For decades now, the battle between parent and child going to college has raged. Before the 2000s, the argument for many parents was either college or the service. If a kid chose an arts college or a tech program, many were told it was a waste of time and money. The same with computers before the dot com bubble burst.
Those same kids are adults now (congrats you made it), and many don’t want their kids to face the same shallow options that they did. They remember the battles with their parents about their future and would prefer their kids do something that they know they can be happy with. Even trade schools like welding, elevator repair, and plumbing are starting to see a resurgence since they dropped off in the late 1990s.
Since COVID hit, the usefulness of K-12 has especially been questioned. While classes continued via video chat services like Zoom, MS Teams, and Skype, many students felt incredibly lost as they were separated from their social group. For kids in lower-income households, it was especially rough, and the dreams of achieving more than they grew up with suddenly seemed unachievable.
Populace, a Massachusetts think-tank, conducted a survey about the expectations of the K-12 years. College preparation had suddenly plummeted to 49th out of 57 possible answers. The last time they had conducted this survey was in 2019, and at that point, it was up in the 10th spot. Just in front of it was learning “from different ideas and beliefs” which also now dropped to 27th.
Taking a glance at the top 10 responses, many changed positions, but “Students develop practical skills (ex. manage personal finances, prepare a meal, make an appointment)” remained at the top of the board. What is shocking about this ranking is just how little students learn about these subjects in school. There is no “Adulting 101” class, and preparing a meal was taught in home economics. The same class that for many was an “all-girls” class while the boys took shop.
Another surprise was the drop of “All students have the option to choose the courses they want to study based on interests and aspirations” from 2nd to 9th. While not the biggest drop, it shows that students can make poor decisions about their education if they don’t have some guidance about their future. Oddly enough, the numbers 6 and 7 responses (“Students are prepared for a career” and “Students advance once they have demonstrated mastery of a subject”) rose from 27 and 30 respectively.
Todd Rose, a former Harvard University scholar, and Populace’s CEO and co-founder, explained these shifts in responses. “I think the takeaway is: The American public wants ‘different,’ not just ‘better’ from education. It’s pretty clear that there’s a different set of outcomes that they are expecting.” He went on to explain that college prep should always remain an option, but as the data shows, it shouldn’t be the sole focus of K-12.
Rose has known and seen proof that a college degree isn’t the be all end all that so many parents, guidance counselors, and college recruiters said it was. “It’s not clear that that value is there from college anymore. So then when you pile on the outrageous cost … and the debt you’re incurring, it’s just not true. The value proposition isn’t there anymore.”
For many who have graduated in the last 10 years, college was little more than an opportunity to network. The diploma was some help, but without the refined skills that many employers want on day 1, it was just a piece of paper. However, friends of friends proved to be useful in opening doors for many. With college getting more expensive, it is becoming less of an option for many unless they get scholarships, or join the military.
Maybe it’s time to admit that college has failed the American population. It’s become more about indoctrination and tradition than it is about learning. Going against the latest liberal status quo turns into massive problem, while the trades and non-traditional learning don’t have that problem.