A college degree may someday be as essential as a high school diploma

Dhathri Chunduru is a former Fulton County special educator. She works for an educational non-profit and supports the development of teachers and instructional coaches.

In this piece, she addresses the growing sentiment that too many people are going to college, that not everyone needs high education.

She makes an interesting point: A century ago, we said the same thing about a high school diploma. Yet, no one would ever say now that people don’t need to graduate high school.

Chunduru also raises another interesting issue: We don’t yet know the jobs of the future. The low-level jobs that do not require college may disappear.

By Dhathri Chunduru

Non-educators and educators alike have been spouting something as of late that worries me: that not everyone is meant for college.

Short-sighted beliefs that fail to take in the perspective of history and explore the possibilities of the future are depressing. They signify the loss of optimism, the acceptance of the prevailing ideology and the failure to recognize that beliefs are the primary initiator for action and change — not the other way around.

I am not claiming to make a complete and holistic argument with this, but seek to offer rebuttal to two of the most common premises for this argument and offer one simple call to moral consciousness.

The notion that college is an elitist institution that we should not force upon students who do not strive for it on their own completely misses the mark.  A college education allows the access to power.

A hundred years ago, it would have been inconceivable that we would expect all children to attend school and graduate with a high school diploma. These days, it is nearly impossible to get a job at places like Dairy Queen, where I made five-plus dollars an hour as a 16-year-old, without a high-school diploma or proof of school enrollment.

Standards to access power change over the course of history. It is up to us to decide if we are going to allow people to access that power, or use increasing standards to continue a cyclical state of oppression.

The second premise goes something like this: “OK, so if everyone went to college and worked high-income jobs, then no one would be janitors, housekeepers, etc. …”

This argument makes two major assumptions. The first is that people are educated to fill the jobs that exist, rather than the converse. Actually, when people are highly educated, they create demand for more skilled work.

The second is that society must have people in labor positions in order to function. Most work is dependent upon conditions of the present, and the future will likely render it obsolete, anyway. Meter Maids, tailors, toll booth workers and farmers are all examples.

Farming was the primary occupation for 80 percent of the American population a mere 100 years ago. Today, only 2 percent of the American workforce farm as their primary mode of income. Perhaps a slew of self-cleaning buildings will solve the janitor conundrum.

Finally, I propose a call for shifting our beliefs, so that we are a society that drives progress rather than one that challenges it at every turn, waiting for proof. Let us consider the potential fears of stating with fervent belief that college is for everyone, based on the premise that education is the great liberator.

Are we afraid of letting kids down by creating a sense of false hope? This one is more about our egos and sense of failure than it is about raising expectations for students.

Are we fearful of a force of educated people that does not look like the people currently in power? This one might be a little worrisome for those benefiting from a system that directly works in their favor.

What would happen if the state of power were representative of all marginalized people of this nation: the brown, black, poor, gay, learning disabled and the currently powerless because of a lack of a college education?

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

119 comments Add your comment

mountain man

April 16th, 2013
6:28 am

A college diploma IS now the equivalent of a high scool diploma. In my day a high scool diploma was a gaurantee of ceryain minimum skills: reading, writing, and arithmetic, No more. A high scool diploma is a piece of toilet paper, due to grade inflation and social promotion.

mountain man

April 16th, 2013
6:30 am

HS Math Teacher

April 16th, 2013
6:36 am

If we keep trying to homogenize education for our “masses” in high school, then eventually colleges will be dumbed down just like the high schools have to the point where one day the true professionals will need a Ph.D. to distinguish themselves.

