TV’s Mike Rowe, college experts acknowledge that college isn’t for everyone

Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, November 21, 2013

For many of us, college is not considered an option, but a requirement. But is it really worth it for many young Americans?

That was the question asked of several top college experts during “The Diploma Dilemma” panel at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Wednesday night. The panel, which was sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute, examined the value of a college education at a time when jobs for educated workers are scarce and college costs are astronomical.

As panelist and “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe told the packed audience, 90 percent of available jobs out there require a trade skill and hard work.

“The willingness to learn a useful skill and the joy of working hard—these two things have been under attack for a long time in a variety of ways,” he said.

Added Richard Vedder, a distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University and the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity: ”We have more janitors with bachelors degrees than chemists with bachelors degrees.”

Rather than pursue a traditional four-year degree, as many college students today too, the panelists largely suggested that high school graduates look into vocational schools and community colleges. Rowe recalled how he was urged by his high school guidance counselor to attend a four-year school, but instead opted to enroll in a local community college and is 100 percent confident he made the right decision. He now runs the non-profit Mike Rowe Works, which promotes the concept of Americans going into skilled trades.

“I really think the jobs that are available right now – that aren’t getting any press – are available in part because we simply don’t value the kinds of education required to get those jobs, or the jobs themselves,” Rowe said. “We start to talk about things like – just the lexicon itself – higher education, alternative education – and anything that wasn’t higher suddenly got put under this sort of vocational consolation prize.”

To that effect, the panelists all seemed to agree that high schools and rankings providers like U.S. News and World Report should promote going to community colleges to students likely to benefit more from this type of education than a four-year degree.

“Not everybody ought to be going to universities, and not everybody ought to be going to community colleges,” panelist Steven Joel Trachtenberg, President Emeritus and a professor at George Washington University, said. “People should decide who they are and what they want to be.”

Vedder even touched on the idea that just because you have a college degree doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy with your job, referencing the story of his son, who gave up his job as a lawyer at a top firm in New York City to work as a professor at a college in Missouri.

So what is the solution to this mess? One interesting suggestion discussed by the panel was the presentation of Associate’s degrees to students who have completed more than 60 credits at a four-year institution before dropping out of school.

“I can fix the dropout rate, right here in front of you: At the end of those two years, before they drop out, give them an Associate’s degree and turn them into graduates,” Trachtenberg said. “You ought to get some credit for what you did instead of being put out the door with nothing to show for it.”

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