Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

If it’s not broken don’t fix it, but it is broken 1 – a fundamental need to reframe and reconsider education in America

Posted in career development, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on December 31, 2012

I just finished reading a newspaper article about young, college age entrepreneurs who are turning away from college as a viable choice to strike out on career paths without it. They question the relevance of the coursework offered and skills taught, and for most if not all degree programs that would be available to them. And looking at real world job descriptions as spread across the internet on job search sites, and listening to their peers and older friends who talk of the skills and knowledge that are really needed, they doubt the value of college and of postponing making money for four or five or even six years – just to get that Bachelors degree diploma. And looming over all of this is the prospect of massive debt that comes with this diploma, with so many new graduates finding themselves indebted seemingly for life and even if they do manage to land a well-paying job and right away after graduation. That, in our current economy, is not commonly viewed as all that likely, except perhaps for students graduating with particularly high-demand skills and of a type that might only come from specific degree programs.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Americans now, as of this writing, collectively owe over one trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt, and some $117 billion of that have been added to this total as new debt from this past year alone. It is increasingly common for students to graduate from Bachelors programs in five and six years and with well over $100,000 in debt from that, and even owing as much as twice that much.

• If it is not broken, don’t fix it – but our education system is broken and the fracture lines show in many places, not the least of which are in the numbers of high school graduates who opt out of college, seeing it as anything but a viable option for them.

What do these new high school graduate dropouts do? I have written about that in other postings for one sort of answer that I could offer, and with that I cite the unemployment rates and long-term, lifetime cumulative compensation limitations that they face, at least as a general demographic group (see for example, An open Letter to Jobseekers About Long Term Changes in the Job Market and Employability – 1 and its Part 2 continuation where I discuss U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics findings as to unemployment rates as they correlate with education levels completed, and impact of lower levels of educational attainment on expected lifetime earnings.) One thing these dropouts do is remain unemployed and underemployed and at a statistically significantly higher level than their peers who complete a two year program or a four year program or more. And they do earn less and even a lot less when they are employed. But to balance that off they also seek to enter the workforce without that crushing debt too, and if you take servicing that college education-based debt into account and paying it off, any per year compensation benefits from higher paid jobs can easily become a moot point.

So I focus on other sides to what they do.

• They seek out work opportunities where they can learn more relevant and hands-on skills and knowledge that they could directly use in building a career. Here, those required literature courses for a Bachelors degree and reading Chaucer are seen as no longer holding positive overall value and certainly at the costs involved in getting that degree.
• They gravitate to new and emerging online educational options such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) that can be enrolled in and taken in most cases for free, and that increasingly draw from very highly respected colleges and universities, and both for course content and for the teachers who present it.
• They increasingly turn to alternative and personalized combinations of work, life and online educational experience, plus highly focused and lower cost certificate and other programmed training for more formal educational components. They become more do it yourself, self-learners.
• And they often have to chart their own paths without mentoring guidance from anyone who has successfully pursued anything like this path, except perhaps the shining examples of big name entrepreneurs who have made billions from dropping out to begin their own companies. But then you have to somehow separate out the real facts from the hype when reading about people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Very few actually succeed like them and most people simply have to work toward more modest goals to succeed at all.

I find myself writing this thinking about the larger confluence of issues that come to play here, but I keep coming back in my mind to that one trillion dollars-worth of student debt and how it is still growing at such a rapid rate. And as valuable as college and university education are (Chaucer included) and for so many reasons, I keep thinking of the term price point and how colleges as an industry have in effect priced themselves out of a market – or at least about how they seem bent on doing so. And they are well on their way to achieving that undesirable goal, and our recent economic downturns and the difficulties that new graduates are facing in finding any job merely highlights what has already been developing.

• This system is broken – but what can we do about that?

I am going to follow this posting up with a part 2 installment in which I will at least attempt to propose a few points of direction that any viable resolution to this would most likely need to address. I do not claim to have any ultimately resolving answers to these questions and challenges, but I am fairly sure a great many people can and do see at least basic directions and benchmark goals that viable solutions would most likely include. So I will present my thoughts in that direction next. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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