DeborahinAthens

April 16th, 2013
6:52 am

I don’t see it the way you do, Maureen. I think too many kids do not want to go to college, and they do not need to go to college, yet we parents insist on pushing them. It’s like pounding a square peg into a round hole. We have two sons, both in their thirties, both bright young men. My older son knew from childhood what he wanted to do, went to Georgia Southern and got a stellar education in business with emphasis on logistics–a field that uses many specialized fields. He just started an airline after years of playing with trucks and boats– for real! He loves it. My second son, who is actually much more intelligent than my older son, hated college. Finally, one day, he refused to go back. He told me he wanted to go to culinary school. This was before “foodies” became a household word. He has been cooking ever since. He says time goes by so fast. He loves it. My husband moans and groans about our younger son, but he is happy. And that is all anyone can want for their children, isn’t it? We wasted so much money sending our younger son to school. Tens of thousands of dollars and he was miserable. One of the “This Old House” guys once said that the hardest thing about their business was finding the skilled craftsmen they need. How many unhappy, unemployed college educated people could have better lives if they were doing what hey loved–and were getting respect for that honest labor? How many unethical, cheating, lying, stealing MBAs hurt people because they are unhappy unless they are raking in millions of dollars? These people oftentimes create nothing but misery. Many of them are miserable themselves and end up drug addicts and alcoholics. I have personally known several. How many physicians who become doctors because their parent pushed them into the field commit suicide? Become addicts? We need to respect honest work and not all honest work requires a college degree.

bootney farnsworth

April 16th, 2013
6:53 am

someday? try about 8 years ago.

but here’s the other side of this story: not everyone is cut out for, or interested in college.
but since we’ve devaluated the skilled trades….

bootney farnsworth

April 16th, 2013
6:57 am

another fly in the ointment

almost anyone who wants a college degree and has the intelligence can get one. ot necessarily at UGA, but there are colleges all over Georgia ready to take poor kids and the federal dollars which come with them

mountain man

April 16th, 2013
6:59 am

I wish I could find the post from a few blogs back – maybe whoever posted it can repost= but it went something like this:

Latest research shows that our current job market requires an advanced degree for 30% of jobs, a college degree for 36% of jobs, and a high school education for 33% of jobs. That means that only 1% of jobs are open to those who do not at least graduate from high school – this not counting occupations such as burglar, carjacker, or welfare mom.

Our company requires a high school diploma or GED just to have your application read – we don’t hire drop-outs for ANY job position.

We also require all MANAGERS to have at least a bachelor’s degree – a big change in our industry from 30 years ago.

bootney farnsworth

April 16th, 2013
7:00 am

not to mention there’s this thing called military service. in exchage for three/four years of your life they will train you in 100s of skills, encourage you to go to college to tech school, and offer you serious funding and employment opportunites not available to the rest of the citizenry

LaKeisha Jackson

April 16th, 2013
7:24 am

Maureen, between a combination of a lot of useless majors…General Curriculum, Collegiate Studies, the various “grievance” majors, etc….and the dumbing down of degree requirements for REAL college degrees, it’s gotten to where having certain degrees is not a big thing anymore. (Especially when people can earn a degree and still be basically uneducated in most of the “real world” skills.)

I really believe that a technical school degree is going to end up being the most valuable degree to have, except for maybe an engineering or hard science degree.

indigo

April 16th, 2013
8:37 am

At this time, it appears degrees in math, science, computers and medicine will become more valuable while humanities degrees will become less valuable.

Texas Pete

April 16th, 2013
8:37 am

DeborahinAthens,

I understand where you’re coming from but most of the “problems” you mentioned are with individuals and not with any system or social norm. If people are unhappy with their career choice then that has very little to do with their education. Perhaps they should be like your youngest son and actually set off to do what they enjoy.

There’s plenty of happy employees who have degrees in fields that have nothing to do with their current profession because they changed their focus at some point whether it was out of necessity or pure desire. That doesn’t undermine their college degree because they still learned a lot about themselves, adult responsibilities, and social lessons that prepared them to become productive.

As for the cheating MBAs, cheaters are cheaters no matter the credentials. We see unethical people in every walk of life including those who choose not to set foot on a college campus.

Yes, many parents do push their kids towards college but I think that’s because college is the safest route for a young adult that really doesn’t have a solid plan (which is the case for most 18 year olds). Many parents would rather their children go to college while figuring out what they want to do with their lives instead of joining the military or grabbing the first available job out of high school and getting stuck in a low income situation while stifling dreams due to dealing with the stress of reality.

