Educating for Democracy: All About Jobs

01/10/2012 05:05 pm ET | Updated Mar 11, 2012

In a recent news item on CNN (January 7, 2012) I was struck by the way in which educational opportunities are presented in the media. The story heralded in broad headlines "94% get jobs," featuring the graduates of a computer program at NYU where most all of the graduates are given fabulous job offers. The impression created, of course, is that all young learners need do is plan to get a degree in computer science and a job will be theirs starting at over $60,000.

As it turns out, according to a ten-year job projection done several years ago by the Department of Labor, there will be over 500,000 new jobs involving computer knowledge in such fields as management analysis -- 178,000; computer software engineers -- 175,000; and network systems and data communications analysts -- 155,000 within the next decade.

Unfortunately, wanting a good job and getting the degree for it does not necessarily follow. The sad fact is that the supply of Information Technology graduates at present rates -- those who have the high level math skills necessary to earn a degree in such a profession -- is much more limited than the demand. Even though there has been a recent upturn in the number of degrees awarded in computer science related professions, in a report in 2009:

"Talent shortages have been dogging the IT (Information Technology) landscape for years, and the scarcity of qualified talent being graduated at North American universities has seen IT vendors pleading with the U.S. government to ease restrictions on H-1B visas so they can recruit from abroad as often as possible."

According to the 2009 data from the National Council on Education Statistics, about 35,000 students have been graduated with a degree in computer science field, considerably down from the peak of 59,500 in 2003.

That would yield a shortfall of over 100,000 graduates with IT degrees in the next decade.
Why it is that American-educated students seem to perform so poorly on math tests in comparison to those in many other countries is a profound and complex issue that deserves more research as well as more cultural and intellectual self-examination than the public seems willing to consider. Blaming teachers for low test scores will no more solve the problem than blaming the students or parents. I believe there has always been a cultural bias in this country against high-level intellectual thinking as "elitist," mistaking ignorance for egalitarianism. But that is an issue that deserves a separate analysis.

Certainly, there is no evidence that No Child Left Behind, with its reliance on standardized tests and the incalculable damage it has done to the teaching profession, has made math more accessible to our students in the decade since its inception.

There is no question that for many years having a college degree has yielded higher-paying jobs, but college degree prerequisites for jobs will be required by only 27% of the future workforce in this decade while more than half -- 56% -- who lack degrees will be employed in low-paying jobs. However, another 17% without college degrees in such occupations as construction work, truck driving, and carpentry will be able to make a decent living. Most of the requirements for these jobs will be on-the-job training.

My question is really: why not re-institute a serious and thorough apprenticeship program for students who are having difficulty with their academic curriculum while in high school so they can become eligible for those good-paying jobs that do not need college credentials? And why not address the fact that more than half of the future jobs projected in the United States in the coming decade are poor paying and need to be turned into good-paying jobs so that at least a significant proportion of more than half of the population are not consigned to perpetual poverty?