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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 05/21/2012

Why college-for-everybody is a sham: Ravitch

This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch . She is a research professor at New York University and author of numerous books, including the best-selling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” a critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement. This piece appeared on her blog.

By Diane Ravitch

The corporate reformers like to say that everyone must go to college if they want to have good jobs in the future.

Now, let me be clear that I love education and I think everyone should get as much education as they want and should keep on getting better educated all their life. Thanks to the Internet, the means of self-education are easy and inexpensive.

But I don’t think that college-for-all is a reasonable goal. There are many young people who don’t want to go to college; they shouldn’t be forced by social pressure to do so. College changes if it is turned into a higher level of compulsory education. It becomes like high school or even junior high school if unwilling and unready students are pushed into college.

And the very claim that the jobs of the future require a college education is not true.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of the jobs that will open up in the next few years do not require a B.A. In fact, only about 25% do. The other 75% do not. They need on-the-job training.

Go to this PDF and look at Table 3 on page 88. Look specifically at the next to last column, “Total job openings due to growth and replacement needs, 2008–18”. You will see that approximately 23% of all job openings require a bachelor’s degree or more (adding up the numbers for the bachelor’s degree line, and those above it). Approximately 67% require a high school degree OR LESS.

For illustrations of occupations that will have the most openings, look at Table 5, beginning on p.93. Be sure to focus on the numeric column, not the percentage column. (An occupation with very few members can have a very large percentage growth with relatively few openings, so this percentage column is misleading.)

So, yes, we should be preparing students for a variety of vocations and let them know that it is honorable to build a house, to install plumbing and electricity. And we should do that as we fulfill the basic function of public education, which is to prepare them to vote, to serve on juries, to be the citizens who sustain our democracy into the future.

By the way, top-ranked Finland has an excellent program of technical and vocational education in high school; about 40% of its students choose this track, and they can change at any time.

So, yes, go to college if you want to learn more. Take a degree in ancient Greek or philosophy or archaeology or sociology or whatever interests you. Don’t go to college to get a job. Go to college to learn.

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