Focusing students’ education on life after school

Alan Duff

We’re all in college, so that means we either want to make some money, learn a bit more about the world and the things we love, are trying to make someone happy — or any combination thereof. With this come issues of paying for college and deciding how to apply what we learn in the workforce.

When I heard Obama’s State of the Union Address and his solution to education, I admired that he wanted to address the problem, daunting though it is. In his speech, Obama laid out his desire for community colleges to become “places that teach people skills that local businesses are looking for right now,” quality teachers to be rewarded and schools to stop teaching to the test.

Obama also stated, “Higher education can’t be a luxury — it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

These were all nice sound bytes and generalizable goals that seemed appealing, but I believe the education disparity can be solved without assuming that every American should go to college.

Throwing money at colleges, only to deplete already-troubled state budgets, is something that no one wants. Obama wants colleges to lower tuitions, although decreasing them with taxpayer money is not what his aim is.

This means that the problem of public schools getting their budget cuts would be transferred over to colleges, as they would try to get their tuitions under reign. As colleges would begin to lower their tuition, they would have to cut programs, special events, maybe even start removing scholarships to comply with federal regulations.

Colleges would also become less selective in order to get more students. Larger classes in all colleges would follow. More people would get a bachelor’s degree that is becoming more and more necessary to get any job, and subsequently less meaningful. If someone wanted to get hired competitively, they would need to get a master’s degree or a doctorate.

We don’t need an education race to the top in which the only way to get employed is for everyone to spend years and years in college, creating massive piles of debt for themselves.

Instead, the solution lies in creating the right kind of programs in public high schools. If we want students to know skills that “local businesses are looking for,” we should offer them in high school. Make it part of optional programs that don’t cost the students any extra to be a part of.

Creating curriculums in high school that teach more than just the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic would allow students to learn skills that could be used in the work force once they graduated from high school. Specialization could even be pursued.

Local high schools could work with local employers to teach students basic entry-level knowledge for desired fields, and businesses could then take over a student’s education upon graduation to fulfill their specific job requirement.

This approach would save students’ and employers’ time and money in certain fields, and prevent a college education race from spiraling out of control. Obama was right, though — our education system needs fixing, and we need to stop teaching to paper tests and instead focus on what really should matter to students: their lives after school.