100% College Admission – how sad I am

I wrote this post 4 years ago, but was reminded once again, as at this time of year we’re seeing schools scrambling to brag about how many of their brilliant students are being admitted to fine colleges and universities.  And my feelings are stronger now than 4 years ago.

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Last Sunday on a leisure drive back from lunch, Joanne and I passed one of the most prestigious private high schools in our area.  A big 10ft banner was proudly posted at the front entrance stating: “100% College Admission for our Seniors – again.”

I’ll have to admit I cringed upon seeing that.  Now I know that any high school principal who doesn’t claim this as his/her goal is likely to be accused of not having the students best interests at heart and would also likely be run out of town by indignant parents.  But personally, I think there is a major elitism at play here.  And ultimately, a lot of those students suffer as a result.  Is our goal really to prepare every student for life in a cubicle?  In looking at my grandchildren I see those for whom I would House - stoneworkweep at such a prospect.

The elitism is in believing that every occupation pursued by a path outside of college is somehow “lower” and not a worthy pursuit for our students.

We have become a culture that looks down on labor and craftsman positions.  So, really, in this graduating class we will have no Ferrari mechanics, no sculptors, no HVAC specialists, no one I can contact to design another water feature, no skilled carpenters, no stone masons, no welders and no piano tuners?

Two days ago I had a young man come out to do the spring check-up on our air conditioning systems.  Just a check-up, no parts were required.  He was here less than two hours and my bill was $149.  Yesterday my John Deere tractor was returned with new bearings in the front wheels.  Total bill – $2690.78.  Most of that was labor – billed at $70/hour.  At the same time I have a young attorney friend who is working part time at Kinkos at $10/hour to supplement his income.  The HVAC guy and tractor mechanic – $70 an hour.

In 1942, Joseph Schumpeter wrote that the expansion of “higher education” beyond what our labor market demands creates for white-collar workers “employment in substandard work or at wages below those of the better-paid manual workers.”  And then he added, “it may create unemployability of a particularly disconcerting type.  The man who has gone to college or university easily becomes psychically unemployable in manual occupations without necessarily acquiring employability in professional work.”*  That was written 75 years ago.  How much truer is that today than even then?   I’m sure you know people who are stuck in $12/hour jobs who would never lower themselves to work in something like being a tractor mechanic.

If we consider our children to be smart and really want the best for them, should we not consider a broad range of occupational possibilities? Tweet This

I must admit I’ve made a very good living working with people who at 45 years of age admit they are living someone else’s dream.  As we unpack that incongruity and begin to move toward an authentic life, all kinds of things come to the surface as meaningful work possibilities.  Pastors have become artists, dentists forest rangers, and doctors organic gardeners.

Having the ability to go to college is not enough reason for doing so.  There must be more of an alignment with a person’s values, dreams and passions.  I have worked with countless professionals who have proven their academic ability to create a life they detest.

Space does not allow for addressing the outsourcing issue.

Many of the jobs college students trained for can now easily be outsourced to China or Taiwan.  However, if I need my roof repaired, drain unclogged, lawn mowed, or want another beautiful sculpture of a standing tree on my property, I can’t have someone in China provide that service.  People with those skills are immune from outsourcing.  Or as has been said, “You can’t hammer a nail over the internet.”

Let’s stop depriving our children of their best options.  I’d like to see that sign say – 60% college, 10% trade school, 10% continuing family business, 10% entrepreneurs, and 10% world travel to further clarify a career path. That would make me want to send my child there.

Okay – bring it on.  I’m sure this will be offensive to many.  How would you defend this ridiculous goal of 100% college admission?

*(Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy 1942; New York: Harper-Perennial)

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  • Al

    Dan, I agree 100% with you. I work in an elementary school and I know some of those kids are not college material. It would be great to start at the Jr. High level to target those kids, and help them to discover there talents and lead them to vocational schools.

  • Clark Gaither

    Dan, you know I agree. Well said, my friend.

  • Ljc

    I can’t agree more. Some of the brightest people I have ever met never spent a day in college. And these were engineers. I spent 20 years in engineering switching between electrical and mechanical. When things got tight in 2008 we become expendable. The people that were targeted didn’t have a degree or were considered too expensive. Many of my peers who didn’t have a degree had already been laid off by this point because the company didn’t want non-degree engineers on the books. The rest of us had at least 10+ years with the company.
    Those of us that were replaced were done so with kids fresh out of college with a ton of debt and making only 32-35k a year.
    I loved what I did. I usually got the really had to solve problems and the harder the more I enjoyed it.
    The sad thing is that it was often commented in management that the engineering groups were considered overhead. And the fact that companies keep pushing for visas to “bring technical talent in” only supports this.
    There is not a lack of highly technical people in this country just cheep technical people. And engineering is not the only career that faces this problem. And turning our more people with these degrees isn’t going to fix it.
    It’s funny that many of the licensed electricians and maintenance staff make more then a lot of the engineering staff.
    Which only supports the value in the trades.
    Of course I can’t help remember a discussion I have with a friend who was a Dr and he was commenting on the fact that his plummer makes more an hour then he does after insurance and paying his required staff.