And there is the real answer. Parents need to do a better job of motivating their children at a young age. Parents should be preparing their children to be productive adults in society, but not to enter a specific occupation. The ends should justify the means, not the other way around. If children are taught to achieve then they will be better students and by the time they are in high school they will develop a modest short term plan for their future even if it doesn’t include college. I used to know many classmates who knew they wanted to go to the military (not because it was the only option), knew they wanted to go into a certain line of work, or knew they wanted to get a higher education. Then there were the kids who just knew they were graduating high school and that was it. The ones with a modest plan are generally better off today than the ones who had no plan and just grabbed what they could. There are a few success stories out of the second group but most aren’t as happy as they could have been.

We need to teach young people how to work ethically towards goals and the rest will take care of itself.

Mountain Man

April 16th, 2013
8:40 am

If we brought back responsibility and made our high school diplomas mean something, then employers would not feel like they have to insist on a college degree just to make sure a person can ACTUALLY read and write and do simple arithmetic. I know someone who is in student acceptance for a Tech College and she sees students that failed the GHSGT repeatedly and ended up geting a waiver so they could get their diploma. The GHSGT was a JOKE, according to my kids – anyone should be able to pass it.

Mountain Man

April 16th, 2013
8:45 am

“not to mention there’s this thing called military service. in exchage for three/four years of your life they will train you in 100s of skills”

It would be sad if the only way a person could get an education would be to agree to a period of indentured servitude with the risk of life and limb. A lot of kids joined the National Guard before Iraq/Afganistan thinking they had an easy assignment, then got shipped off to war to never come back (or come back incomplete).

I just finished watching “Lincoln” about the 13th amendment – and it occurred to me that military service meets the definition of “indentured servitude”. With the draft it was not voluntary, either.

Digger

April 16th, 2013
8:58 am

Hopefully, someday, every college graduate will know as much as education majors.

same ole same ole

April 16th, 2013
9:14 am

Check out Western Governor’s College: no GPA, get your BS in 2 years … this is where the majority of math teachers in the nation are coming from… anyone else see a problem?

Mountain Man

April 16th, 2013
9:29 am

“A century ago, we said the same thing about a high school diploma. Yet, no one would ever say now that people don’t need to graduate high school.”

My father had only an 11-grade education (that was as far as it went, then). My mother had only an eight-grade education, but she could read, write, and do arithmetic. She could work in a store and count back change properly. That was all that was needed back then because if you had an eight-grade education, you d*mn well knew your multiplication table, your basic math, your reading and writing. There was no social promotion, so an eighth-grade education was better than a 12-grade diploma today. THAT is why employers are requiring a college education – to make sure their employees have the equivalent of my mother’s eight-grade education.

Private Citizen

April 16th, 2013
9:29 am

USA seems to have abandoned the concept of formal structured knowledge. It’s like you can not even learn anything if you want to. Except for real high end university, much of it is mashed potatoes now, this political wash of form is supposed to equal substance.

Private Citizen

April 16th, 2013
9:36 am

an eighth-grade education was better than a 12-grade diploma today.

Interesting point. You could also walk into a business and get hired the same day.

Centrist

April 16th, 2013
9:37 am

Not only have we already reached the point where a college degree equals what a high school education once meant – it depends on the college and type of degree. There are so many hollow college degrees that lead to dead end jobs or only qualify for the same jobs as a high school graduate. Wasting those years spending rather than earning is a bad decision.

Mountain Man

April 16th, 2013
9:39 am

In our pursuit of 100% graduation (from high school) rate, we have abandoned any criteria that make a diploma mean anything.

JF McNamara

April 16th, 2013
9:44 am

Unless we lower the standards, it can’t be. We aren’t all created equal. College isn’t just about trying hard. Its about being able to master complex concepts, and only a certain percent of our population can do that. If the college degree becomes essential as a high school diploma, then we will all be in debt from student loans and the Masters or Ph.D. will be the new standard.

College, at its core, is about ensuring we have the smartest people in the jobs that require smart people. No matter what, that has to happen. We will just make it more expensive on everyone.

