Not everyone is destined for academia, even if only for a four-year degree, which is why Robert Samuelson’s argument earlier this week to “rethink” the “college-for-all” mentality is certainly valid and necessary. But although college isn’t for everyone, higher education—in some way, shape, or form—is. High school diplomas don’t cut it anymore, and by 2018, two-thirds of American jobs will require some type of postsecondary certificate or degree.
Currently, 3.7 million jobs sit open across the country, waiting for a skilled workforce to fill them. Thanks, in part, to a retiring workforce, these openings are growing in fields like manufacturing and healthcare—fields that, a decade ago, generally only required a high school diploma and a willingness to work. Today, though, these fields (and others) demand more training and expertise that isn’t necessarily found in a four-year degree. It’s found in apprenticeships, hands-on certificate programs, or weeks-long skills training—all different facets of what some people arguably call “college,” depending on their background and educational exposure.
But too often, “college” is trapped in the definition of a four-year degree. Anything less than that carries a negative stigma, as though that education is somehow less—less substantive, less important—than a bachelor’s degree. Why do we still lump kids into those who are preparing for college and those who are preparing for a career, as if they are two different things? We need to move away from the distinction between “college-ready” and “career-ready,” just as Achieve, Inc., has done with its Future Ready campaign.
So yes, we should “rethink” the “college-for-all” mindset. We should start by redefining, and appreciating, the many meanings of “college”—and ridding ourselves of outdated views on career and technical education programs.