School change: All college degrees are not created equally

by Steve Wyckoff on August 23, 2010

When we talk about school change there is always a discussion about preparing students for college. There is no doubt that in the 21st century those people who are the most successful tend to be those with the highest level of education. But not all college degrees are highly correlated with being successful in the 21st century.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and in fact later this week I’m going to be visiting with my friend Dr. Jackie Vietti, at Butler Community College to help me make sense of the whole question of college ready. You see, I can give you a whole pile of evidence that we are doing poorly when it comes to preparing kids for college, and that even many of those who make it through college, don’t get jobs that are high paying enough to pay off their college loans. So I am suffering from cognitive dissonance on this issue.

So I’ll tell you what I think I believe up to this point. I’m looking at college degrees from two perspectives. One, is the degree in high demand in society today; and two, is it a high skill degree? I’m still compiling a list of college degrees that I believe are high demand and high skill degrees. In this category I would put engineering degrees, many health science related degrees such as nursing, and some IT degrees. But I also put many two year technical degree, and even some industry certification programs. I’m sure there are others, so if you have some examples send them to me.

So that begs the question, are there some high skill low demand degrees? I think that some degrees in the sciences may fit this category; physics, biology, and chemistry (h2 chemistry tuition). But I’m not completely sure of this.

And as I was thinking further about these categories I started to wonder if there are high demand and low skill degrees. I think there used to be, but I don’t think there are anymore. I think that liberal arts degrees used to be high demand and low skill. I think now liberal arts degrees are low skill and low demand.

when I graduated from college almost 40 years ago a liberal arts degree, like all college degrees, was the ticket to a good job. Today, that just isn’t true. Graduates with liberal arts degrees are perfectly prepared to go on to graduate school, but the jobs available for most of these degrees are for the most part low skill and sadly, low pay.

And therein lies one of our big problems. All of our K-12 core curriculum, and all of our gen ed courses in post secondary institutions are liberal arts courses. Which means we are spending huge amounts of our time, our most precious educational resource, preparing kids in low skill low demand areas, which the students see as boring and irrelevant. Perhaps it’s time as we talk about school change to begin to deal with the sacred cow of education … the liberal arts degree. – Steve Wyckoff

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