The meaning of a degree technically refers to the collection of courses achieved. An associate degree is awarded after the completion of 60 semester credits. This is equivalent to completing the freshman and sophomore years of a four year college, and halfway to a bachelor’s degree. Vocational, trade or technical schools, are higher-level learning institutions that specialize in providing students with technical skills and education needed to perform the specific tasks of a particular job.
What you get at school influences you later
For the coming generations to have gainful and meaningful employment and to be able to contribute to society and its economy, students need to have access to all types of higher learning — whether vocational or academic education — and we need to make sure they graduate. There are many people who have the ability to get a four year degree but don’t. When they quit, they miss out on the benefits.
College graduates do not typically work menial jobs. And the unemployment rate among college graduates (ages 25-34) is only 2%. The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else is at an all time high. Research has found that college graduates are also healthier, happier, more likely to remain married, more likely to be engaged parents and more likely to vote.
Even the government is getting involved — whether you are a great teacher (or in some cases, a great nurse), if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, you simply won’t be hired. Private-sector also uses college degrees as a way of discerning basic attributes that may lend themselves to a position.
Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana and current President of Purdue University told the Wall Street Journal in “How to Save American Colleges,” that he feels it is important to measure what his students are learning while they are at Purdue so that they are prepared for the workplace. He says the three most important contributions that a college makes to promote a sense of passion and direction in the workplace after graduation are: Having one professor who made you excited about learning, feeling as though teachers cared about you, and working with a mentor.
Other positive factors from undergraduate experience: working on a long-term project, having an internship and participating in extracurricular activities. Where graduates went to college barely registered as a predictor of job satisfaction. Graduates who checked those boxes were more than twice as likely to sense they are flourishing at work.
However, in the recently released results of the Gallup-Purdue Index - a national survey of 30,000 college graduates on their post graduate earnings and how well they are navigating adult life - showed that only 39% reported feeling truly engaged with their professional work. And only 14% of those said they had received the critical trifecta experience while in college. Many of those surveyed graduated from elite, top 100 schools.
What is the college obligation?
Research data from Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa from their 2011 book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” showed that more than 35% of U.S. college students showed no academic growth between freshman year and graduation — especially in areas of critical thinking and writing. Similar findings emerged from a 2005 Education Department report that found more than half of four-year college graduates could not compare viewpoints in newspaper editorials.
Daniels says that colleges have a duty to validate their product when they are charging so much for it. More and more, people are saying: show us the growth during those four years.
College education bestows numerous benefits besides learning from texts, one of which is managing to successfully navigate a serious obstacle course. This experience provides the confidence and ability to navigate other obstacles in life. This quality has been referred to as “grit.” You fall down, you pick yourself up and keep going.
Colleges, especially those with marginal students, have an obligation to keep them moving forward, especially when they fall down. With dropout rates near 50%, many four year college students are left with a grim combination of debt and no degree. Community colleges have even higher dropout rates than four-year colleges.
Daniels says that colleges and universities need to provide the accountability that students and parents are starting to demand. He says “Higher education has to get past the ‘take our word for it’ era,” because more and more, people are starting not to.
Ode to the middle class — How much is an education worth?
There are families who can pay the full ride of a private institution — usually upwards of $60,000 — and there are more colleges and universities pledging to recruit high-achieving, low-income kids with a free ride. But what happens to those families caught in the middle? They are left with the choice of of either taking out loans and nearly bankrupting themselves, or not sending their child to that school.
At expensive, elite institutions whose financial aid is need-based rather than merit-based, the middle class doesn’t exist. Elizabeth Armstrong, co-author of “Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality,” says 75% of the students are in the top quartile of income, the remainder are the financial aid students. In between, almost nothing exists.
These “no middle class” scenarios expose the inequities inherent in an elite college education. The difference between income and wealth can be a deal breaker for private college admission. Making a decent salary doesn’t guarantee that a family will be able to pay for college. And in a difficult economy, the numbers on a student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid may not tell the whole story.
New America Foundation education writer Kevin Carey in his article, “Here’s What Will Truly Change Higher Education: Online Degrees That Are Seen as Official” says that the university concept — born of a trinity of practical training, research and liberal arts education — ultimately evolved into “a conspiracy of bureaucrats who have turned it into a culturally reinforced, overpriced monopoly on the sale of increasingly valuable credentials”.
In the early 1800s, a prospective law student could enroll directly in law school. But in 1869, Harvard made bachelor degrees a prerequisite for admission into its graduate and professional schools. Soon after, everyone was doing it. Now, the four year college experience has turned into a six or eight year experience and people are still carrying around the debt from those academic years.
In 2012, scientists from Harvard, Stanford and M.I.T. created a platform for Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, to anyone in the world with an Internet connection. The courses were free and loads of students signed up. But despite this revolution, enrollment in traditional colleges remained vibrant with undergraduates paying higher tuition and taking out larger loans than ever before. While the MOOCs idea was grand, they don’t offer official college degrees — the ones needed to secure a career.
Daphne Koller, who wrote the WSJ article “Exit the Sage on the Stage,” believes that technology will eventually transform higher education. She says that online degrees can open doors of opportunity to millions of people who otherwise might not have access to post-secondary education. It has the potential to change higher learning from a once in a lifetime experience to a continuing endeavor that helps people meet their education needs across a lifetime.
So parents, tell your kids to choose wisely and work hard. It’s not about car, it’s about getting there.