College is not for everyone

Going to college after high school is widely accepted as the best way to have a gratifying life (“College Became the Default. Let’s Rethink That.” The New York Times, Apr. 5).  But is it? 

The truth is that far more young people would be better served taking a vocational curriculum in high school that is coupled with an apprenticeship.  For those who want to expand their formal education, there is a surfeit of online courses. 

I don’t doubt that the traditional college experience with in-class instruction and dorm living is invaluable for some.  But the expense and debt involved overwhelm the benefits for many students.

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College is not for everyone

Going to college after high school is widely accepted as the best way to have a gratifying life (“College Became the Default. Let’s Rethink That.” The New York Times, Apr. 5).  But is it? 

The truth is that far more young people would be better served taking a vocational curriculum in high school that is coupled with an apprenticeship.  For those who want to expand their formal education, there is a surfeit of online courses. 

I don’t doubt that the traditional college experience with in-class instruction and dorm living is invaluable for some.  But the expense and debt involved overwhelm the benefits for many students.

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Why the SAT is so controversial

When the subject is higher education, few issues are more controversial than the SAT (“MIT Leads the Way in Reinstating the SAT,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 5). By choosing to maintain its high standards, MIT became the first prominent school to reinstate the requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores.

In the final analysis, the reason that the SAT provokes so much heat is that it can be used by opposing ideologues to support their particular agendas.  Those who believe in differentiation in higher education applaud it, while those who believe in democratization vilify it. So in a sense the SAT is a proxy for both sides. I see no end to the debate.

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The lesson of the Oberlin College case

When students at Oberlin College protested the action of Gibson’s Bakery to press charges against a Black student for shoplifting a bottle of wine calling the owner racist, the store’s owner sued the college for libel (“Oberlin College Loses Its Appeal,” The Wall Street Journal, April 1). The Ohio Court of Appeals upheld the owner, even though the college claimed it was not responsible for the speech of its students.

The trouble is that some senior administrators actively participated in the protest by passing out fliers.  As a result, the court correctly ruled in favor of the bakery.  Therein is an important lesson going forward.  Colleges that don’t respect the line between free speech and defamatory speech by actively participating in protests will pay the price in the courts.

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Comments rather than grades on student essays

As a former high school English teacher for 28 years, I know how time-consuming evaluating student compositions is.  That’s why anything that lightens the burden is worth seriously considering (“I no longer grade my students’ work – and I wish I had stopped sooner,” The Conversation, Mar. 29). 

When teachers put grades on essays, all that students really care about is the letter grade. Nothing that the teacher writes in the margins is considered.  So if the purpose of having students write is to help them develop the ability to express themselves, why bother to add a grade?  In short, it’s counterproductive. 

Assessing student writing is subjective by its very nature.  Therefore, why bother to waste time assigning a grade?

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Make financial literacy a graduation requirement

In making financial literacy a graduation requirement, Florida deserves high praise (“Florida to require high school financial literacy to graduate,” New York Post, Mar. 22).  The fact is that most young people are totally unprepared to handle money.  It’s seen in the huge number of them who are in over their head in credit card debt.

By making financial literacy as important as reading and writing, Florida does a great service.  Purists will no doubt decry the move as non-academic.  I say they need to get real.  I’ve seen too many bright young people struggling because they never mastered financial basics.

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The parental school satisfaction paradox

A recent Gallup poll found that 73 percent of parents of school-aged children are satisfied with their education in public schools (“Who’s Unhappy With Schools? The Answer Surprised Me.” The New York Times, Mar. 20). If so, then why are there such long wait lists for admission to charter schools?

The disconnect is confusing. The best explanation is that those who are disaffected with traditional public schools don’t have their own children attending them.  The other possible explanation involves cognitive dissonance. People want consistency and order in their opinions.  As a result, parents with children in traditional public schools want to believe that they are receiving a solid education.  Otherwise, they would have a hard time living with themselves.

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College credit for high school students

Allowing high school students to earn college credit is not new, but what is are entire schools devoted exclusively to that purpose (“Bringing College into High Schools,” EducationNext, Spring 2022).  One of the best is Bard High School Early College, a selective public school where students spend four years earning both a high school diploma and an associate degree.

The impetus for such schools is that young people today are far more sophisticated than those in past generations.  Their exposure to images and data makes so much of what exists in traditional public schools today obsolete.  Small wonder that they are disengaged.

I support the move, but I caution that sooner or later it will be attacked as elitist if enrollment doesn’t reflect the overall racial composition of the communities in which such schools exist.

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College doesn’t always pay off financially

Now that more colleges and universities are publishing information about what their graduates make years later, it’s debatable if a four-year degree is right for everyone (“Colleges Can Avoid Shutting the Door on Financial Aid Knowledge,” The New York Times, Mar. 18). What’s not debatable is that if a degree is measured solely in financial terms, a vocational curriculum combined with an apprenticeship is a better choice for many.

I say that because college today is so expensive. Unless students major in STEM and perhaps accounting, they will not likely recoup their investment for many years later.  Moreover, the years spent in class are years without the income that a steady job provides.  Welders today, for example, make $125,000 without a degree.  That’s good money, and they are not burdened with debt.  So I urge more students to consider a vocational curriculum.

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Let students see earnings for college programs

Ten states have enacted measures that let students and their parents see average actual earnings for degree programs one, five and 10 years after graduation, along with average student loan burdens (“Florida Helps Families See Behind the College Curtain,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 18).  I say the measures are long overdue.

The fact is that we have been wildly oversold on the importance of a four-year degree.  When the cost is adjusted for the loss of income during the four years spent in class and incurred debt, many young people would be far better off with a certificate and an apprenticeship. Yet I doubt that anything will deter high schoolers from pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

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