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U.S. | Education & Student Activism

Universities are not the only way to educate
by Avan Curran
Thursday May 9th, 2013 10:59 AM
With rising tuition costs and less job prospects after graduation, a college education is beginning to be as much of a liability as it is an asset. Are college degrees even as necessary as we think, and are there other ways to educate the workforce?
A college education is quickly becoming a minimum requirement to keep the bills paid. Data from the 2012 US census shows that on average, those with a bachelors degree make over $26,000 more than those who only graduated high school. Even with some students racking up massive debt, many young people see college as the only way to get on the path to a good career. Though not all jobs require a bachelors, it's difficult to stand out in a group of potential candidates without one. 24 percent of young adults age 25-34 have bachelor degrees.1 For many people, getting a degree can be financially rewarding, but as Aljazeera reports, a significant number of people are graduating with over $90,000 in debt, with minorities being more than twice as likely to carry that large a burden.2 The job market does not make it easier on minorities in America after graduation, either. A black female with a master's degree makes an average of 3,000 less than a white male who only obtained a bachelors.1 Though it may not be surprising to anyone that the census shows that whites are making the most money on average, the level of disparity is still alarming.

If education is going to continue to be important for Americans entering the job market, accessibility will also continue to be an important issue. With less state investment in education, America may need to take a different approach to educating the public and providing job opportunities to our abundant and eager workforce. Though the 10,000 students who are currently enrolled in Canadian colleges may have found a way around rising tuition in this country, it may be beneficial to consider other innovative alternatives in education.3 The rise in popularity of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, could offer another vehicle to train the American workforce. MOOCs are open access courses that teach almost anything. Courses currently available on a popular MOOC website called Coursera include IT Security, Music, Nutrition, Physics, and countless others (As of 5/5/13 on Coursera.com). MOOCs are not so different from a standard correspondence class and may include videotaped lectures and automated exams, but offer much more flexibility. Though many MOOCs are paid and offered by major universities, free courses are also available from a variety of sources. So far MOOCs are seeing some acceptance with the University of Colorado accepting a small handful of MOOCs for transfer credit, and the American Council for Education has already reviewed five MOOCs and determined them worthy for credit.4 Students in the future may be able to complete some, if not all coursework, in a free, flexible online environment. MOOCs may also prove to be a good replacement for certain vocational programs, especially in the IT field where practical experience comes primarily from being seated at the keyboard. Beyond simply being transferable, MOOCs could be accepted on their own merit as a simple form of job training.

If education is the important factor, then alternative course models, especially free alternatives, should be accepted or promoted as long as they can lead to similar learning outcomes. As a society we may even need to go a step further and stop requiring college degrees for some jobs in the first place, and stop pushing college as the only road to success for high school students. Andrew McAfee, a blogger for the Harvard Business Review, suggested that “one of the most productive things an employer could do, both for themselves and for society at large, is to stop placing so much emphasis on standard undergraduate and graduate degrees”. Citing the fact that colleges are rarely focused on teaching job skills, and yet certain entry level jobs are requiring a degree 50% more often than even five years ago, McAfee says the emphasis on college degrees is a sort of bubble, and given the rampant issue of grade inflation he may be right.5 Degrees, though required more often, mean less all the time. These realities coupled with the RT report that hundreds of thousands of college graduates are going on to work minimum wage jobs, it seems something about the societal push for a college education is not adding up.6 America's education system needs to become just that: a system to educate people as effectively and efficiently as possible, not just a series of hoops to jump through and financial burdens to bear.

1. Susan Peck MacDonald, “The Erasure of Language,” College Composition and Communication 58, no. 4 (2007): 619.

1 U.S. Census, 2012: Mean Earnings By Highest Degree Earned. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2012. http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0232.pdf

2 Sarah Kendzior, “The price of inequality in higher education”, Aljazeera English, December 23, 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/12/20121223122216817378.html

3 "Americans flee to Canada for college education", Russia Today, April 26, 2013, http://rt.com/usa/american-canada-education-drain-473/

4 Steve Kolowich, “American Council on Education Recommends 5 MOOCs for Credit”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 9, 2013, http://chronicle.com/article/American-Council-on-Education/137155/

5 Andrew McAfee, “Stop Requiring College Degrees”, HBR Blog Network, February 26, 2013, http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/mcafee/2013/02/stop-requiring-college-degrees.html

6 “Hundreds of thousands of college graduates work minimum wage jobs”, Russia Today, April 1, 2013, http://rt.com/usa/college-graduates-minimum-wage-174/