Tamar Jacoby of the Los Angeles Times is starting to wonder if young people might be better off if they have options other than a traditional four year degree.
The college-for-all model isn’t working
Instead of going through Congress and making the initiative bipartisan, President Obama acted alone in mid-November, promising $100 million in grants to specialized high schools — such as New York City’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School — that prepare students for technical careers. The president’s on the right track, but why make it partisan? Schools like P-TECH are an idea whose time has come — one that can be adopted by both parties and by business as well as government.
Vocational education fell from favor decades ago because it was seen as an inferior track for less able students. More Americans attend college today than ever before: this year, 42% of young people 18 to 24 years old. Even among high school students in the bottom quarter of their class, 90% expect to go to college. And there’s no question that, for many Americans, college is a ticket to the middle class.
But there’s also mounting evidence that the college-for-all model isn’t working. Nearly half of those who start a four-year degree don’t finish on time; more than two-thirds of those who start community college fail to get a two-year degree on schedule. Even students who graduate emerge saddled with debt and often without the skills they need to make a decent living.
Meanwhile, companies in a range of sectors — manufacturing, construction, healthcare and other STEM fields — report severe skilled labor shortages. With more than 11.3 million Americans out of work, there are 3.7 million unfilled job openings — due largely to the growing mismatch between workers’ skills and employers’ needs.