Harvard Study Blasts 'College for All' Mentality

Susan Hall
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Back in August, blogger Don Tennant posed the question of whether high school dropouts could be good candidates for IT jobs. He spoke with Terry Erdle, senior vice president of skills certification at CompTIA, who said with reasonable certifications, they should be considered.


Of course, that could depend on the certifications. Don also wrote about Foote Partners' recent report showing pay declining for some certifications and rising for other noncertified skills.


But amid all the hand-wringing about science and technology education in this country, a report out of Harvard says that stressing college for all could harm many U.S. students.


According to a story in the Christian Science Monitor:

It would be fine if we had an alternative system [for students who don't get college degrees], but we're virtually unique among industrialized countries in terms of not having another system and relying so heavily on higher education," says Robert Schwartz, who heads the Pathways to Prosperity project at Harvard's Graduate School of Education.
Emphasizing college as the only path may actually cause some students-who are bored in class but could enjoy learning that's more entwined with the workplace-to drop out, he adds. "If the image [of college] is more years of just sitting in classrooms, that's not very persuasive."

The story says that in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, for instance, between 40 and 70 percent of high school students opt for alternate programs that offer qualifications with real currency in the job market. And that a growing number of career fields require credentials other than a bachelor's or associate degree.


Increasingly, the problem isn't that there are no jobs, but that there's a mismatch between job requirements and workers' skills. Clearly vocational education in this country needs an overhaul and companies need to be more involved in developing the skills they need in the work force. And I think students, even beginning in middle school or earlier, need more opportunities to "try out" various careers and develop mentors to determine their career path.

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