On 4-Year College Education and Nonviable Fallacies

Posted on October 5, 2010

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I got up at 5:30AM today to go to the gym, but as it is part of my daily ritual, I went to the interweebz to check the news. Voila, I saw a tidbit of news that put my gym-going on hold in favor of putting my thoughts into written words quickly jotted into a ZOMG!!! frenzy:

AP Poll: Americans support community colleges

About bloody time. Many industrialized countries (.ie. Germany and Japan) fully support community colleges and trade schools as vital backbones in their industrial education. But here in the US the (stupid) public perception boils down to the following two equations:

success(x) := 4 year school and beyond

suckage(x) := anything else

And no matter how much President Obama wants to increase the amount of 4-year college graduates, it is impossible, unrealistic and economically unsustainable to expect a large population to have a 4-year degree. How the bloody hell is the economy going to allocate jobs for so many BS/BA degree holders?

What we need is viable trade specialization and diversification that is both 1) economically viable and 2) reachable. It is incredibly expensive to get either a 4-year degree or a trade education to become a ACE certified auto mechanic. Compared that to how it is in Germany.

Our situation is unacceptable. Instead of supporting and financing education (and thus reinforcing our middle class and specialized blue collar workforce), our society has turned education into a disgusting cash cow for educational institutions (and a get-me-close-chapter-7 for students). It is not so much that we lack BA/BS degree holders. We lack a diversified, resilient and adaptable blue-collar/trade work force.

In such a light, is more unacceptable to dream of increasing the number of BA/BS degree holders. It will hurt our economy and industrial base as it leaves the 2-year degree and trade education sector unattended, and it will increase the ranks of 4-year college educated people that cannot be absorbed into the economy (and without the educational trade wherewithal to fall back when that happens.)

Now, I’m not saying that we don’t need 4-year degrees. But what we do not need is to treat 4-year education and 2-year education (and trade education) as mutually exclusive. Nor do we need to treat the former as “superior” or “more vital” than the later. Where we to increase the rank and file of BA/BS degree holders, can our economy absorb them? What do these young people have to fall back when it doesn’t (an event that seems to happen at regular intervals.)

Education should not be treated as completed with a 4-year degree. Nor should there be increments restricted to terminal and non-terminal degrees. Grad schools should (I’d say must) provide for graduate certificates before obtaining a MS/MA degree. Undergrad colleges should also provide for undergrad technical certificates should students want them before completing the pre-requisites for a 4-year degree.

And before that, 2-year AA/AS degrees would come. And technical trade education should be equally supported. That is, education should fund and support an interconnected network of degrees, certificates and “stepping stones” that

  1. Pave the way to higher education goals for those wishing for it, and
  2. Provide stepping stones for technical diversification (and fall-backs for those who cannot enter the 4-year degree market due to saturation that inevitably happens from time to time.)

If we really want to increase the technical education of our country, we should be copying or adapting the German model as opposed to chasing false pie in the sky schemes under the nonviable, unsustainable (and arrogant and classist) model of giving preferential treatment to 4-year colleges to the detriment of 2-year colleges and technical trade schools.

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