The Obama administration’s education reform slogan for public-school students might seem a little open-ended to some – what does it really mean for kids to be college- and career-ready, after all? The findings from a report released today by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce suggest that perhaps the president’s saying should go something more like this: go to college, or else you won’t have a career.
The authors of the report, Help Wanted, write that “by 2018, we will need 22 million new workers with college degrees — but will fall short of that number by at least 3 million postsecondary degrees.” They go on to project that in a decade, 63 percent of jobs will require a college degree, and that these jobs will be the gatekeepers to the middle and upper class (something that is mostly true already).
To reach all of those students not on track to a post-secondary degree, the report’s author, Anthony Carnevale, told Inside Higher Ed today that colleges need to “streamline programs” and “emphasize employability.” That is, fewer courses like Physics for Poets or The 19thCentury English Novel and more Chemistry, Engineering and Accounting. He went on to say that yes, that would mean vocational-type tracks for university students who would be steered away from a more “academic” college experience.
Carnevale’s proposal sounds very similar to the report by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce (pdf) a couple of years back, which suggested that students in high school be divided into two tracks: those who would go on to higher “academic” pursuits, and those who would be funneled to vocational, community or technical colleges.
One of the arguments against these types of proposals is that they could prevent students from testing out different career options. (How many of you picked your career at age 16?) They also limit students’ exposure to liberal arts courses that have indirect but useful benefits for life in the real world. Which matters more, or must they be viewed as mutually exclusive?