A number of critics are suggesting that college is overrated and unnecessary for many young adults. But that line of thinking is misguided and short-sighted, because it’s predicated on a narrow and elitist idea of what “college” is, and should be.
My take? We need a fundamental rethinking of what it means to “go to college.” I’m not talking about State U.
The popular notion of “college”—ivy walls, fusty lecture halls, dense course catalogs—is as outdated as an eight-track tape. That type of college often does not meet the needs of today’s students, who are technologically savvy, older, and often on their own financially. They are supporting a family of their own, and almost all of them are working full- or part-time.
For them, “college” doesn’t mean moving into a dorm for four years. They’re concerned with acquiring specific skills for specific jobs, so they can get to work and get ahead. That’s why we need to start thinking of “college” as any type of education earned after high school—be it an apprenticeship, career certificate, or associate degree that equips students with skills that employers view as beneficial.
These programs can be just as valuable as a four-year degree. Did you know that 27 percent of people with certificates and 31 percent of people with an associate degree earn more than the average bachelor degree-holder?
A generation ago, not everyone needed college to get a good job and lead a good life. But in today’s world, globalization, international competitiveness, and technological advances put a premium on educated workers who can think, create, analyze, and cooperate.
The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that more than 60 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education by 2018. And yet, we are not producing enough students with postsecondary degrees and certificates. (Full disclosure: The foundation funded the Georgetown study.)
Clearly, an education beyond high school is the key to our future workforce and our nation’s economic health. The more education you have, the more likely you are to be financially stable, stay healthy, and have successful children. That’s why the Gates Foundation is aiming to double the number of low-income students who complete a postsecondary education.
So, is college worth it for everyone? Based on an antiquated vision of football, frat parties, and semesters devoted to Beowulf, the answer is “no.” But, armed with a new, realistic, and practical understanding of a postsecondary education, the answer is unequivocally “yes.”