Irrelevant Hacks

Irrelevant musings of a hack blogger

The Up Selling of Education, part 1

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I’ve been talking with people about the university system here in the States and it somehow always surprises me that even a Bachelors Degree is of limited value on the job market. With online schools trying to get people to “continue their education” by offering Masters Degrees or MBAs, while putting you in even more debt makes the higher education system seem even more like the payday loan system (you’re never educated enough for a job, but you end up being too old for that position).

The problem is, that the value of a degree has dropped. A High School diploma was at times good enough to get you a basic entry level job that you could do while you worked on your Associates or Bachelors. Today? You’re lucky if you can go and get a job mowing the grass with one. Bachelors Degrees in general outline the profession one wants to learn and do for more or less, the rest of one’s life. It’s the idea that teenagers don’t know what they want to do with their lives until they’re “adults” [re: 18 years old]. But now, everybody is trying to do a Bachelors Degree, and based on the school they choose to attend, can end up with $100,000 to $400,000 in debt when they leave. And Student Loan debt is almost impossible to get rid of. If you can’t pay it off yourself, then who ever co-signed the loans will (be that your parents, or grandparents, they’ll even take money from their Social Security checks to make sure the loans are repaid). You hear about people repaying their student loans when they’re in their 50’s and 60’s. The current situation isn’t sustainable.

When something is devalued, it generally should become more accessible to a wider range of people, but with the current educational system in the US, it’s not. The cost of a Bachelors Degree has risen, even though the value of the education received from it hasn’t. Many IT recruiters can confirm that even though someone has a degree, it doesn’t mean that they actually know the material well enough to understand it. In other countries, they’ve taken a different stance to Higher Education. In many European countries, you choose a profession at the High School level, and not when you’re in College (though you can, but it would depend on what type of school you choose to go to). I have experience in the Italian High School (Scuora Superiore) system myself, and in a future article in this small series, I’ll describe it in depth.

The basics is that High School in Italy is divided up into three types of schools:

  • Professional Schools:
    • These schools are three year schools that teach a specific set of Vocational learning skills. They have a limited normal High School curriculum which while giving you a certificate to work in an industry, does not allow you to continue onto College. Students can take some additional classes to arrive at a full diploma after the three year curriculum is over.
  • Technical Schools:
    •  These schools cover the basic High School curriculum which is required for College, and also teach technical skills, such as chemical engineering, computer science, Mechanical engineering, biotechnologies, drafting & architecture, and other “Majors”. The strong point in this type of school is that along with covering the standard High School curriculum, it also includes the equivalent of an Associates Degree (or depending on the school, up to Bachelors Degree levels) in a field chosen by the student. This creates two benefits. Students leave these schools and have a profession, they can start working in their field immediately and gain experience fast. Second, is that what ever student that completes this type of school, and continues onto College to further study in the same field, they already are more prepared for the subject material than their peers who didn’t go to the same school.
  • Classical Schools
    • These are the “standard” High Schools. They don’t go into outside subjects too much, but they include subjects like classical Greek or Latin. They study classical literature an philosophy. It’s noted that many students of these schools tend to go on to become Lawyers, Politicians, and government workers. Though because these schools are more common, many students who don’t have a Technical or Professional school nearby choose this type of school as their High School. Though this either forces the person into a program where they won’t be taught a profession early on, or they end up being underprepared for some technical courses in College.

While vocational learning is available in the U.S., it’s limited and many High Schools aren’t offering classes like Woodworking, or Shop due to budget problems. Europe’s school systems are changing too, also due to shortfalls in budget, limited attendance or interested students and other similar problems. But compared to the U.S., they took the idea of an Associates Degree, and devalued it into a High School Diploma with either a Professional or Technical specialization. And, in my honest opinion, the U.S. should also start looking into reforming it’s schools into a similar direction.

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