Does everyone need a college degree? Maybe not, says Harvard study.
America's educational system is 'badly broken,' failing students who may not want – or need – a college degree, argues a new report from Harvard's Graduate School of Education.
(Page 2 of 2)
In the US, vocational education has a bad rap, Schwartz acknowledges – and often for good reason, given the poor quality and its traditional role as a dumping ground for poorer students and students of color. And he’s not advocating the sort of tracked systems that Germany and Switzerland have, in which poorly performing students are often pushed into vocational tracks as early as middle school.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In Scandinavia, students follow a common curriculum until Grade 9 or 10 and then choose what sort of path they want to follow. In Finland, where income class is the least predictive of achievement among OECD countries, 43 percent of kids at age 16 opt for a three-year program that mixes work with learning and moves them to the labor market. But they still have the opportunity to go back to higher education later.
Much of the current education rhetoric emphasizes college over career training. President Obama has frequently stated his goal of having the US lead the world in college graduation rates by 2020. “To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American,” he said in his recent State of the Union address.
But higher education doesn’t have to mean a traditional college degree, the report notes and the Obama administration acknowledges. Many of the growing career fields actually require credentials other than a bachelor’s or associate’s degree.
A Georgetown University study projected 14 million job openings between 2008 and 2018 in the “middle-skill occupations,” such as electricians and paralegals, in which workers need an associate’s degree or occupational certificate.
The college-for-all rhetoric should be broadened, the Harvard report concludes, to become “post-high-school credential for all.”
But the report also says that will take a massive overhaul to a system that, right now, doesn’t do a good job showing kids what the link is between their learning and the jobs to which they aspire.
Employers should be more active in the learning process – whether through internships, visits with students, or brief “try out” experiences – and students need more opportunities to master the kind of “soft skills” likely to help them in the workplace, perhaps through team projects, says Ronald Ferguson, another of the report’s authors and a co-chairman of Harvard’s Pathways to Prosperity Initiative.
The report points to several models in the US that could also be expanded to improve career and technical education. Career academies for high-school students are showing promise in places ranging from Pennsylvania to California. And Project Lead the Way, an engineering curriculum currently serving about 300,000 high-schoolers nationwide, culminates in team projects to solve an open-ended engineering problem.
“If we persist with the illusion that everyone is going to college, then we’re cheating those kids who aren’t going,” Professor Ferguson says. “A majority of the workforce does not have a college degree, and a majority of the things those people do are going to continue not requiring a college degree.”
Staff writer Stacy Teicher Khadaroo contributed to this report.