college isn’t for everyone

“Education is a requirement for success. College is not.” – Me


This post may seem odd coming from me if you have been reading things on my site. I am a huge proponent of children’s education. All sorts and forms. But. No Child Left Behind and some of the other “increasing college ready kids” programs, while being discussed with the best intentions, may be off mark (I have already written “national program for childhood curiosity” which outlines some of the unintended negative aspects of these programs in schools).

college is not for everyoneHere are some things to think about:

–          Not everyone is cut out for college.

I know. I know. That is no epiphany. But sometimes we seem to overlook that fact as we attempt to get everyone “college ready.” I went to high school with a bunch of kids who not only didn’t do well in school but didn’t really care <and that was okay>. They went to work on their family farms. And inevitably to move on to be successful <businesswise and personally> and do shit I couldn’t even imagine knowing how to do if I were in their shoes. I have a graduate degree but I am “DIY Challenged” (I couldn’t put a bookcase with color coded instructions if you asked me) and I know people who never went to college who could build a frickin’ bookcase from scratch blindfolded. It takes all types for the world to keep rockin’ along.

–          America has more than enough college graduates (in any skill set you want to measure).

Let me say that one again. We (America) have enough college graduates in science, engineering, whatever now.

As the 4/3 The Economist Special report notes “America colleges produced more than enough graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths to meet corporate demand (needs). The problem is that a growing proportion of them do not pursue careers in their field of study.”

Notice … “do not pursue careers in their field.” Yup. That is an issue. And this doesn’t even count the massive number of liberal arts ((or non manufacturing type degrees) currently graduating seeking employment in non-hard goods manufacturing sector.

–          America college system remains the higher education system of choice globally.

Notice I say system. There are locations of higher education outside the American borders that are certainly of higher or equal quality … but the overall American higher education system is still the best, and most desirable, in the world. Many countries send their best and brightest into our college system. So. If an American kid is cut out for college (and isn’t just attending because he/she is ‘supposed’ to attend) they will receive as good an education as anywhere in the world if not better.

Next. It’s a nutty world out there and some of the numbers you look at can make your head spin when you start thinking about college educations.

Here is a factoid for you.

We have more students graduating with engineering and science and technical degrees than we have jobs (what’s up with that?).

So while we are all going nuts about increasing scores versus other countries and getting more kids in college it doesn’t really appear that the issue is “getting kids to go to college” or even “studying the right thing” its rather they just aren’t going into that career when they graduate.

(wrap your head around that fact)

What happens to these graduates?

They end up going into a non productive (that’s an incorrect word  … a service industry career which doesn’t produce or manufacture goods but rather enhances the existing value of what already exists). For example, they get an engineering degree but go into consulting instead of entering into an engineering role in an engineering-oriented company.

So … I could argue <quite successfully I may add> that we don’t need more college graduates (unless we can guarantee driving more kids into colleges increase the likelihood they will enter into careers that benefit our hard goods GNP).


If I combine that last fact with the fact there are a variety of non college degree required careers (jobs that maintain every day life) out there, why are we so focused on college for everyone?


Don’t ask me how to run this gauntlet in real life, but, here is the reality … we would like to have every child have the ability to access college … should they desire it.

And insure the ones who will excel with a college experience get there with the highest probability of success.

Wow. Now there’s a concept huh?

Uh oh. Fraught with peril (but I have a thought a little later on that mitigates the risk ever so slightly).

Our main national program “No Child Left behind” is tricky. And it doesn’t really address the above thought. Yes. The overall intent is good. Very good. But. The challenge is:

1. College isn’t for everyone, and,

2. Raising our national test scores to compete against other countries is stupid.

Yeah. I said stupid. I don’t know that I care if our entire population tests well. I care about those who are pursuing higher education to test well.

Do I know how to design the right path in developing programs to increase success of non college high school students as well as encourage them to focus on something other than college (or judge whether the non-college population is getting enough education to be successful professionally as well as personally in life)?college is a tough choice

No. I am simply pointing out that the concept to figure out is worth pursuing (but fraught with political correctness peril).

Look. I have seen opinions that we need to replace some colleges and universities with training academies. Also, the extra courses today forced upon high school students are commonly a waste of time and more of a jobs program for useless professors than anything else.

I don’t know that I agree with that.

Education is education. Learning is learning.

I would imagine I lean toward some sort of liberal arts teaching helps round out people’s thinking point of view. In other words … we just create better thinkers <regardless what they elect to do career-wise>. But. I also don’t believe one path to education is right for everyone. And I certainly don’t believe liberal arts in high school are the way to go.

