the students (except in high income unusual demographics suburbs) should not be going to college either. 18 year-olds who have spent most of their childhood watching vulgar low level TV programs and listening or watching you tube, etc on various gadgets are not college-bound material. This should be announced loud and clear by every politician. What these young people need first and foremost is boot camp for one year (ie, national service) and then a vocational training program that gets them a skill for a job that actually exists in their nearby environment. How novel. College degrees that signify no objective level of learning or skills are increasingly worthless.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Why do we have vulgar low-level TV programs and youtube on gadgets in the hands of any kids for “most of their childhood”? Is anyone making any money from the free enterprise sectors which serve up this market of “goods”?

      • Andrew Allison

        No politician is going to announce that 60%-80% of high school grads are not suited for college. I fear that the solution is to significantly increase admission standards, and suspect that the only way to do that is to base public funding of universities on their four-year graduation rates. Perhaps finding that they don’t qualify for a 4-6 year reprieve from the real world would knock some sense into kids and their parents (and the Academy). Conscription is probably off the table — can you imagine the pampered namby-pambies attending our so-called universitiesbeing brought face-to-face with reality? Trade schools are the answer, but there needs to be motivation (not being able to get into college) to attend. As a practical matter, the community college system could be re-purposed into a trade school and college-prep system for those who fail to achieve admission after high school.

  • FriendlyGoat

    We DO need other paths to the middle class, and as soon as we credibly show them to kids graduating high school, the sooner they will re-think taking on debt to go to college. What this would involve is millions and millions of jobs for 19-23-year-old’s that cover the bills of living modestly and responsibly either single or married with room in the budget to cover one’s own health care without Mom and Dad’s group policy and room for a little savings. It would involve the hope of a career of slow progressive advancement for those who truly apply themselves and the reasonable expectation of not being dumped overboard at every moment of life “for any reason or no reason”.

    Now, if we just weren’t dealing with the pesky fact that this is hardly happening to an effective degree anywhere, we could not only solve the college problem but also a lot of the drug problems, the crime problems and—-in some countries—-the Islam problems.

    • Tom

      Indeed, it’s not–including in places that advocate your favorite policies.

      • FriendlyGoat

        So, what to do?

  • Fat_Man

    “few children from poorer homes are likely to end up with a BA.”

    This one of those classic bug/feature problems. It is a bug, If you worry about creating a society where everyone can flourish based on their natural talents and individual efforts. It is a feature if you are a member of an elite who is trying to guarantee his own children’s place in society, and wants to limit the number of competitors for those slots.

    The American university system is structured around reproducing the existing hierarchy of elites. Any effort to change it will be meet with fierce resistance. The only good news is that the elites, and the higher eduction system, have so far identified with a single political party that they are vulnerable to its internal problems. Those problems are not in front of the media right now. But, they can rip it apart in a nanosecond, if things change.

  • Josephbleau

    For the “Greatest Generation” if you were working class, becoming a college boy was the kiss of death, you would not be accepted into either group. The GI bill was a program to rebuild colleges after four years of no students and a way to keep returning men busy until jobs developed, a success. However fast forwarding to date, not getting a college degree is as demeaning as not graduating HS in the old days. Those who advocate universal college will get no result other than a costly delayed adolescence cum four year party. But if vocational programs are developed and show unequal ratios across social categories (High representation of poor/minority) they will be condemned for placing minorities on a lesser track. I don’t see social justice advocates accepting a pathway for tradesmen no mater how effective and beneficial, if there is a class/race effect in selection.

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