Unless you’re completely new to career-connected learning, you’re most likely familiar with the bias towards four-year degrees as a postsecondary choice. And you’re probably also familiar with Mike Rowe, former host of Dirty Jobs and a strong advocate of “middle skill” jobs, those that require some kind of postsecondary education (a certification, apprenticeship, and/or Associates Degree).
So it’s probably no surprise that Rowe had some things to say recently about the “either or” approach of presenting four-year degrees: Specifically, the idea that either that you get one, or you won’t reach your potential:
“I think we’re stuck in this binary box, this or that. Right, blue-collar or white color, good job or a bad job. Higher education or higher alternative education.
When you only have two choices or you think you only have two choices, then you do one thing at the expense of the other.
So for instance, you know we have talked about this before, but it just seems so clear now. When four year degree universities needed a P.R. campaign 40 years ago, they got one.
But the P.R. Came at the expense of all of the other forms of education. So it wasn’t hey, get your liberal arts degree because it will give you a broad base of appreciation for humanity. It was if you don’t go get that degree, you will wind up over here turning a ranch or running a welding torch or doing some kind of consolation prize.
So we promoted the one thing at the expense of all of the others.
And that one thing just happened to be the most expensive thing. And so, look, I don’t think the skills set is the mystery. A reflection of what we value.
7 million — 7 million jobs available and they require training. Yet we are obsessed not really with education, you know. What we are obsessed with this credentialing.
People are buying diplomas. They are buying their degrees. It is a diploma dilemma, honestly. And it is expensive. It is getting worse. It’s not just the kids holding the note. It is us.”
You see this in the recent pay-for-admission college scandal. You see it when parents make angry calls to guidance counselors who dared to suggest two-year schools as a great option for their children.
But it has to stop. We have to reframe postsecondary education as a means to an end (the end being a satisfying, steady job with good pay) and not as an end in itself. A postsecondary credential, whether a four year degree or not, is not an end goal; it’s a prerequisite for certain kinds of jobs.
Honestly, when it comes to job opportunities, those credentials and two-year degrees have become a far better pathway to opportunity.
Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.