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college for all

  • College For All; Good Jobs For A Few?

    Written on August 21, 2012

    A recent study by the Center for Policy Research (CEPR) asks the question that must be on the minds of college grads, now working as coffee shop baristas: “Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?" The answer: swallowed by corporate profits and the personal portfolios of the ultrawealthy.

    Despite the fact that the American economy has experienced “enormous” productivity gains since the late 1970’s, the study finds that the number of “good jobs” (defined as those paying at least $37,000 per year, with employer-provided health insurance and an employer-sponsored retirement plan) has declined from 27.4 percent in 1979 to 24.6 percent in 2010.  This discouraging trend was strong even before the onset of the country’s economic crisis: in 2007, the year before the onset of the recession, only 25 percent of college grads had “good jobs."

    CEPR notes that the prevailing explanations for the failure to share productivity gains are “technology” and lack of necessary skills among American workers. But, if this were true, the CEPR study argues, one would expect college grads to have a higher share of good jobs than they did 30 years ago. They don’t. Instead, at every age level, today’s college grads are less likely to have a “good job” than their 1970s counterparts. This is especially surprising, the researchers note, since twice as many Americans now have advanced degrees as compared to the 1970’s.

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  • Higher Education: Soaring Rhetoric, Skyrocketing Costs

    Written on May 4, 2012

    Over the past several years, the mantra of “college for all” has become ubiquitous, with Americans told that a college education is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, for any individual who aspires to a middle-class life in the 21st century economy.  And indeed, many studies tend to confirm that persons with a post-secondary education enjoy  lower unemployment rates and higher wages over time

    Simultaneously – sometimes in the same articles – we learn that soaring tuition rates have put college out of the reach of many, if not most, families.  In fact, for the past few decades, college costs have been rising faster than health care costs.  In the last year or so, the news is that students who tried to borrow their way around this seemingly intractable problem only dug themselves a deeper hole. Outstanding student college loans have reached – or soon will reach – the $1 trillion mark.

    The average student graduates college with a debt burden of nearly $25,000; others, especially those with professional degrees, are buckling under a debt load in the six figures. Since bankruptcy forgiveness does not apply to student debt, even unemployed and underemployed graduates can expect to carry this debt with them for years, perhaps decades, to come. With a slow economy exacerbating the problem, it’s no surprise to find that the national student loan default rate for 2009 (the last year for which data are available) was 8.8 percent and rising. At for-profit schools, the rate was 15 percent.

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  • The ‘Snob’ Debate: Making High School Matter For Non-College-Bound Students

    Written on March 7, 2012

    Our guest author today is James R. Stone, professor and director of the National Research Center for Career & Technical Education at the University of Louisville.

    The current debate about “college for all” centers on a recent speech made by President Obama in Troy, MI, in which he argued that all young people should get at least some post-high school education or training. Republican presidential primary candidate Rick Santorum, in a misreading of Obama’s remarks, responded with a focus on four-year degrees alone—suggesting, among other things, that four-year college degrees are overrated and that the president’s emphasis on college devalued working people without such degrees. The political chatter around this particular back-and-forth continues, but the issue of “college for all” has rightly raised some serious issues about the content and direction of U.S. education policy both at the high school and post-secondary levels.

    Statistics seem to show that the college-educated  graduates of four-year institutions earn more money and experience less unemployment than their non-college-educated peers. This has fueled the argument is that college is the surest path—perhaps the only path—into the middle class. But the argument confuses correlation with causality. What if every U.S. citizen obtained a community college or university degree? Would that really do anything to alter wage rates at Starbucks, or increase salaries for home healthcare aides (an occupation projected to enjoy the highest demand over the next decade)? Of course not.

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  • Apprenticeships: A Rigorous And Tested Training Model For Workers And Management

    Written on March 1, 2012

    Our guest author today is Robert I. Lerman, Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute and Professor of Economics at American University. Professor Lerman conducts research and policy analyses on employment, income support and youth development, especially as they affect low-income populations. He served on the National Academy of Sciences panel examining the U.S. post-secondary education and training system for the workplace.

     

    In a recent Washington Post article, Peter Whoriskey points out the striking paradox of serious worker shortages at a time of high unemployment.  His analysis is one of many indicating the difficulties faced by manufacturing firms in hiring enough workers with adequate occupational skills.  As a result, many firms are having serious problems meeting the demand for their products, putting on long shifts, and turning down orders.

    The article cites a survey of manufacturers indicating that as many as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled.  The skilled jobs going begging include machinists, welders, and machine operators -- jobs that pay good wages.  So what happened?

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  • College For All, Profit For Some

    Written on March 30, 2011

    The ideal of "College for All”—usually interpreted as meaning the acquisition of a four-year degree—is every bit as noble as it is unattainable, at least judging from actual graduation rates. It is within this tension that for-profit colleges wish to live—a kind of pseudo knight in shining armor riding gallantly into the battle for equal opportunity. But too many for-profit colleges (a.k.a., career colleges) are not solving educational issues. Rather, they are perpetuating inequalities and obscuring the fact that what is preached (e.g., “College for All”) has nothing to do with what gets achieved.

    Many have pointed out that, by enshrining a path so few end up traveling (to say nothing of completing), we may be doing a great disservice to our youth. This argument is loud and clear; what may not be totally obvious is the variegated ways in which this constitutes a disservice. By idealizing the B.A./B.S. path, not only are we discouraging young people from exploring equally valid post high-school options, but we inadvertently may have also made them more vulnerable to the allure of disreputable for-profit colleges and/or encouraged for-profits to exploit this vulnerability.

    As a matter of fact, one consequence (unintended, I am sure) of the “College for All” ideal may have been to widen the niche for for-profit career colleges. I am hardly the first to point out that the worst career colleges sell fake dreams by arm-twisting and sweet-talking potential students into taking out unsustainable—often federally-subsidized—loans for products of uncertain value. For-profit colleges did not create this dream. We did. They have only done what we would expect a for-profit entity to do: Exploit it.

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