Every year, parents and teachers shower high school seniors with numerous advertisements for universities to push them to seek higher education. The number of Americans between ages 18 to 24 who are enrolled in colleges has increased from 26.3 percent in 1975, to 34.3 percent in 1995, and to 40.5 percent in 2015. While most celebrate this fact, the effort to push everyone to go to college is misguided and financially irresponsible.
The issue stems from the fact that many graduating high school students are unprepared for universities. An investigation by the Hechinger Report found that more than half of incoming students at over 200 campuses must take remedial courses in Mathematics and English.
The need for so many students to be in remedial courses hurts the pocketbooks of both students and taxpayers. According to the Center for American Progress, remedial courses cost students approximately $1.3 billion annually with the cost to students, colleges, and taxpayers together at $7 billion. Students in these courses are less likely to graduate than their peers, leaving them with increased debt and no degree to pay it off with.
Low income students suffer the most from false collegiate promises. University of Michigan professors Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski discovered that disparity of graduation rates between rich and poor has widened from 31 to 45 percentage points in less than twenty years. This goes on despite financial aid- which, unbeknownst to many students, has led tuition costs to spiral upward. A study published in February 2012 by researchers Stephanie Riegg Cellini and Claudia Goldin concluded that for-profit colleges receiving Federal Aid charge tuition that is 78 percent higher than those who do not get aid.
President Barack Obama’s desire to make tuition “free,” funded by taxpayers, at two-year community colleges was well-meaning. Unfortunately, it would have ensued in more unprepared students entering college, because the numbers for community colleges are even worse when it comes to student readiness. While the average graduation rate among four-year colleges is 59 percent, it is only 29 percent at two-year colleges.
The answer is not simply less education, though. Instead, the Federal Government should place a greater focus on skilled trades, rather than a traditional liberal arts education. Trade jobs can pay more to recent graduates of trade schools than those of universities. The United States should look to Germany, which has an exemplary model for vocational training.
The history of the system goes back to the Middle Ages, when trade guilds and craft production were abundant. Germany’s system has prepared millions of people for careers in everything from machine operators to bank tellers. Young people are placed in apprenticeships that usually last three years. It involves balancing instruction in the classroom and training on the job and it makes for ideal workers.
Some adjustments are already being made to follow the German model. Some small American firms have begun to offer vocational training in order to fill a vast hole in the number of manufacturing jobs. Last year, it was reported that two million jobs in the manufacturing industry are unfilled because of the shortage in skilled workers.
More needs to be done to encourage the next generation to go into a trade. The stigma against not going to a university needs to end. There needs to be legislation from policymakers that invest more resources into a national vocational education program. These actions will improve the American economy and open up new opportunities for those students graduating from high school.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.