OK, so check out this interesting article about redefining “college” that was recently posted on The Hill:
Now, let’s see… where to begin?
“Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is the latest in a string of high-profile policymakers and employers who have questioned whether a college education is vital to success in America.”
Yeah, I’ll bet.
“…our current system of postsecondary education is filled with a myriad of high-quality pathways to the American Dream – including technical-training certifications, apprenticeships, employer-based workforce readiness programs, web-developer “boot-camps,” and many more credentials that go far beyond the traditional two- and four-year degrees.”
This is only the second paragraph of the piece, and I’m already struck by the fact that they haven’t yet included anything having to do with “education” — they’re only talking about job training programs. While at first I thought that I would agree with what the title suggests the “debate” would be about, it turns out that they simply want the new definition of “college” to be “trade school.” And how can one really try to defend the statement that training certifications, apprenticeships, and “boot camps,” focused more on efficiently moving people into the work force, are designed and executed to “go far beyond” the educational potential of two to four years of in-depth study that “traditional two- and four-year insitutions” can offer?
While this, at once alarming and not-surprising, bit of info is certainly depressing, it’s nothing compared to the solution (emphasis mine) the author follows with in the next paragraph. The jist of the paragrpah is that that there are plenty of nice certificate programs that can prepare low-income students for jobs that “pay livable, middle-class wages.” There is no qualification of what “livable, middle-class wages” really means, and no apology for the fact that this redefinition of college will doom the so-called “low-income students… who are born into the bottom of the income spectrum” to stay at the bottom of that income spectrum. I use the chart to the right in a lot of my posts, and I realize it leaves out the sort of job-training focused certificate programs I’m presently bashing, but I think that the data in it are relevant to this conversation nonetheless.
Missing from this analysis of what the word “college” means is the fact that, when you train yourself for one specific field by earning a highly specialized certificate in that one field, you make yourself beholden to the job market in that singular field upon graduation. The alternative is to understand higher education according to its true purpose–to provide a broad-based education, supporting the development of critical-thinking and decision-making, so that no matter what the job outlook is in a specific field, the graduate has the flexibility to find her/his way in an unpredictable world of work.
As a member of a socio-economic demographic that wasn’t intended to go to college in the first palce, I’m both a byproduct of, and a dedicated beleiver in, the life-changing power of higher eductation. One of my favorite books about education is a book titled Mentor by Laurent Daloz (I’ve quoted it often, and likely more than once in this blog). One of the points Daloz makes about the best possible outcomes of an education is that trasnformations occur “when students start asking broader and deeper questions of the relationship between oneself and the world.” This is not to say that such transformation is impossible in certificate programs and educational experiences focused on workforce development. However, balancing the blog author’s point about “low income students” and a “livable middle-class wage” against the idea of those same “low income students” daring to imagine that they might be capable of transforming their lives into a reality in which they can strive for more than “livible wages” seems, to me at any rate, to belie rather shallow thinking that doesn’t belong in a debate about the meaning of the word “college.”