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A Call to End the College-for-All Crusade

State Senator Dan Patrick’s push to end the “college for everyone in Texas” policy has sparked an interesting debate.  Patrick (R-Houston) may be the incoming Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and says the de-emphasis on vocational training and over-emphasis on getting everyone into a four-year institution of higher learning isn’t working.  He recently stated:

“Part of our dropout rate is because a lot of students who are very bright and have a lot of skills and a lot of talent get to a physics course or some exam or some class that knocks them out.”

The same debate is playing out across the nation.  Results of extensive research on the subject by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa may be found in their book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.  Last week, Robert Samuelson at Real Clear Markets, an online market-related publication, posted an article called Let's Drop the College-For-Everyone Crusade in which he states: “The obsessive faith in college has backfired.”

Samuelson continues:

“The primacy of the college-prep track marginalizes millions of students for whom it's disconnected from ‘real life’ and unrelated to their needs. School bores and bothers them. Teaching them is hard, because they're not motivated. But they also make teaching the rest harder. Their disaffection and periodic disruptions drain teachers' time and energy. The climate for learning is poisoned.”

Following the publication of The Value of Blue Collar Work in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Houston Chronicle, my conversations with people of all political persuasions around Texas have been fascinating.  The idea that college isn’t for everyone resonates with many who believe too many kids are needlessly failing to finish their education.

Others have concerns.  Some self-described liberals believe this will break down along class lines.  In other words, they fear if “college for everyone” isn’t the stated policy, then only rich kids will go to college and only poor kids will end up on the “blue collar track.”  Samuelson addresses that:

“The rap against employment-oriented schooling is that it traps the poor and minorities in low-paying, dead-end jobs.  Actually, an unrealistic expectation of college often traps them into low-paying, dead-end jobs – or no job.”

The fear that low-income kids would be the ones primarily placed on a vocational track is understandable but perhaps unfounded.  If that happens, isn’t it worth considering that the point of promoting blue collar work for those families is to lift them out of poverty and give them the opportunity to work their way into the middle class?

What do you think?  The comments section is all yours.

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