Saturday, October 25, 2014

More college grads won't fix income inequality

And anyway, we shouldn't have so many kids thinking their best bet is an expensive college degree, and with it onerous debt at the outset of their lives -- that prevents or delays marriage and household formation, the backbone of the middle class.

Yes, we do need to make college less expensive, not just offer more federal loans and grants. In fact, I say public universities should be FREE for students who qualify, as many European countries do.

More importantly, we need to develop (almost from scratch, sadly), a concurrent educational tracking system for the provision of technical-vocational training, paired with apprenticeships at real companies, as Germany does.  

Indeed, we don't need manufacturing workers or even necessarily engineers with 4-year degrees. Or if a kid wants to write software code for the next great app, he doesn't necessarily need a 4-year degree. These are artificial hurdles to entering today's workforce. But there is nothing in their place; so employers demand a degree because they don't know how else to find and filter candidates.

Meanwhile (and I can attest to this personally), in today's "parachute-in-and-start-running" hiring environment, employers are increasingly looking at certifications that attest to a candidate's concrete work skills, not necessarily their broad-based knowledge or ability to learn quickly as attested by a bachelors degree. That's sad, but it is what it is and I don't see it changing anytime soon. It's an employers' labor market now, and it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future....

And then there are all sorts of in-demand jobs that can't find enough workers, such as nurses, home healthcare workers, medical office administrators, billing specialists and cost accountants that don't necessarily call for 4-year degrees. We end up over-educating future workers to fill these jobs who end up training on-the-job anyway to gain experience. 

As Pierson and Riley allude to, teachers may be the big exception to where federal action is warranted. We can't let the employment "market" determine where our best teachers go. We need the best teachers where they are needed most. To do that, we must compensate them accordingly. This requires concerted federal and state action. We can't just hope or leave this to chance anymore. Indeed:

Under the current system, teachers have more school choice than students do. Rather than sending the most qualified and experienced teachers to educate the kids who need them the most, we do the reverse.

That's a recipe for continued failure.  

But to end on a high note, I refer to the writings of education reform over-blogger (that's the only way I describe her verbal fecundity) Diane Ravitch, who points out that our K-12 system is not necessarily broken, it's just forced to deal with huge economic disparities that it is not equipped to remedy. Indeed, educational superstar countries like Finland took their best notes from U.S. public schools back in the day. So we DO know a thing or two about teaching our kids, we just need to do them without the politics and funding shortfalls.

By James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley
October 23, 2014 | Washington Post

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