But I do believe people’s timing is different. And that includes “being ready to attend college.”

So. With all that said. Where would I ask the government to go in the development of a useful program?

Rather than no child left behind I guess (in my unreasonable way of thinking) I would rather it be “no person left behind.”

I don’t mean we should de-emphasize the importance of education (and the possibility of college) to children but rather we open the lens to insure all ages have the possibility.

Why should a person be forced at 17 to make a choice on college or no college?

I would imagine there are a boatload of 26 year olds who look back at their decision to not go to college and rethink that decision.

Just as well I envision there are boatloads of 26 year olds who look back at their college experience as a grand event that added nothing to their lives but a loss of some brain cells.

The tricky part is that ideas like this sound dangerously like tracking (sorting students by ability level) a practice we repeatedly reject in the U.S> because philosophically (almost with maniacal focus) we believe that all students should have opportunity to meet their full potential.
But I think what’s getting lost is that too many students are going to college not because they want to, but because they think they have to. Through either peer pressure or parent pressure (and the parent pressure may be well intended but drives a lot of kids that are frankly not ready for

We are force-feeding children the idea that you must go to college or you’ll be a second class citizen. I imagine it would be healthier (for person and economy) we should rather be attempting to find the right niche for those who prefer not to attend college. We need skilled workers in all levels of the work force. All work does not require a college education.

Look. I have seen the numbers. And I know the case looks compelling:

–          As good jobs increasingly require more education, college is widely seen as the ticket to personal wealth/security (and to global competitiveness). Average salaries of college graduates are higher than those without college degrees (but, frankly, that piece of information is slightly useless in that a boatload of college graduates may simply be overpaid for their ability).

Sure. College is alluring.

“There’s beginning to be a lot of concern among the American public that … if you don’t get into that upper tier, you’re going to struggle your whole life,” says Public Agenda’s Jean Johnson. I would imagine the big worry with what I suggest (or maybe the fear within political correctness) is if high schools were to advise students that some education beyond high school is not necessary for everyone, “there’s a little bit of a concern that … we’re saying a lesser goal is OK for the populations of students who have been historically least well-served by higher education,” says Jane Wellman, executive director of Delta Project, which studies higher education spending. (fair enough, but, we have some relatively smart people who could solve this issue I imagine)

But. How about some truth. A four-year degree is no guarantee of wealth. About 25% of those with bachelor’s degrees earn less than those with two-year degrees, studies by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce have found.

Yet, we Americans, always good with a goal, have been driving toward this belief that a college education is necessary to be “successful”:

–          The percentage of students who went on to college or trade school within a year of high school climbed from 47% in 1973 to 67% in 2007 (Census).

But some educators, economists and policy analysts are increasingly questioning whether it’s realistic and responsible to push students into college even if the odds of academic success seem low (and I am with them on this issue … and I am none of those three).

Unfortunately this kind of thinking is not real popular (for some really good reasons and some really stupid political correctness reasons). A small, but growing, number of states now require all high school students to take a college entrance exam. And since 2000, the percentage of Americans who believe college is essential to success in today’s world has gone from 31% to 55% “(that’s a pretty remarkable change in a fairly short period).

But. What happens to the students who don’t want to go to college (and start a professional career) or maybe are just not academically inclined and wouldn’t be successful in a college curriculum?

Well. Many high schools focus so much on college that low-achieving students find no place to be successful.

We could try apprenticeships, fairly common in Europe, but workforce oriented high school training is not nearly as common in U.S. schools.

So. I keep coming back to “no person left behind” versus the current “no child left behind.”

I bet a bunch of people are going to reach out and attempt to strangle this idea before it would ever get off the ground. All with good intentions (ok. most with good intentions).

If we worry about who is going to abuse the system, we will never get anything done.

And the ones who would benefit from the system get penalized.

Someone will not manage this idea well. Someone will get it wrong. And you know what?

We need to make sure that someone else is empowered to stand up and say “no, you are not doing it right.” And ‘someones’ will insure it gets done right.

In the end.  There is a distinction in my mind.

Education is a requirement for success.

College is not.

Whether one is educated by a mentor, trade school, apprenticeship or college/university, it is the education, not the vehicle, which is needed.

Sure. We can have “the highest rate of college graduates” by 2020. But, to me, that kind of becomes a “so what” if we have a huge number of graduates that cannot do anything.

I would rather fewer college graduates who rock the world … than have more college graduates who just end up raising the level of mediocrity.

Bottom line.

We are sending the wrong message to kids.

College isn’t for everyone and we shouldn’t set up a system that says “you cannot be successful if you don’t go to college.”

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Written by Bruce