College degree should not be sole focus for Americans: Harvard report

on February 02 2011 6:44 AM
Registered Nurse
A Registered Nurse administering H1N1 vaccination to an elderly patient Reuters

Pathways to Prosperity - a report released by the Harvard Graduate School of Education suggests that secondary education should not necessarily push students towards a four-year college degree irrespective of their fit, but should instead look at providing a broad range of quality options that could impart the skills and work ethics leading to gainful employment.

The report finds that while America obsesses over sending its high school students to college, less than a third go on to successfully complete these courses and earn a Bachelor's degree. As Robert Schwartz, head of the project and academic dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education points out to The Associated Press, Almost everybody can cite some kid who marched off to college because it was the only socially legitimate thing to do, but had no real interest.

While acknowledging that jobs in absence of post-secondary qualification could be rare, the report nevertheless points out that only a third of jobs created in the coming years would require a Bachelor's degree while almost the same number could be applied for with an occupational certificate or an Associate's degree.

The study recommends career counseling for students that would inform them of various occupational options right at the start of high school, and also of the choice of programs and courses that would guide them towards the careers that interest them.  It also advocates greater collaboration with businesses, so that high school students could train in occupational courses designed with the help of industry leaders, or take up paid internships.

Sandy Baum, an independent higher education policy analyst, also stressed the need for more effective career counseling. I don't think the problem is too many people going to four-year colleges, she told AP, The problem is too many people making inappropriate choices.

As the U.S. wakes up to the urgency of making up for lost ground in competitiveness among global peers, education reform has constituted the clarion call from all levels of administration. But even as leaders across the country, including President Obama himself, has been urging the nation to lead the world in proportion of college graduates, one school of thought has also been pressing for more vocational alternatives to college.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also shows an explosion of jobs in healthcare, education, technology and fashion/cosmetics industry between 2008 and 2018 which would require an Associate's degree or Post Secondary Vocational Award. The top 10 occupations (in terms of the most number of job openings for individuals with an Associate's Degree or Vocational Awards during the same decade) alone are expected to open up well above 3 million positions according to data from the Bureau.

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