  • Shawn Frey

    The entire system has problems… it’s simply a matter of connecting eduction with work to determine your skills where you can be the most productive/valuable. Does higher eduction promote this ability? It can if you know where to look and ask enough questions. However, you can do the same thing “on the job” and skip the classroom and student loan debt trap. If we don’t teach ourselves, children and grandchildren that full-time laziness is a sin then shame on us and our world. There are so many opportunities to connect and create work that matters in 2017 unfortunately the system has problems… which means you have an opportunity… share your experience with young people… help them connect those dots from their world to a world they can see for themselves. Be a resource. There are countless, engaging problems that need effective modern-day solutions. Class room or job room or both (productive internship) the path is fickle with obstacles. But its a glorious day to teach our kids to go exploring!!

  • OneAmericanAmongMany

    Thanks to the Viet Nam War and our government’s policy of not drafting those who were in college, we lost sight of the purpose of a college education. College had been a repository for those people who were gifted academically; all others were supposed to get a job after high school. College didn’t mean you were necessarily “smart”, but you were “book smart.” During Viet Nam, colleges realized that draft age men were cash cows. They lowered admission standards, began inventing curriculum (e.g. one Michigan college created a Bachelors program in auto sales) and churned out graduates with no real skills and limited critical thinking and creative ability. Today’s generation has been brainwashed to believe that college is a “right” – and many of these people require remedial reading and math courses during their freshman year.

  • Dan

    I hated the college classroom experience. Though I studied what I thought interested me and it all fell in to a psychology degree with minors in math and English literature. Useless, perhaps. But most of what I learned wasn’t necessarily classroom content. I met friends from Vietnam, Israel, Jamaica, etc. I never would have come across some of the things I learned about the world that I make connections or allusions to on an almost daily basis if I had not had the “college” experience I had. It has allowed me access to a tremendous amount of “clay” to sculpt with and ideas to synthesize and develop. Not bad for a kid growing up in an Idaho town of 102 people.
    However, I probably wouldn’t do it again. LOL. As usual, I use the crystal clear clarity of my hindsight to wonder how I could’ve acquired the same results without going to college. I have no reason to believe it can’t be done. I particularly hated the chatter about GPA back in college and how it could make or break you. Somehow, I intuitively knew the people engaging in this were “…lost on a painted sky where the clouds are hung for the poet’s eye.” (HA…I learned that line while I was in college. LOL) Nonetheless…I agree with Dan’s point. And by the way…not one person, ever, asked me about my college GPA in the 32 years since I graduated.

  • Dave Capitola

    I did not attend college.Most of my co-workers did.We all make the same per hour,which is not very much.

    • Dave – neither did Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Richard Branson. Look for opportunities that fit you and move ahead.

  • Dan

    Another perspective is that the private school is a business, whose target market (I’m assuming) are wealthy-enough parents who want their kids to go to college and are eager to empty their pockets to someone to help fulfill this need. (I mean…someone’s going to do it, right?) In this case, “100% College Admission” may not necessarily be elitism. Rather, it might be crafty marketing in the sense that it positions the school as “the expert” in this type of service.
    And yet, I still agree with Dan by and large. 🙂

    • Dan – it is indeed a business. They are selling a product to support all those buildings, sports stadiums and salaries. We confuse ourselves in thinking somehow it’s a special gift to be “accepted.”

      • Dan

        Well…you and I don’t think it’s a special gift to be accepted. But they do. What am I going to do about it? Ignore them. It’s no different than someone thinking it’s a special gift to drive a Hummer vs. a Nash Rambler. Some think it is, some don’t. ( Remember those old Ramblers? LOL ) Additionally, I don’t believe the private schools are necessarily selling a product primarily to support all the buildings, sports stadiums and salaries. (Maybe with secondary or tertiary objectives, yes.) I think they are selling a product to support their families and lifestyles first. I’m not sure it significantly matters if these people think they’ve received a “special gift”. I don’t worry about them confusing it with a special gift any more than I think of people confusing their acceptance into a private yacht club or the local Dutch oven association as a special gift. I let people assess their own value as much as I can. At least if they live in that bubble, they’ll probably stay out of ours. LOL. Nonetheless, I remain in agreement with you: Attending college is not the be all and the end all and it bears some risks for those who are not fully self-aware.