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Michael N. Smith

Michael N. Smith

Posted: November 11, 2010 06:13 PM

I've written several versions of this blog over the last 25 years (time flies when you are cranking out mediocre content) and I've decided I'm going until I get a response.

Response from whom? I'm not sure, but I'm not giving up.

Vocational education is getting the shaft (hey, I think I just came up the title of my new country music song).

In the last 40 years, colleges and universities have done a wonderful job of marketing themselves as the solution to society's problems.

Too often, I think we forget that colleges are not only a place to educate, but they are businesses. They exist to make money (and lots of it).

To survive they need customers (and lots of them... who coincidentally have parents who pay a lot of money)

Higher education has done quite well by advertising (radio, TV, T-shirts, athletics, alumni and more athletics). They've convinced several generations of high school students/parents they are the answer to all of our problems.

If you want to make money, go to college.

If you want to be successful, go to college.

If you want to have a better life than your parents, go to college.

This is fine by me. I like money. I'm pro success.

And who doesn't want to have a bigger house with more stuff than their parents (unless you're Bill Gates' kids... then it's okay if your take home pay is 50 percent of what the old man makes)?

Then there's the reason to attend college people don't talk about. If you want to stay out of the military (war), go to college.

While these are all good reasons, there is a problem with making a four-year degree the only path to success.

Higher education has promoted itself not only as the solution, but at the expense of other career paths.

Our country was built on hard work.

On sweat.

On skilled labor.

On middle class families who were proud they worked hard for a living.

But in 2010, students are considered failures if they want to be carpenters, welders, or pipefitters (even though they could make a lot more money than a white collar goofball like me).

If they don't go to a four year college, they've underachieved.

We even have levels of educational success.

How many times have you heard a teacher or guidance counselor say, "Well, at least get a two-year degree."

It's like saying if you can't cut it at a four year college, at least be less dumb than kids who don't go at all.

College is the answer for some, just not for everyone.

It also works the other way. Skilled trades are the answer for some, but not all.

I think we are failing our younger generations by having unrealistic expectations.

What would happen if a guidance counselor told the valedictorian they will be a failure if they didn't learn to weld?

That would be crazy. Their parents would be appalled.

But we do exactly the same thing to other students when we say they "need" to go to college and it's considered okay.

Not all students have the same skills.

The truth is we aren't all equal and that's OK.

If we continue down this path, our country is going to pay a heavy price.

Just think what would happen if every high school graduate attended college and got a four-year degree.

In no time, you would be paying a plumber $1500 an hour (and trust me, if you need a plumber you will pay whatever they're charging).

It's all about supply and demand.

We need white collar professionals with college educations, but we also need ditch diggers.

And we shouldn't label one career path more successful than another.

Our purpose as K-12 educators should be to get students on THEIR paths to success. It's not to judge them when they take a different one that doesn't involve a four-year college degree.

We need to be less concerned about hurting a high school student's feelings (and their families) and more concerned about getting them pointed in the right direction.

THEIR direction.

 

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