Is Skipping College a Viable Option?

Last week’s New York Times had a piece, Plan B – Skip College, suggesting that going to college is not the be all and end all for many students, noting that no more than half of those who began a four-year bachelor’s degree program in the fall of 2006 will get that degree within six years. Moreover, some economists and educators are arguing that there should be credible alternatives for students unlikely to be successful pursuing a higher degree, or who may not be ready to do so.

Read the piece here.

11 Comments on “Is Skipping College a Viable Option?”

  1. Jennifer says:

    I wish the “Gap Year” was more widely embraced in the U.S. Taking a year off before college to travel/work can provide invaluable information and confidence for a student.

    Check out the benefits here: http://www.ecampustours.com/collegeplanning/gettingstarted/benefitsoftakingayearoff.htm

    May 19th, 2010 at 8:27 am
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  2. Fred Baumgarten says:

    There is much to think about here. I have to say that anything being pushed by Charles “Bell Curve” Murray deserves more than a healthy dose of skepticism. And I do feel there’s a strong danger of “redlining,” basically throwing in the towel and saying that there is no possibility of growth and advancement for a segment of our society. The statistics cited in the article about the higher pay and greater likelilhood of job retention are significant. We should also not undervalue the non-materialistic advantages of a college education; those 15% of postal clerks with degrees, I’d like to think, might have a more fulfilled life because of their college experience.

    On the other hand, I think it’s increasingly evident that college students graduate into a limited job market with skills that may inherently make no difference, like the 8 of 10 jobs cited in the article that do not require college degrees. (Although, in reality, won’t those with college degrees have the advantage in getting the jobs and even the apprenticeships and internships?) I’m troubled by the current mania about “STEM” education (Science, Tech, Math & Engineering), when the pool of jobs in those areas (except maybe medicine) is shrinking faster than we are willing to admit. It’s curious that the article talks about the need for “vocational” alternatives, when what we think of as vocational is often tech jobs (car mechanics, electricians and the like) that don’t match with the types of jobs that are growing, i.e. service jobs in the health and hospitality industries; and then there is a curious statement about “vocational skills” including “active listening”….??

    What it comes down to, I think, is redefining the alternatives to college in ways that make sense in a service economy and that ALSO provide some of the benefits of a good liberal arts education. For example, to steal a trademark from a former employer, an Institute of Writing and Thinking.

    Forgive me for an early-morning ramble.

    P.S. Re: Gap years, an anecdotal observation I would make is that I think more and more students are doing that, or taking a year or two off after college before going on to work or grad school.

    May 19th, 2010 at 9:17 am
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  3. Sara Bennett says:

    Hi Fred,

    I wouldn’t call your thoughts early morning ramblings. They’re well thought out and I hope others will chime in with their opinions. As for me, I think college can be an incredibly enriching experience for a student who really wants to be there and takes advantage of the opportunities for intellectual debate. But it is true that too many students are heading to college because that’s the only option they’ve ever been presented with. There are too many college dropouts who have incurred unnecessary debt and too many students who go to college because they think they’ll have a high-paying job when they graduate.

    May 19th, 2010 at 10:19 am
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  4. WendyW says:

    My daughter did take a gap year and that year gave her the experience she needed to carefully choose her major when she went to college. She was one of those VERY first-born personalities and she did VERY well in college. She also came out of college with a boat-load of debt. But she is now gainfully (and happily) employed in a profession that will pay her well for many years to come.

    My 16yo son is a whole different story. Unless I see some major personality changes in the next 2 years, I will do my best to talk him out of any ideas of attending a 4-year institution. He is very laid-back with no drive whatsoever. Sending to college would accomplish nothing but rack up debt. He will be strongly encouraged to enter the military and let THEM pay for college- 1 or 2 classes at a time.

    Unfortunately, our society is making it harder and harder to get any but the lowest jobs without some kind of degree. I read recently that they are even trying to eliminate internships on the grounds that unpaid work is the equivalent of slave labor. Want to work your way up through the ranks of a technical position? Sorry, we don’t hire anyone without a training certificate. (Never mind the fact that what they spend 2 years learning in order to get that piece of paper, could easily be learned in 6mo of on-the-job-training.)

    There are days when I wish our entire economic system WOULD collapse so we can start over.

    May 19th, 2010 at 12:46 pm
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  5. PsychMom says:

    This is just my hazy, afternoon ramblings as one of those highly educated professionals…I think there will be huge need for apprenticeship learning when the baby boomers really start leaving the work force….Just before they do, tons of young workers should be brought in for job shadowing, almost understudying, so that someone will be able to do our jobs. The amount of experience that will be walking out the door will be lost forever otherwise.

