Skipping or shortening college on the basis of a headline or bad economic news is foolish when careers span 40 or more years of one’s working life.
Skipping an associate degree could cost a high school graduate half a million dollars in earnings, and bypassing a bachelor’s degree could cost a million and a half dollars in potential earnings over a lifetime.
The recession has many wondering whether college is a safe investment. Because many college graduates are unsuccessful in finding work, working families are tempted to reject the college education option.
The media has added confusion when clarity is most needed. Headlines suggesting that college no longer prepares graduates for the labor market ignite fear in middle-class parents – fears that it is no longer possible to give our children the advantages that we had.
Last year, The New York Times published “Plan B: Skip College.” The Washington Post ran “Parents Crunch the Numbers and Wonder, Is College Still Worth It?” Even the Chronicle of Higher Education published the article “Here’s Your Diploma, Now Here’s Your Mop,” a story about a graduate working as a janitor rather than the career he had studied for.
Despite the naysayers, evidence underlines the increasing importance of college. Recent research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce suggests that by 2018, 63 percent of jobs throughout the U.S. will require some form of postsecondary education. Moreover, postsecondary education has become the only way to secure middle-class earnings and for many, the only way to escape poverty.
Meanwhile, when jobs disappear, college is a safe harbor to wait out a recession until prospects improve. Even the Chronicle’s janitor scrubs toilets with the confidence that opportunity will come. Having mopped floors during my early teaching years, I applaud his perseverance.
The recession, coupled with stories questioning the value of college, makes it easier to excuse public cuts in funds for college education. Short-term federal stimulus funds helped fill the gaps in postsecondary funding created by declining state revenues. However, stimulus funds will be unavailable after 2011, and federal funds cannot make up the difference indefinitely.
The bulk of the funds go to institutions concentrated at the top of the educational hierarchy, and the fewest resources are allocated to community colleges, which serve 43 percent of all undergraduate students. The resulting stratification allows some graduates to access brand-name colleges producing professionals with higher incomes. Those attending less selective schools are subject to lower incomes. A more equitable distribution of public funds is an immediate need.
Please help us help students and families pursue a college education. Begin by reassuring students that their hopes of career and achievement of middle-class status via a college diploma are more important than ever. Contribute to a small scholarship fund of your choice.
One designed to help local students is the Ken Green Scholarship Fund. Make checks payable to the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, with “Ken Green Scholarship” on the memo line. Mail donations to Carl Babb, Los Altos High School, 201 Almond Ave., Los Altos 94022. Your contributions are tax deductible and change the course of many students’ lives.
Carl Babb is an instructor at Los Altos High School.