For years now, there has been an ongoing diatribe against for profit schools. Some would blame them for a majority of problems with our nation’s higher education system. Student debt loads, loan defaults and lack of employability are concerns often cited when framing for-profit education as a money-hungry quadruped trying to eat our economy alive.
But, like most things, you don’t have to dig far to see that there are some far more profound questions about both for and not for profit higher education institutions we should be asking. Questions that, if brought into mainstream focus, might hold the answers to improving our nation’s entire education system, from K-12 and up.
The Truth About Degree Granting Institutions
Looking at early universities, much of the curriculum being taught was philosophy, logic, math, law and rhetoric. Even as the university system began to modernize its academics, the underlying objectives of the degree-granting system remained focused on instruction in skills, developing cultured men and women and promoting research in critical fields.
In short, the purpose of higher education had almost entirely been centered around taking young men and women and helping them become cultured, educated and responsible citizens prepared to contribute positively to society.
Ask a college graduate, a Bachelor holding graduate, what were some of the most important things they learned in college. You’d be surprised by some of the answers you get, but only for a moment.
I learned how to be responsible with my schedule. I learned to balance my work/study life with my social life. I learned how to be places on time. I learned that Ramen Noodles do not have an expiration date.
These are real answers from real college graduates. A far cry from things you’d expect to hear like “I learned critical thinking, and that Leonardo Da Vinci never finished anything he started, and that Catherine the Great wasn’t actually Russian.”
It’s the idealization of what the degree granting institutions are supposed to provide students that causes such fervor to protect the sacred institution from greedy capitalists. But it’s not the for-profit colleges causing the problems, it’s all degree granting colleges.
Do you think that only for-profit colleges set their alumni up for a lifetime of disappointment and frustration? One of the most intelligent people I have ever known attended one of the top liberal arts colleges in the world. 6 years after graduation she still had a 4 digit monthly student loan payment and hadn’t been able to land a job that paid better than $40K a year (apparently the demand for sociology majors isn’t all that great).
I recently learned that she decided to go back to grad school to improve her marketability. If she’s lucky, she’ll add another 6 figures to her student loan debt and be able to finally land a job paying $60K per year.
You see, for-profit schools offering easy entrance, hyper flexible scheduling and convenient online classes didn’t ruin the higher education system, they just helped to accelerate the institution’s sprint towards the inevitable.
Proposing a New Dichotomy: Skilled vs. Non-Skilled Education
One of the groups of schools most affected by the fervent smear campaign against for profit schools has been the career college industry. Viewed as akin to organizations such as University of Pheonix and DeVry, career training schools differ in one very profound manner: Every single program offered has a curriculum centered around the skills and knowledge necessary to enter into a very specific career field.
According to U.C, Berkeley:
Although few occupations include “sociologist” in their title at the bachelor’s level, the sociological perspective is excellent preparation for a wide variety of occupations. You should look for an entry-level job, gain experience through internships, and watch for opportunities of specialized training or advanced education.
Really? One of the nation’s top universities recommends you go to school for 4-5 years, then look for an entry-level job and get trained for a career later?
But specific, professional career training is always conducted with a very specific career in mind. Scientists, Doctors and Lawyers have to go to school for their trade, and their trade is what they study. Air Conditioning Repair Technicians, Truck Drivers and Pharmacy Assistants are no different. The curriculum they study centers around the actual job they’re going to be doing.
Another profound difference between career training programs and other non-skilled degree programs is that the training is only available because of an industry need, and the academics of such programs mirror the current industry standards.
We still train Doctors and Lawyers because we need them, and we train them with the latest available data on their practice. Barber schools wouldn’t be able to stay in business if there weren’t jobs available for all those barbers being produced, or if the barbers were learning yesteryear’s hairstyles.
How Do We Fix The System?
A lot of people view the problem as too large and complex to tackle, but I believe that proliferating the proper point of view is critical in providing momentum to grassroots efforts to change the system.
Parents, teachers and guidance counselors have to learn to stop pushing their kids to go to college, and instead need to focus on pushing their kids to go to school for something specific.
Employers need to stop requiring potential employees to have a random degree. Do away with the old “Bachelors Required, Master’s Preferred”, refuse to hire grads with vague and irrelevant degrees, and instead focus on hiring employees with the skill training in the career you’re hiring them for.
In time, once role models and employers start pushing the importance of training for a trade, all higher education institutions will be forced to change. Certain degree programs will be dropped, the propagation of career-focused two year degrees will become the standard and expensive graduate schools will only fill their ranks with prospective Doctors, Lawyers and Scientists, not Art History majors.
And as higher education begins to make a shift towards skilled training, our K-12 system will follow suit. Soon the focus of all education will become what it always should have been: A lifetime of rewarding employment. Just imagine what our world would look with a nation of skilled workers, trained for in-demand careers.