Private Citizen

April 16th, 2013
9:53 am

Here is a cut/paste from a comment over at RT, very interesting:

“Glad I am a real American, not one of those minorities trying to become American.” Divide and conquer. All this makes humans trapped in infantile psychological/emotio nal STATES, meaning they have under developed stress buffer in their brains, CLING (like a child to a parent) to the government.”

(source: http://rt.com/news/camden-london-forced-migration-213/comments/page-2/ )

Old Physics Teacher

April 16th, 2013
10:00 am

What Mountain Man said!

cris

April 16th, 2013
10:36 am

sometimes all it takes is a little maturity:
-I had a full ride coming out of high school to a small community college – completely took it for granted, partied, was lazy, after 2 quarters I had dropped out of college to go out and “make some money”. I got a job in the manufacturing sector with a decent wage (not widely available any more), but that was absolutely mind-numbing and a dead-end and stayed there for 3 years. After I had enough of “making some money”, I went back to school and participated, engaged and thoroughly took advantage of my second chance at a higher education. We expect too many 18-year-olds to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives (not applicable to this century anyway) and march straight into it.
Sometimes it takes a skilled, experienced worker, rather than a credentialed one:
- my spouse still works in manufacturing. When he first started 25 years ago, the big guy in charge had actually started out in an entry level position and worked his way up through the ranks – he knew that company inside and out and what it took to run it productively. When he retired, he was replaced by a plant manager who had never worked in this particular industry, but supposedly knew everything there was to know about management, scheduling, etc. Let’s just put it this way, that heavily-degreed big guy didn’t cut it very long and has been replaced several times by carbon copies who still can’t get it right when there is probably someone on the factory floor that could do a much better job that has never set foot on a college campus, but will never be given the opportunity to lead because he doesn’t have his sheepskin to hang on the wall.

Simmer Down

April 16th, 2013
10:47 am

By making blanket statements like “not everyone is college material” we provide a built in excuse to not strive towards a full education for some people. The key to success is education. We can debate what success means but if you stop at the HS level or below you will never control your own destiny. A college degree does not guarantee success but it sure increases the odds. Statistics play out that if a parent went to college so will their children. It also works the other way – the odds of a person going to college if their parents did not is much smaller. Breaking that pattern is critical for yourself as well as future generations of your families.

Clutch Cargo

April 16th, 2013
11:00 am

@Mountain Man-

“…it occurred to me that military service meets the definition of “indentured servitude”. With the draft it was not voluntary, either.”

Not a single member of the US military is a draftee. We have an all volunteer force.Each person exposed to combat knew when they enlisted that it was a job hazard.Their selfless sacrifice shows that we still have a lot of patriots in the US,but don’t call it indentured servitude.

Brasstown

April 16th, 2013
11:00 am

The writer of the article fails to address that not all people have the intellectual ability to do college level work. That may only mean that they are poor test-takers, but currently that is the world’s standard. Can you pass certain tests that will allow you to get in and once in succeed?

She also fails to consider that skilled craftsman in some cultures are held in as high a reguard as those with a collge education. We’ve lost that respect here in the US. Her arguements remind me of the pitfalls that educators face when advising a minority student about career options. As a community African Americans are concerned with the power differential that still exists between black and white society. If you advise a black student that he or she should consider technical school, you may get slapped with an acusation of rascism. I understand that, but I’m afraid some African American students may be pushed into going to college when some have a talent that lies elsewhere that is equally valueable. I don’t think the goal is for everyone to go to college no matter their race.

catlady

April 16th, 2013
11:00 am

MM: My grandfather “passed to be a teacher” with an 9th grade education, and my grandmother was completely literate, able to write well and calculate, with a 6th grade education. Of course, back then, the onus was on students to make the most of their opportunities. Now, not so much.

When I started teaching here in 1973, only one of my students had a parent who had graduated from high school, out of 24 kids. The average ed level for the daddies was 6th grade, and for mommies it was 8th. It was years before I had a child who had both parents as high school graduates. Of course, 99 percent of my children lived with two parents then.

