Originally posted by jenlynn
My thoughts have often run along these same lines. Today's college education is the high school education of 30 years ago. The problem lies in the fact that too many people go to college these days. A college grad today is neither unique nor exemplary. Once upon a time, to have a college degree was to be worthy of respect as an educated individual, but today... it's a piece of paper giving you permission to get a job.
I also feel that not everyone is cut out for college, but they are forced by necessity to go, because, again, everyone has a college degree these days, and competing even for low-level jobs that should not require a degree becomes difficult without one because those college grads need jobs too. There are more college grads than there are jobs that actually need that level of education to perform.
We're not giving enough credit to technical programs. What's wrong with becoming a plumber, or aircraft mechanic?
More importantly, how do we solve this problem without being guilty of "channelling" students in one direction or another?
I do think it's important to stop treating college as the be-all or end-all of professional achievement. Not that post-secondary education isn't important, but certain other forms of post-secondary education need to be given higher status. Professional designations should be given their due.
I've often thought that some variation on the British system would work well. In England, students attend school through age 16. After that, they choose between entering the work force, or continuing on with what used to be called O-levels or A-levels (I forget which, and I'm not sure they carry the same title today). Those familiar with Harry Potter will have some idea of this structure, as it obviously influenced J.K.Rowling's portrayal of the upper schooling level.
Those classes (and I know this because I've taken them), rather than playing down at an American high school level (which is meant for everyone, not just those planning to continue on to college), instead aim a bit higher. I would equate them to a junior college level of difficulty. For students planning on hitting college, this stepping up is very appropriate both in preparing them for college, and for weeding out those who will not take the work seriously.
Now how can we make this work for us here in the US? I still agree with the idea of having students in school through 18. However, today's high school grads simply aren't prepared for real life by their educations. I think the ideal situation would be to change the academic program for 17-18. Have all students on the "academic" track up through age 16, but then have them choose between the academic or trade tracks. The students who choose the trade tracks would drop their schedule to about 50% academic classes, many of which will be specific to real-life needs (such as some kind of "home accounting", or trade-specific courses, or "business writing", etc.) The other half of their schedule should be working on acquiring a professional designation, whether it's a contractor's license, auto mechanic designations, plumbing, electrical, etc. In other words, finishing school not as a menial laborer, but as a skilled laborer, one who has the qualifications to possibly go into business for themselves, if they should choose it (hence the specialized academic courses). True, not everyone will be cut out for or choose to start their own business, but if we set them up with the tools to do so, they will be better equipped for life in general.
I'm sure I'll have more thoughts on this later in the day, but for now, feel free to pick this apart or make your own suggestions as you will.