College for All? How About Just Something for All

One of the curious things about covering college is how rare it is to find people who talk seriously about alternatives to college. There might be a reason for that.

The magazine of the American Federation of Teachers, however, decided to publish a piece about other ways for people to succeed, even without a college degree. The piece, “Beyond One-Size-Fits-All College Dreams: Alternative Pathways to Desirable Careers” appeared recently in American Educator. As it explains:

While counselors should not say “don’t seek a BA,” we should let counselors warn students with low achievement that they have only a 20 percent chance of getting a BA, and we should encourage students to make backup plans.

Good point. There is something rather cruel about pushing students into traditional college under the promise of open admissions without revealing that actually earning a degree turns out to be, in many schools, a somewhat selective process.

The trouble is that those “backup plans” are mostly pretty crappy.

Someone who’s not planning to earn a bachelor’s degree might attend a community college. Community colleges are overburdened, underfunded, and have a rather hard time figuring out what they’re really there to do. And community college graduation rates are only 25 percent.

Or low-achieving high school students might consider studying a trade at one of America’s many thriving for-profit schools. Oh, except that many of them are dishonest and virtually all of them are frighteningly overpriced. And guess what the average graduation rate is at for-profit schools? It’s like 38 percent.

So sure, there’s something wrong with encouraging everyone to get a BA. But there’s something very wrong with the fact that our country doesn’t really offer much for high school students who aren’t going to earn a BA.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer