It seems to me…
“Our labor force is too expensive and poorly educated for today’s market place.” ~ Bill Gross, PIMCO CEO.
The U.S. education system has become an embarrassing disaster. In the span of one generation, our educational system reportedly has dropped in comparison with other advanced nations from first to ninth in the percentage of young people earning college degrees. Not only does this directly affect our international standing, there also is a strong correlation between academic achievement and poverty.
Overall, our educational system currently ranks 26th in the world according to the World Economic Forum. Education is a determining factor in employment. During the recent recession, 25 percent of high school dropouts were unemployed, 14 percent that had completed high school, but only 4 percent of those with a college degree. Our country must accept that we have to make a choice between improving our educational system and accepting a lower standard of living.
It seems difficult for either our elected politicians or much of the general public to understand the seriousness of these trends. Change is difficult while it still is generally perceived that our position at the top of the mountain remains unchallenged. Unfortunately, it will take fifteen to twenty years to produce the next generation of skilled educated innovators we need. We cannot afford to wait that long to make necessary changes.
There essentially are three tiers of universities in the U.S. The top tier — the Stanfords, MITs, Harvards… — not only provide a general background in a field but a base upon which the student will be able to learn and develop in the future. The second tier — the majority of universities — provide a more basic but still rounded education. The third tier — the DeVrys — essentially are trade schools where students are trained in specific subjects for available positions.
All educators would prefer more extensive and rounded study programs but accept the necessity of compromise. Accreditation boards in most fields specify what subject matter must be taken to qualify for a degree in that subject. Subject deficiencies are generally acknowledged but it already is difficult for most students to complete the required course material within four years. What we have is far from what we might like but accept that, in general, it would be difficult to do much better given system constraints. Extending the time required to complete undergraduate programs only places greater financial stress on the student (and their families). Adding additional course material would only increase the time, and consequently the expenses, required for students to complete their studies.
While some universities provide a more extensive background than others in science or humanities, with the exception of some schools in the third tier, they attempt to provide the type of background generally advocated by curriculum committees at the undergraduate level. Graduate level curriculums, in general, are specific to the field of study (though as a graduate student, I did take a couple social science classes on technology and society and assume most other students do also).
The cost[i] of attending college has increased well beyond what most students can reasonably afford. The average student debt for educational loans has increased 8 percent since 2010 to $27,300 (adding in loans parents have taken bring this to $34,300); a 30 percent inflation adjusted increase since 2000[ii]. The cost for an undergraduate degree has increased 538 percent in the last 30 years. Is it any question that 41 percent of recipients of student loans that started repayment since 2005 are either delinquent or have defaulted? Student loans cannot be eliminated through a declaration of bankruptcy – the government can garnish up to 15 percent of someone’s take-home pay, dock disability benefits, and deny a security clearance.
Given the high costs associated with attending college, most students already experience difficulty paying for their higher education and frequently are left with extremely high debts that take quite a few years to pay off. Addressing what needs to be done to reduce these costs is another subject but given conservative opposition to funding of public education, costs probably will continue to increase.
Until we finish high school, education and employment are separate entities connected only through summer vacations. Afterwards, education remains a background part of our remaining lives while employment defines who and what we are.
That’s what I think, what about you?
[i] College Spending Trends Show Students Bearing a Growing Share of the Costs, The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 14, 2011, http://www.linkedin.com/news?actionBar=&articleID=771244446&ids=0Sd3gQd38NdPsIcPkUejkNcjsTb3kUcP0Odz4TdOMTczoQe3oVdzsIdPgMej0OcPgT&aag=true&freq=weekly&trk=eml-tod-b-ttle-68&ut=3SIc7UqP_qHQU1
[ii] Dell, Kristina. I Owe U, Time, 31 October 2011, p 42.