LEFT: Loyola University freshman Theology class, ca. 1964. All these students wanted to be there - they weren't pressured by parents or a silly system of daft Neoliberal economics to attend "just for their economic advancement".
Yesterday morning I sat astounded as former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa actually stated (on a 'Morning Joe' segment with American Federation of Teachers exec Randi Weingarten) that because only "25 percent graduate from college" there must be something majorly wrong with American secondary education. His reasoning is based on the mistaken notion (also shared by many politicos) that unless we get more students into college and actually graduating, our secondary school system is a failure.
In fact, this is a totally incorrect reading of the stats. What it shows me, clearly, is we are pressing far too many kids to enter college who have no business doing so. They are not students, will never be students, and certainly have about as much chance graduating a 4-year college as Rand Paul has becoming the next President.
A needed perspective piece in 2012, written by Colorado Springs secondary school teacher Eva Syrovy hit the nail on the head while taking the pragmatic view that too many American kids are blinded by fantasy hopes and dreams. Who feeds them these fantasies we don't know, but it could well be their overly doting parents, or relatives invested in the "self-esteem at any price" meme. In any case, it leads the kids to have excessive expectations and to set themselves up for subsequent falls.
Syrovy referred to her 6th grade class, and noted that when asked about their post-high school plans one gets a single answer: college. This, despite the fact, according to Syrovy :
"To say they come from humble backgrounds may be optimistic. We're a Title I school, so 70% or more of our students qualify for free or reduced price school lunch. The single parents, grandparents and other adults who raise many of our kids often work nights and weekends at jobs that pay just over minimum wage."
She then goes on to note that in Europe (she's clearly a transplanted European, likely Russian or Ukrainian) similar kids "wouldn't be dreaming of college". Instead they'd be looking at "lives of hard work" or in the trades. But in the U.S. vocational and trade school options have essentially collapsed. Which is part of the reason those like Villaraigosa can only conceive of the college route.
Syrovy then cites the usual stats including that "conservative estimates place college loan debt at $610 b, outpacing credit card debt". Also that "a minimum of 39 percent of new college graduates are moving back in with their parents so they can pay that debt back."
And we won't even look now at the extent to which college debt is in arrears, and in the default and collection phase.
These are disturbing trends but perhaps not as disturbing as an (inset) letter accompanying Syrovy's piece - referring to the same issues- written by a Kirk Harris, who "works in higher education" noting that "Students take out huge loans but never finish the degree they are working on". Indeed, it is estimated that some 40 % of college enrollees drop out by the end of the second year and never complete a degree though saddled with debt.
Again, I suspect the reason is that these students are not cut out for college. Yet our Neoliberal economists and politicos keep feeding the masses the bunkum that college is the only route to success in this country. (I would like them to relate that bollocks to our landscapers and plumbers, who all have very fine homes and - I'd say - are living amongst the top 2 percent!)
But it's easier to just simplify solutions and yelp: "College! College! College!" as the only response to the nation's pervasive inequality.
This again, brings up the core issue of determining whether any given high schooler ought to attend college. Yes, obviously for most loans will be a "necessary evil" - but to what end? Some few, of course, like my great niece Shayle - have zero problems. Shayle obtained two different full ride scholarships to Clarke University in Worcester, MA, and completed her B.Sc. in Psychology owing nada, and has since been accepted for a fully paid scholarship and research assistantship to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. By all reckoning she will complete her Ph.D. owing nothing, before commencing a lucrative career in psychotherapy. Or so she expects. . But those like Shayle you almost can count on one hand...okay....maybe two.
The rest have to plumb for student loans to pay their way, and these costs can be formidable. So...the question is: Is it worth it to go into considerable debt on the offhand chance one will find a job good enough to pay off that debt without going into old age?
The answer, as I've noted before, is NO if the college experience is viewed exclusively in terms of being a permanent meal ticket to the "good life" in the material -economic sense. So I return again to the excellent insight into this provided by Dr. Steve Mason in his October, 2010 Integra (Journal of Intertel) article, 'The Myth of Higher Education' , noting the huge error of American education is orientating it explicitly for the utilitarian purpose of making money or getting a job. As he writes:
"the bottom line regarding a well -rounded education is that it has nothing to do with any kind of bottom line. Its value (non-monetary) is to be found in the quality it adds to one's life. It allows one to better appreciate music, art, history and literature. It contributes to a better understanding of language and culture, nature and philosophy. It expands rather than limits horizons and replaces faith and belief with reason and logic"
Mason adds that it "teaches a person to live - not to earn a living" and that living encompasses an impetus for further learning just for its own sake. If a fantastic, well-paying job also comes with it, that's icing on the cake.
The problem is that for the vast majority of high schoolers who more or less fall in the group Ms. Syrovy references, these things will not be an option. They don't care about being encultured or in the appreciation of art, literature, or music. They want to just rake in the moola. The problem they fail to see is they don't have the skills, or intellectual wherewithal to be able to complete college to "rake in the moola" via that route.
What the nation needs to do, desperately, is find a "Third way" economically for these kids - who lack the aptitude for college, and prefer not to go the military route (which right now is the default option to college). This should be the vocational path, for which plumbers, car repair mechanics, landscapers and electricians are trained. But WHO will set up such Vo-tech schools and get on with it? Maybe our political and educational cognoscenti need to make a few trips to GERMANY - where the Vocational Technical School has attained a success that rivals that of its universities!
Time is meanwhile passing the students by while they are roped into online, for profit universities and end up in tremendous debt and no where closer to where their real talents ought to put them.
We better solve this problem and soon!