In the last few days I have viewed or read at least 4 stories considering the high cost of a college education. Since 1990 the cost of a 4 year education has apparently risen almost 1200%, and there seems to be considerable debate on the causes for this incredible rise. These same stories included comments of course advocating "college for everyone" as the righteous path to economic security. We of course know that college is not for everyone, and many young people make the decision to pursue specialized training, enter the military, or pursue other non-academic paths. The key point is that college is a choice, but what I see as the most salient problem in high school education right now is that the schools, the State, the advisers, everyone seems to point to college as a first consideration.
Testing is college driven. Curriculums are by and large college driven. Our culture is college driven. This makes the idea of students making a truly well thought out, wise choice about their future very suspect. We drive kids towards college and then accept the fact that not all will go.
First let's get back to the costs. For me, the greatest influence on the rising cost of college is the almost unlimited access for students to "free money," through either loans or grants, to pursue a college education. Colleges are of course aware of this, and respond to this increased demand by raising prices. This is classic demand driven inflation. It is also the reason that so many graduates are now saddled with debt, and why the number of students that actually graduate from a 4 year university is around 58%. There are clearly too many kids being pushed into college, where the first courses for many of them are remedial classes to remedy the inadequate preparation they receive in high school.
So we poorly prepare kids for college, push them into college, and then watch as half of them drop out while the other half graduate with mounds of debt. Does anyone have a problem with this???
By far the biggest problem is in the inner cities, where students are receiving an education far less rigorous than in the suburbs. And while college may be an acceptable choice for a large percentage of suburban students, it is absolutely the wrong path for a majority of inner city students, most of whom should be studying curriculum that prepares them for a more practical future in vocations and technical training. The best decision would be for our urban schools to adopt a more European model and create multi-tracks for students. This would of course require some sort of testing or advising process that would steer students into a path that is deemed the most practical one for them to take.
This of course goes against the whole mantra of students being able to make their own choices, but frankly I am not advocating forced education. If a student doesn't like the advice they are getting and would prefer, for example, to go to college rather than a trade school, so be it. But the point is that we need to end this obsession with college and this notion that there is something more noble about receiving a college education; that everyone should strive for college and then accept something "less" if they don't make it.
If it means doing away with State mandated curricula for all students, or doing away with a State mandated "graduation" test for all students, then by all means lets do away with it. There is not a scintilla of evidence that State interference in education is producing any demonstrable gains, or at the very least any gains that could not have otherwise been attained through local measures.
The inner cities will never be repaired until its young students are given realistic, practical advise about their futures and what would be the most appropriate path for them to attain some economic independence and security. There is already a huge performance chasm between urban and suburban schools, so "detaching" them in terms of their curricula and goals is not such an outlandish idea. A student's education should always allow for choice, but those choices should be tempered by the realities of their existence. If it means creating academic and non-academic tracks in urban schools, so be it. I would much rather have that then perpetuate a system that is full of false choices, false opportunities, and false futures.
It is time to, as I hear people say, get real with education in the inner cities, and it is time to get real with ending this obsession with college and college driven learning. Then, and only then, will we see our inner city students given a real chance to make intelligent decisions about their life. Anything short of that is nothing less than perpetuating a fraud on kids that deserve better.