Private Citizen

April 16th, 2013
11:02 am

I had a full ride coming out of high school to a small community college

I had a full ride, too, in a Toyota Corolla, and I paid cash for the community college tuition. Tuition is way too expensive now and if it were today I would not be able to do the same thing at the same time in life. When you look at in-state tuition rates ($900. for a three-hour online course?) you have to wonder if anyone is at home and “What are they thinking?” I don’t think wages have increased x4 since when I paid cash for tuition at community college. Not so long ago in Georgia, the tuition doubled during the time I was in a program. No one said a word about. The news said nothing. The college said nothing. The faculty said nothing. Fellow students said nothing, most of them were petty careerist sharks with “go-along-to-get-along petty greed DNA where there should have intellectual curiosity.” I realised the tuition had increased 50% in one billing cycle when I went to my payment records and compared to prior tuition payment.

I would not ever recommend anyone pay this type of tuition to 3rd or 4th tier Georgia public colleges and universities. And they say the schools are full. I think it is true the analysis that the open debt spigot is causal to tuition increase. My dumb naive young couple neighbors got caught in this trap and the girl believed the marketing of an online school and obtained many thousands in debt that they are unable to pay. The fellow works full time and his wages are low. So now they’re missing his tax return refund, that annual little bonus most working people get. It is taken to service the debt from the online “college.”

williebkind

April 16th, 2013
11:07 am

Why should I pay for something the world wide web offers me for the taking? Why should I sit in room why someone tries to indoctrinate me into his/her collective. Of all the great people I read about very few have gone to a institution of higher learning but took the initiative to learn it on their own. But people who graduate from college think everyone should graduate from college. 17T dollars in debt as a nation. We are led by college graduates. Yep you have me convinced.

Private Citizen

April 16th, 2013
11:07 am

to add, The fellow works skilled trade labor full time and his wages are low.

Beverly Fraud

April 16th, 2013
11:07 am

“She works for an educational non-profit and supports the development of teachers and instructional coaches.”

Translation: I did my bit, and now have parlayed it into being part of the infrastructure that is destroying teaching.

Good for her. Who can blame her from benefiting from the educational instruction complex? But let’s not sugar coat it. It is what it is.

Sam

April 16th, 2013
11:07 am

Everyone I know has a Masters degree. It’s no longer special either.

Private Citizen

April 16th, 2013
11:10 am

It was a sad day when I read that 50% of the graduates of Harvard University go to work in finance. Someone there even did a little experiment and went to school career counseling office and said they needed career help and the officer person said, “How about finance?!”

The Japanese businessman said that if the USA had more real engineers and less financial engineers, there would be a better quality of life.

Beverly Fraud

April 16th, 2013
11:10 am

“What would happen if the state of power were representative of all marginalized people of this nation: the brown, black, poor, gay, learning disabled and the currently powerless because of a lack of a college education?”

Yeah; wonder what would happen if teachers were no longer marginalized as far as the state of power in education?

williebkind

April 16th, 2013
11:11 am

The DOL labor market information stated that skilled trades will outperform degrees! You keep pushing that psychology degree or education degree we need low middle income citizens.

Beverly Fraud

April 16th, 2013
11:14 am

“Finally, I propose a call for shifting our beliefs, so that we are a society that drives progress rather than one that challenges it at every turn, waiting for proof.”

You mean like we are pushing for an educational “reform” with little to no proof that anything it is comprised of actually works?

williebkind

April 16th, 2013
11:14 am

““What would happen if the state of power were representative of all marginalized people of this nation: the brown, black, poor, gay, learning disabled”

This is what is wrong with public education! It is nothing but politics and special interest and little to do with learning. No wonder most kids can not find a job these days.

Private Citizen

April 16th, 2013
11:17 am

Sam, I’ve got a master’s degree that would be good filler for a trash can. Talk about a long extended waste of time. The best part was once in the depths of the program you could not get out until someone constructed an exit map for you. It’s not like undergrad where it is all laid out. Education schools have this little thing they do where there is a whole bunch of approval processes and sign-offs along the way before they “release the student.” They literally hold people and milk them for money. Higher studies is the worst, because at that point the department figureheads also exercise very real editorial control over students’ work. And “you should do this over and develop it” (chah-ching! – two more years of tuition). -Develop it in the direction they say using the resources they suggest. Seen more than one person go into a program with their own ideas and leave after having written 300 pages of what the department professor wanted re: both topic and content. In Georgia government university system. They’re like gate keepers on steroids and about as intellectually healthy, too.

