Would you say this statement is "True" or "False"? Too many people are going to college these days. Many experts in business say that the statement is true. People once thought that college degrees were the most important advantage that people could attain through their own efforts (Ruiz 2011). But the situation is changing. A look at employees and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley underscores a more pessimistic and sobering view of college education (Ruiz 2011). People who work in technical jobs without the benefit of formal coursework in higher education can be free to follow their interests and creativity (Ruiz 2011). These new technology experts don't need to get locked into boring corporate jobs that pay well in order to pay off enormous student loan debt burdens (Ruiz 2011). The cost of higher education keeps rising and there are those who believe it is a bubble in the making, following in the footsteps of the technology dot.com bubble of the 1990s and the housing bubble of the 2000s (Ruiz 2011). The same pattern is playing out today with students paying too much for diplomas and dogmatically revering college degrees, while the evidence to support their enthusiasm for and faith in the advantages that will accrue because of the degree are rapidly eroding (Ruiz 2011).
Value is not a static attribute. Anyone who follows the markets knows that value is always changing -- the price of stocks is not static and commodities trade in volatile markets. If college degrees have become commoditized, they may very well be susceptible to the vicissitudes of the market place. Consider how the value of a college education has changed just over the past several decades.
Parents and teachers have long encouraged high school students to go to college, to learn a trade, to make something of themselves. For generation after generation, these have not been conflicting messages. But in economic circumstances that high school graduates face today tend to obscure the wisdom of the advise of their elders. Students wonder if there really will be jobs available for them if they enter the labor market after four years of college. A primary question for high school graduates is whether a college degree -- particularly a bachelor's degree -- still has currency in today's labor market.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, substantive economic value is still attributed to earning college degrees. Yes, that's correct -- even in the fall of 2012. For the civilian population 25 years and over, the following employment data applies: (1) For people with less than a high school degree, the unemployment rate is 12.2% (BLS). (2) For people with a high school degree but no college, the unemployment rate is 8.4 (BLS). (3) For people with some college or an associate's degree, the unemployment rate is 6.9 (BLS). (4) For people with a bachelor's degree or higher, the unemployment rate is 3.8 (BLS). Unfortunately, the data for this fourth category includes people who have earned bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, professional degrees, and doctoral degrees (BLS).
Perhaps the question to ask is not whether a BA degree is likely to increase one's chances of getting a job, but if a BA degree will mean getting a job that pays more. Some research indicate that post-secondary education does not act as the "great leveler," something society has long believed to be true. Long-standing class hierarchies don't go away upon commencement (Edsall 2012). In fact, if anything, the income achievement gap is widening and the cultural and political implications of this are staggering (Edsall 2012). Statisticians, economists, and educators talk about the "college premium,' which is a high level way of referring to the difference in annual earnings between a college graduate and a high school graduate (Edsall 2012). The college premium rose from a 50% difference in the early 1980s to nearly an 80% difference by the year 2007. Workers with high school degrees averaged about $31,286 in 2007 and their peers with college degrees earned an average of roughly $57,181 (Edsall 2012). This is a very significant number: workers with college degrees in 2007 earned 82.8% more than workers who held only high school degrees (Edsall 2012). In the year 2007 -- before the beginning of the fiscal crisis that commenced in 2008 -- workers who earned college degrees could fairly assume that they would be in a better position to gain or maintain socio-economic status in the upper-middle-class range than workers who had not earned college degrees (Edsall 2012).
Substitute Apprenticeships for College Credit
When considering the value of anything, it is important to agree on some definition of the object of the valuation process. The central issue in this discussion is the value of a BA degree. In order to inform this discussion, it is useful to specifically describe what is meant by "BA degree" and how that college experience can be substituted with apprenticeships and interest cadres. The information in this section addresses the definitional issue through a detailed and comprehensive presentation of how bachelor's degree programs can be matched to apprenticeships and interest cadres.
Perhaps part of the difficulty experienced when trying to determine the value of a bachelor's degree is that there are a number of different types of bachelor's degrees, and those degrees can be earned in a number of ways, all of which can influence the ultimate value of the degree to the student. Bachelor's degrees can be completed as a part-time student or a full-time student, and bachelor's degree programs are offered online in blended / e-learning programs and conventional classroom formats. The range of disciplines that offer bachelor's degrees is quite extensive. Fundamentally, however, there are several popular generic categories of bachelor's degree, as follows: Bachelor of Arts (BA); Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA); Bachelor of Science (BS); Bachelor of Information Technology (BIT); and Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA).
In summary, there is well established and focused infrastructure for matriculating students in four-year degree programs, from which a substantive variety of post-graduate employment positions are filled. A number of formal and informal programs are available for people to acquire skills at a level comparable to a bachelor's degree. Internships are common in business, government, non-profits, and even in the arts. New programs in communication and information technology (CIT) management are being developed in the community service framework in which CIT students provide free services to develop information technology (IT) and information management (IM) for participating municipalities. Though these CIT programs look like apprenticeships on the outside, they are really sophisticated programs with mutual benefits to the cities and municipalities and to the students. Just as there are several different types of bachelor degrees, there are also a number of programs that can provide training and education within the businesses and industries that will ultimately employ the program participants.
What about those jobs that don't require college degree? The Bureau of Labor Statistics asserts that of the fastest growing jobs over the next 10 years, only 7 out of 30 will require employees to have earned bachelor's degrees (BLS). The job categories that are burgeoning in this country seem to be in the service sector. For instance, in the healthcare industry, many positions require training but they do not require college degrees. Despite these labor statistics, vocational programs and Voc-Tech institutes have been a casualty of the national education standards movement, the purpose of which is to prepare students for higher education.
Additional pressure to maintain the current systems of higher education stem from privatization. The number of for-profit private colleges has increased tremendously over the past several decades, and many of them are succumbing to the poor economy. While there is a measure of social status attached to a four-year degree from a prestigious university, students who pay to attend professional preparation or technical colleges are focused on getting a job -- most hope for a good-paying job -- after graduation. There is very little anticipation of social kickbacks by those earing degrees from private for-profit colleges. Given that difference, it should not come as a surprise that enrollment has dropped in these colleges as the unemployment rates have risen. The logic is that if there are no jobs to be had, it doesn't make much sense to sink large sums of money into a program that is not supported by the labor market.
Choices, Changes, Opportunity
It makes sense to advocate for changes in privately funded job-apprenticeship training programs. There was much to recommend for the guild programs that were in place when the country was founded and growing when the industrial age overtook agrarian society. Somewhere along the way, society determined that one size fit all -- even when we knew it didn't -- and that a major industry could be based on that single belief that everyone should have the opportunity to earn a college degree.