The Los Angeles Times and The New Yorker could not have known that they would be writing about the same subject within days of each other. The topic, the real value of a college education, has been discussed in this space, usually around the high school graduation season.
Here, the topic usually is an expression of frustration about the lack of recognition by our schools and school board of those graduates who do not, cannot or should not go to college. For some kids, college is just not a good fit and our failure to recognize their choice as a valid one succeeds only in making them feel as though they have failed. Remember that the next time the plumber comes to rescue your home. And remember it particularly when you read about the Armed Forces personnel fighting overseas, many of whom skipped the college option so they could help fight the bad guys around the world.
But it's not just me talking. In the June 7 issue of The New Yorker, in the lead story in the "Talk of the Town" section, author Rebecca Mead cites research by Richard K. Vedder, a professor at Ohio University and the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Vedder's research shows that "…eight out of the ten job categories that will add the most employees in the next decade — including home-health aide, customer service representative and store clerk — can be performed by someone without a college degree."
Headlined, "Is a college degree still worth it?", the Times story noted that "… a diploma is no longer seen as a guarantee of a better job and higher pay."
Of course, those entering college now will not face the current job market. In four years, the economy could rebound enough to make all that cramming and note-taking worthwhile. Or, the economy could be worse.
This is not an attempt to devalue a college degree. As the Times article noted, "Even now, the rate for college graduates stands at 4.7%, less than half of the figure for workers with only a high school diploma."
Rather, this is an attempt to recognize the value of those who choose a non-college option and to recognize that their choice may be a pragmatic one at this time.
Besides, does anyone want to tell Kyle Lux, an outstanding student at Estancia High School, that he made a mistake by joining the Navy instead of going to UC Irvine?
It's long past the time when we should stop asking kids where they are going to college and instead ask what their plans are after high school. It's long past the time when we should be honoring those like Lux who choose to serve in the Armed Forces. And it is most certainly long past the time when we should be encouraging our high school seniors to control their own destinies by showing them how to start a small business as a college option. We need an "entrepreneur" track in our high schools.
There may be no better time for high school graduates to see the world, to take off a year and travel to the places they have far less a chance of visiting once they enter the workforce. There are at least two websites that can arrange for them to work on farms in foreign countries in exchange for room and board, and with ample time off the see the host country.
There is something we can do locally, right now, to honor at least some of the students who choose to skip college. I'd like to see each high school website with a page devoted to those who choose to enter the Armed Forces. They deserve our gratitude, not our questions.
Finally, here is my annual advice to graduates. As a political science major in college from day one, I have no regrets about not choosing a major that was far less likely to provide me with a high-paying job. I chose a passion and still look forward to my work each day.
Choose your passion, or at least, as the Times story noted, "Don't train yourself or your children [in work] that a computer can do or a smart kid in China or India can do. Because that's ferocious competition."