Saturday, March 6, 2010

College, who needs college?

Not everyone. In a recent Time article it was stated that roughly 40% of people who enter college do not get a degree within six years. Over 25% work in positions their degree does not support. In 2007 most people do not work in jobs that require a college degree. 50% of the people who enter college do not finish. Yet, thousands of parents and students go into debt to obtain a degree that may be of little or no use. I read one financial analysis that said the real estate debt problem we've recently been battling is just the tip of the iceberg. Credit card debt and student loan debt are even larger, and have the potential of being just as big a problem.

So why go to college. One argument is that college educated people earn more on average than non-college education people. However, recent studies are starting to say that people who go to college have a higher level of intelligence and that may be the factor that improves earning potential, not the fact that you have a degree.

I am a firm believer that manufacturing is one of the fundamental creators of wealth. There are those who argue that the service sector creates wealth and to the degree that a person is exchanging their personal effort and knowledge to provide a service such as a auto repair technician, or a plumber I agree. However, the bulk of the service sector such as insurance is simply a redistribution of money based on statistical data and doesn't create wealth except for those executives with bloated pay checks. The hospitality industry doesn't create wealth, except in the local economy by furnishing jobs, but I consume a sub and its value in terms of use in simply nutritional. I would also say that software creators could create wealth in the performance of their programs, but I would also argue that the design, development and production of software is manufacturing, just not the traditional type we think of.

In our area I see industrial firms who came to the south because of cheaper wages now having to battle the same issues industry does nationwide. The diminishing number of technically qualified technicians. College degrees are not necessarily needed for these jobs. It is becoming a real problem. How then can we build back our manufacturing base, and compete with off shore industry when we can't fix something when it breaks.

The answer is in parents becoming more involved in, in tune with, and willing to consider that little Johnny doesn't need to go to college to earn a good income. Two-year colleges offer the best alternative though many two-year colleges view them selves as an important link in the transfer process. That is providing cheap, home bound basic education, then the student transfers to a four-year institution to specialize. We still need to emphasize what is truly needed by our society, trained technical personnel. Amen.

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