A new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development argues that the United States has made college, particularly vocational/technical postsecondary schooling, a risky investment for students.

As Kirsten Gibson explains over at Think Progress:

“Inefficient,” “decentralized,” and “risky investment” are all terms used to describe the state of U.S. higher education by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in a newly released report.

The risk stems from students taking on massive amounts of debt without a guarantee of obtaining skills for employment, according to the report. Even though the U.S. issues $150 billion in student aid, student debt continues to rise to historic levels and adequate jobs to repay that debt have stagnated. The report says the system’s problems stem from decentralized standards on quality and cost, which is left up to accreditation agencies, the institutions, and state governments.

“The United States makes college a risky investment,” Gibson summarizes. Note that it’s not that college is for some reason now inherently a risky investment; our current polices just make the investment risky.


The report is specifically about career and technical education, which is particularly troublesome in the United States because for-profit schools often administer such education. That makes the vocational training expensive and it also means it’s difficult for high school students who want to be electricians an plumbers to move seamlessly into training programs that will lead to good jobs, despite the fact that these jobs are relatively plentiful.

The report recommends bringing businesses into the vocational training process. Many programs in foreign countries have national apprentice program that closely integrate workforce training into the actual workforce. This both saves students money and makes it easier to get a job once they finish their training.

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