BT

April 16th, 2013
11:21 am

I dont necessarily agree with the college degree being as essential as a HS diploma. College is not for everyone but I do agree that most will need a HS diploma and some post seconday education. My daughter and others are very successful getting a degree from a tech school. Someone may take over a family business or work in a career that was taught as on the job training,

Beverly Fraud

April 16th, 2013
11:21 am

“Of course, back then, the onus was on students to make the most of their opportunities. Now, not so much.”

Onus on students catlady?

@catlady we are so far away from putting the onus on the child, that if you mentioned it to many parents, they’d be shouting at the principal “She called my child an a-hole!” LOL

Not all parents mind you. Just far too many.

Private Citizen

April 16th, 2013
11:24 am

Let’s just say that you do not get to be tenured full professor of education by nurturing students to develop their own ideas.

Mountain Man

April 16th, 2013
11:25 am

“Not a single member of the US military is a draftee. We have an all volunteer force.Each person exposed to combat knew when they enlisted that it was a job hazard”

I understand that, Clutch. I am not demeaning the sacrifice of today’s soldiers. However, I was speaking of when my brother was drafted into the Vietnam war. You could ask him his opinion, except that he is dead.

Private Citizen

April 16th, 2013
11:30 am

Plenty of people out there need two skills: how to read a map and safely drive a truck.

I just telephoned and asked, “Entry requirements for your program, does it matter if a person has graduated from high school?” Answer, “No..” https://www.cdlschool.com/truckCareer.php

Private Citizen

April 16th, 2013
11:39 am

A guy I know went into a education doctoral program, completed the foundation courses and then wrote his dissertation and handed it to them. They freaked and and said, “Wait a minute! You’ve got to do this – this – and this (sign off “developmental” time line)” and I guess he did. At least he had a heart attack while in the workplace. Got to hand it to him, he’s not a quitter. Woke up this morning and realised many of these commenters who sing the song of repeatedly being mass-critical of generalised bad-vibes on teachers and the teaching profession, these folk have something in common with spouse abusers and wife beaters. I think we should set up a rewards program and send them a sleeveless t-shirt for every one of these generalised “teachers are bad” posts.

William Casey

April 16th, 2013
11:42 am

When people say that “not everyone is college material” what they are REALLY saying is that not everyone is capable of completing true college level work as we have known it and/or not everyone is persistent enough to put the requiried time/effort into it. There are benefits to the college experience that go beyond training for a career. However, informally forcing everyone into traditional colleges will invariably dilute the meaning of a college education.

Brasstown

April 16th, 2013
12:03 pm

Sleeveless T’s? Could call it the Paris Trout Award.

mountain man

April 16th, 2013
12:14 pm

“Plenty of people out there need two skills: how to read a map and safely drive a truck.”

Ability to read road signs or read the driver’s manual? Not required! Believe me, I deal with Over-the Road truck drivers.

Private Citizen

April 16th, 2013
12:42 pm

Ability to run over corner mailboxes and go down dead end roads with no way to turn around. I drove a semi-truck in a parking lot one time. It was disconcerting the inside of the cab was as wide as a king-size bed. I don’t know how those drivers hold a lane. There’s not much room left on the width of lane. (pushing the envelope here for mountain man – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrtnsMKRvX8 )

Bob

April 16th, 2013
12:49 pm

If you include technical and community colleges’ Associate Degrees, the schools that used to be called Vo-Tech, then I agree with you Maureen. If you mean a Bachelor Degree from a University/College then I do not agree. The most important thing now is getting skills to get a job and start your career. It has always been that to most of us but in this recession/jobless recovery it is more important than ever. Having a degree in philosophy will not get you anywhere except being unemployed if you have no real world skills.