By Tom Bohs
The Jackson Sun
September 18, 2011
Does every kid need to go to college? Well, it depends on what you mean by “go to college.”
There is an un-school of thought that too many kids go to college. That was expressed this week by the conservative columnist Walter Williams, who argued that college creates too many people who are overqualified for the work they do.
Last week, columnist Michael Reagan posited that professors don’t have all the answers. His arguments was that we didn’t need so many eggheads in government. His suggestion was that government get its advice from less-well-informed people.
Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. Reagan is, well, let’s just say, one of the less-informed people he would like to see advising government. By Reagan’s logic, we shouldn’t listen to Williams. By William’s logic, Reagan, who went to college, is overqualified to give people advice, which is what he does for living.
I believe they both are wrong.
I’ll also go back to my original question: Does every kid need to go to college? The problem lies with the word college. If it means obtaining a bachelor’s or higher degree from an accredited institution of higher learning, then the answer clearly is no.
But what if I restate the question this way: Does every kid need to get some post-secondary education? Now the answer is less clear, and I can argue the answer is yes.
I recently had the opportunity to tour some of the latest technology used by West Tennessee Healthcare. I’m not talking about surgical procedures, exotic testing equipment or surgical robots. I’m talking about the technical infrastructure that runs the hospital and keeps track of patient information from the time someone walks in the door until they leave, and even thereafter. Technology permeates every aspect of the health care delivery system, from record keeping to hospital statistics to patient information used by and recorded by doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical technicians.
In short, what I saw and learned was mind bogging in its complexity. And note, this does not include the professional education required of medical service providers such as doctors, nurses and medical technicians. That is another topic altogether.
Now let me ask this: Do the thousands of people, apart from doctors, nurses and medical techs, who work at West Tennessee Healthcare need post-secondary education in order to interface with this technology?
You bet they do.
Similar technology exists in every major business sector today. Much of it also exists at the small employer level for everything from inventory control to sales and customer service to accounting procedures.
But what about plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, construction workers and the other so-called trades? Do people who want to go into these fields need post-secondary education? Well, just open the hood of your car to get the answer to that. Or consult an online plumbing code resource. And don’t even ask the question about the next electrician you need to hire. Technology drives everything today.
What we need isn’t the answer to the question of whether every kid should go to college, what we need is a new kind of post-secondary education for the approximately 75 percent of young people who don’t go on to traditional “college.”
In the past, young people learned complex work skills through apprentice programs and some company training programs. But those days are gone. Companies are not going to train people in the basics of critical thinking, oral and written communication skills, math and how to use modern technology. It is just too costly and time consuming. Companies are in the business of making products, not educating the local workforce.
As a class of education, current non-”college” post-secondary education opportunities are poorly focused, loosely organized and often conflicted in their goals and outcomes. Those provided through traditional institutions of higher learning are skewed heavily toward academics at the expense of practical application of higher learning. Those provided by some technical schools come closer to the mark of what is needed, but enrollment in these schools is small by comparison to traditional institutions of higher education. Private and for-profit schools geared to technical and trade careers often suffer from weak reputations and a lack of consistent education standards to be met.
What we need is a new kind of post-secondary education that meets consistent academic standards for public, private, for profit and technical schools. It is the greatest education need and the biggest education opportunity out there