America’s education system is failing at all levels and in too many ways to cover in a single editorial.
The topic could fill a college library, so I’m going to focus on the college aspect, briefly. College is no longer the exception, it is the expectation, and this has caused a lot of problems.
First, every American shouldn’t be pursuing a college degree. As a society, we have pushed this idea that everyone needs a college education, and this has flooded the job market with college-educated employees whose education used to make them stand out but is instead the new minimum. A bachelor’s degree is expected for any job now, whether or not the job actually requires that level of education. This has led people to take out exorbitant loans to acquire a college education, only to discover they can’t get a job earning enough money to pay off their debt and provide for their basic living needs; you can find college-educated baristas in every coffee shop in America. In order to make themselves stand out in the job market and compete for higher paying jobs, they have to go back to college to earn an advanced degree in their field, thus increasing their total debt load, but their peers are also pursuing the same route, further devaluing advanced education in the job market.
Second, not only is this idea flooding the job market with over-qualified employees, but it is also degrading the quality of the education they are receiving. Most colleges in America operate more like a for-profit business than they do a non-profit educational institute. Because of this, they are more interested in accepting everyone, regardless of their academic achievement or potential, than they are in providing a challenging and well-rounded education, especially in light of new state laws which tie their funding to graduation rates. Jana is right to point out that those times are over when everyone with a college degree had better access to the job market.
If a school’s funding from the government is based on whether or not a student graduates, then the school will do anything to ensure they graduate as many students as possible, regardless of whether or not those students are actually qualified for the jobs they seek when they graduate. I, for example, ended up with an employee who is often completely incapable of writing a complete and coherent sentence most of the time. I find myself wondering how she graduated elementary school, much less college!
Third, there are entire industries in America offering high-paying jobs which are going unfilled, because students aren’t pursuing those skilled labor positions anymore. These are jobs that don’t require a college education but do require a trade school. Students can come out of school after as little as six months and start earning $30 an hour or more, depending on the trade they’ve chosen.
In America, we need to do a better job of counseling students on career options and guiding them to areas that fit their skills and the labor market, rather than trying to convince everyone that there is a universal benefit to advanced education.
Text: William Gardner. Illustration: Kristína Rusňáková