The ‘college-for-all’ misconception

Diane Ravitch is one of the smartest education advocates around. Which is why I am a bit puzzled by her recent post in the Washington Post’s blog The Answer Sheet where she argues against the “college-for-all” mantra. While I consider myself an advocate of college for all, I feel it is important to hear from those who see flaws in advocating for all students to go onto college. As such, I looked forwarded to hearing Ravitch’s critique.

Unfortunately, I was hugely disappointed. Not that her argument against college for all was baseless or incoherent, but that it was based on the faulty misconception that “college for all” means “a four-year degree for all.”

It is certainly understandable for the average parent to have such a misconception. Most people think of four-year institutions when they hear the word “college.” However, it is important for parents and the public at large to understand that  “college for all” is not limited to four-year institutions. College for all is simply about having students complete some form of advanced training after high school — which Ravitch advocates for in her piece!

Ravitch is absolutely right that not all kids want or need to go onto pursue a four-year degree. President Obama and other advocates for college-for-all such as myself would agree with her. But what advocates are pushing for is for all students to complete some form of postsecondary training so that they have a good chance of getting a job that provides a livable income as well as essential benefits like health insurance and retirement benefits. Such jobs certainly include being an electrician or plumber, ones Ravitch highlights as not requiring a four-year degree.

When it comes to K-12 education, what school board members and the general public need to know is that no matter if a student wants to go on to a four-year institution, two-year institution, or straight into an apprenticeship program after high school, all students should be prepared for postsecondary education or advanced training (as our report on 21st Century Education points out).

The report proves that the high school preparation students need is the same no matter which of these paths they choose to follow. Whether a student wants to go to a four-year institution or be an electrician they both need to have the knowledge and skills to answer questions like this one (slide 39).

While more work needs to be done to eliminate the misconception that college-for-all advocates for all students attending a four-year institution, the real point is this: whether a student expects to go onto a four-year institution or straight into the job market, they both need the same high school preparation. – Jim Hull   

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