    And nursing home support workers, nurses aides…these will be the growth areas in the labour market.

    May 19th, 2010 at 1:50 pm
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  6. Joshua Mega says:

    On the other hand, I think it’s increas­ingly evi­dent that col­lege stu­dents grad­u­ate into a lim­ited job mar­ket with skills that may inher­ently make no dif­fer­ence, like the 8 of 10 jobs cited in the arti­cle that do not require col­lege degrees. (Although, in real­ity, won’t those with col­lege degrees have the advan­tage in get­ting the jobs and even the appren­tice­ships and intern­ships?) I’m trou­bled by the cur­rent mania about “STEM” edu­ca­tion (Sci­ence, Tech, Math & Engi­neer­ing), when the pool of jobs in those areas (except maybe med­i­cine) is shrink­ing faster than we are will­ing to admit. It’s curi­ous that the arti­cle talks about the need for “voca­tional” alter­na­tives, when what we think of as voca­tional is often tech jobs (car mechan­ics, elec­tri­cians and the like) that don’t match with the types of jobs that are grow­ing, i.e. ser­vice jobs in the health and hos­pi­tal­ity indus­tries; and then there is a curi­ous state­ment about “voca­tional skills” includ­ing “active listening”.…??
    +1

    May 19th, 2010 at 6:03 pm
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  7. FedUpMom says:

    How sad is this? It’s a comment on a NY Times article about the dearth of employment opportunities for teachers:

    http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2010/05/20/nyregion/20teachers.html

    This is the reality of the Millennial generation. Our childhoods were abbreviated to make room for all the extra-curricular activities, all the SAT study sessions, all the college-level AP exams that are now a requirement for college admissions.

    Then, once in college, we faced new anti-grade-inflation policies that some of my former professors used to cite as reason for “not believing in As” while our tuition, and the professors’ pay, went up without fail every single year. (Isn’t tenure sweet? Too bad it probably won’t exist by time my generation is eligible.)

    Now when someone my age applies to a job, we face the same level of competition we did trying to get into college, only this time it’s the difference between being able to support yourself or having to move back in with your parents after dedicating four years of your life to an ultimately useless and overpriced piece of paper.

    As if tens of thousands in student loan debt and the frustration of unemployment weren’t enough, moving back home is still considered a “cop out” in our status-driven society.

    My generation has been labeled a bunch of “slackers” since before I can even remember. Unlike the Boomer generation, however, we played by the increasingly draconian rules placed upon us due to the misbehavior of both Boomers and Gen Xers and yet receive only stricter standards and increased competition as a result.

    The Boomers didn’t trust anyone over 30 because of Vietnam. I don’t trust anyone over 30 because I’m not sure what double standard they’re going to impose on me next.

    May 19th, 2010 at 9:27 pm
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  8. PsychMom says:

    That is very intelligent….and sad..and true. And it emboldens me even more to try to change it for my child. To preserve her childhood for as long as possible is my mission…and to not relish conformity quite as much will be my goal for myself.

    May 20th, 2010 at 7:13 am
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  9. Donna says:

    Sure, skipping college is a viable option, if you aren’t working for corporate America. How about entreprenurialism? My 9 year old daughter spends summers selling ice cream and popsicles in our neighborhood. She makes her spending money and pays her little brother to help her.

    Her life goal is to own her own business as a caterer and party planner.

    Our kids don’t have to fit into someone else’s slots. We can create opportunities all around us.

    PS – I took 3 years of college in computer science and mathematics. I now own a virtual assistance company and am part-owner of a bookkeeping company, over operations. My business partner, who never went to college, has earned 6 figures a year since his 20s owning his own businesses.

    May 20th, 2010 at 6:27 pm
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  10. Sarah says:

    I think the frustrating part of having a viable alternative to a 4-year college is making that alternative acceptable rather than having it become reserved for a separate ‘class’.

    I know people that find work without a degree just fine, but they receive 1/4th the pay because they don’t have a diploma. They even have better performance reviews than their peers. Somehow, the person with a degree in an unrelated field just deserves more money.

    How does that get justified?

    May 20th, 2010 at 9:56 pm
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  11. ödev says:

    I wish the “Gap Year” was more widely embraced in the U.S. Taking a year off before college to travel/work can provide invaluable information and confidence for a student.

    June 15th, 2011 at 1:38 pm
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