Stuff I Found

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

College = rip off!

Here's an interesting opinion article by Marty Nemko, a career counselor from... somewhere. I agree with the problem he describes...

most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So it's not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you're likely to meet workers who spent years and their family's life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high-school dropout.

But I don't really agree with his proposed solutions...

Colleges should be held at least as accountable as tire companies are. When some Firestone tires were believed to be defective, government investigations, combined with news-media scrutiny, led to higher tire-safety standards. Yet year after year, colleges and universities turn out millions of defective products: students who drop out or graduate with far too little benefit for the time and money spent.

I disagree... I don't think colleges need to be punished like unsafe tire companies. A college is not responsible for students the way tire companies are responsible for tires. Tires have no free will. Students can think and choose, and I wouldn't reduce students who drop out to "defective products."

I ask colleges to do no more than tire manufacturers are required to do. To be government-approved, all tires must have — prominently molded into the sidewall — some crucial information, including ratings of tread life, temperature resistance, and traction compared with national benchmarks.

Nemko then recommends:

A national test, which could be developed by the major testing companies, should measure skills important for responsible citizenship and career success.

Woah! Bad idea. Neither the government nor testing companies should be producing any sorts of tests. If it is the students' destiny to be employed, employers should be taking the reigns in determining how best to judge if a college graduate has the needed skills. No middle men. In fact, apprenticeships (not always the same as internships) would seem like a good idea. I believe they're already in use in the manual labor industry; it would be nice if they were more widely used. Apprenticeships involve working with a large focus on learning at the same time. In a boring college classroom it can be extremely difficult to understand how certain material can be applied in the real world, if it can at all.

With such a wide variety in the specific requirements for jobs, a national test would either have to cover way too much, or be too general to be worthwhile.

If your student is in the top half of her high-school class and is motivated to attend college for reasons other than going to parties and being able to say she went to college, have her apply to perhaps a dozen colleges. Colleges vary less than you might think (at least on factors you can readily discern in the absence of the accountability requirements I advocate above), yet financial-aid awards can vary wildly. It's often wise to choose the college that requires you to pay the least cash and take out the smallest loan. College is among the few products that don't necessarily give you what you pay for — price does not indicate quality.

While I agree price doesn't always indicate quality, I think Nemko's missing something. He's saying price doesn't indicate quality, but then saying it's wise to choose the least costly?! That's absurd! If the student is really motivated to get something specific out of college (beyond the "good paying job" it's said to help get) then shouldn't quality be the main concern? Of course it should. That said, I have no idea how a student could judge quality beyond actually going there for a semester or two, so I think this might be something that lies in the hands of employers...

I've met some adults who didn't go to college or who dropped out who tell me they wish they went, not for the education, but for the degree. Perhaps too many employers are (or at least have been) using degrees to easily weed out potential employees. But then it's a loss for both sides... employers can easily miss a very skilled worker. We need better ways for students (and everyone, for that matter) to show what they're capable of. Portfolios should be emphasized more. A degree shouldn't be used as a dividing fence.

This would improve life for all to a much greater degree!


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