When I was in High School, a school of 3,500 students, we had several academic tracks for the students. Some of us took the college prep track which emphasize the academic disciplines such as math, science, literature, grammar, writing, history etc. But back in those days (1970s) there was still a sense that college wasn’t for everyone. And so we also had some other tracks. On one side of the school there was a magnificent “industrial arts” lab where guys learned most of the trades, such as plumbing, basic electrical, carpentry, sheet rock, masonry, and car repair, even drafting. Another section of the school trained mostly the young ladies in licensed practical nursing, typing, stenography and basic book-keeping. There was also a culinary school.
Quite remarkable really.
Most of that is gone now, at least here in the Washington DC area. I say with some degree of frustration and sadness that I have heard that the drafting lab where I once learned mechanical drawing is now a nursery for the many young girls to have their babies watched while they go to class. Another sign of the cultural meltdown.
There was a lot wrong in the 1970s, but the insight of multiple tracks wasn’t one of them. Frankly not every one is cut out to go to college or needs to. There seems to be hyper emphasis on college. Many public and Catholic high schools like to boast that 98% of their graduates went to college. But why should 98% go? Is it possible that the pressure and increasing “requirement” that everyone go to college is an unjust expectation? Is it really necessary that everyone have a college degree to get, even entry level, clerical work or tradesman status? Why?
I wonder about “justice” here for two reasons
1. Tuition rates are disgracefully high. Many families and students incur enormous debt to jump through the increasingly required college “hoop.” There are some State Colleges and community college alternatives that are more reasonable, but even there, books are horribly expensive as are the increasing requirements for laptops, lab equipment, electronic readers and many other ancillary stuff. I am not asking for any regulation of tuition rates but I wonder about many of these college campuses which pride themselves on their “socially enlightened” views and then jack up prices like this.
Tuition has gone way out of sight. Currently over 60 colleges and universities in the country charge over $50,000 a year for tuition. Here in DC, Georgetown charges $52,161 and George Washington charges $51,775. At some point, rates like this become unjust and drive up other more affordable schools as well.
Again, I am not asking for some Government agency to regulate tuition rates. What I am proposing is if we as a culture ought not step back and ask if “requiring” college for so many, is necessary and just. Perhaps it is time to reexamine trade schools and other avenues as entry points into our economy.
2. Time - A college degree used to take four years. Not exactly short, but manageable. You got your BA or BS, your ticket was punched, and you went into the workforce. Today, however, there are increasing requirements for the MA and even the doctoral degree to get “access.” So, add two, three or more years and, by the way, pay even more, and go deeper into debt.
In short, creeping credentialism is costly in terms of time and money. When things get this costly and time consuming, it is time to ask if it is necessary that we require such an elaborate and expensive system for people to “get their ticket punched.”
I have seen employment ads for car mechanics that listed a college education as preferred. Why? I have seen the same thing in want ads for chefs and cooks. College? Is that necessary? Closer to home, I have seen Catholic parishes list secretarial openings that strongly prefer college degrees. Why? Sure, for the parish business manager a degree and or significant professional experience is essential. But for a secretary who types, answers phones, keep records, and makes ordinary use of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, is a college degree necessary? Why do we do this, and is it possible we are unnecessarily shutting out the poor or others who, for various reasons, could not have access to the college scene?
Finally, I am going to get really controversial and wonder if a College Education is not overrated as well. Years ago, College was an intense experience of the life of the mind where one sampled from the deepest veins of human learning; reading the classics, studying ancient languages, reading the philosophers, theologians and scientists. One emerged having drawn deeply of these, and being rather conversant in the great ideas that underlay the modern sciences, culture, economics and political theory.
Today college has morphed into a kind of trade school, but a very expensive and time consuming one. Students specialize quickly and sample far less of the foundations of learning and knowledge.
Further the lifestyle of college campuses (as we have discussed before) is poisonous to the moral life, and even the education of young people. Widespread drinking, fornication and drug use are usually unchecked by academic leaders. None of these help the life of the mind, and they surely kill the life of the soul. The college scene also devastates maturity and many leave college less mature and self disciplined than they entered.
I have talked with a few people in HR departments in both private and government sectors and they indicate that many college graduates are unprepared for the discipline of work. Many of them have short attention spans, a party-rock spirit, and are not used to hard work and showing up on time. Job one is for many of them to grow up and quickly, otherwise they do not retain employment long. While not all college students exhibit these problems it is enough of a trend to mentioned.
While this topic is not strictly a theological one, I have tried to couch my remarks in terms of justice, and also culture, which we comment on a lot here.
Please let me know what you think and what your experiences are. I do not want to be unjust in my own reflections, but at the bottom line I think we need to augment and open other viable paths into the workforce for high school students today. A college degree has its place, but is far less necessary than we make it; or so I think. How about you?
Here’s a classic comedy routine by Guido Sarducci called Five Minute College:
A Reader alerted me to this video: