With nearly twenty years
of teaching experience, I have a unique educational perspective. Unlike most, I
have spent a lengthy amount of time in each of the k-12 education arenas:public, private, and homeschool.
This also includes operating from a strictly secular approach, a strictly
Christian approach, and somewhat of a mix of the two.
In the last few months I have
linked to several columns on my website which have heralded the next debt bubble
ripe to burst in the U.S.—higher education. Americans now owe more on their
student loans than on their credit cards—over $1trillion.
In 2011, the average
college student graduated with over $23,000 in student loan debt, with 10% of
graduates owing more than $54,000. Worse still is that
nearly one-third of those who borrow never graduate.
While student loan debt is
often considered “good debt,” in that it leads to significantly more income
over a lifetime, most recent college graduates are finding that not to be the
case. According to a 2011 survey, 53.6% of bachelor’s degree-holders under the
age of 25 were unemployed or underemployed—working lower-skilled jobs such as waiter,
retail clerk, bartender, and the like, making little or no use of their college
education. What’s more, last year Time magazine reported on a study that
revealed that 85% of new college graduates are moving back in with their
Of course, student loan
debt is greatly due to the astronomical rise of the cost of a college
education. The cost of tuition and fees has increased faster than healthcare
costs. According to the Department of Education, if these trends continue, by
2016 the cost of a public college will have more than doubled in just 15 years.
University of Tennessee law professor, Glenn Harlan
Reynolds, in his book The Higher
Education Bubble, reports that, with the easy availability of federal
funds, tuition and fees have gone up over 440% in the last 30 years.
Yet, even with such
dramatic cost increases, enrollment at colleges and universities continues to
grow. For decades now in the U.S.,
a premium has been placed on a college education. In 2009 President Obama vowed
that by 2020, America
will “have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” However,
some are beginning to rethink such ambitions.
The belief that almost
every high school graduate should go to college is another significant factor
in the looming college debt bubble. This has led to what George
Will recently called “subprime college educations.” This, in turn, has led
to, among other things, bloated college faculties and administrations, where,
in some ridiculous cases, administrators actually outnumber faculty.
Samuelson notes that in 1940, fewer than 5% of Americans had a college
degree. “No more,” he notes, adding that, “At last count roughly 40 percent of
Americans had some sort of college degree.”
Samuelson also notes that
the increased emphasis on a college education has resulted in “dumbed down college.” Along with lower entrance
requirements, sociologists and authors Richard Arum and JosipaRoksa reveal that “45 percent of college
students hadn't significantly improved their critical thinking and writing skills
after two years; after four years, the proportion was still 36 percent.” Thus,
in addition to “subprime college educations,” we are getting “subpar” ones as
The emphasis on a college
education in America is in
spite of Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates which show that only 20% of U.S. jobs
require a bachelor’s degree or more. So, given all of this mess, what is to be
One part of the solution
is something that I have said for years, and Samuelson agrees: there need to be
closer ties between high schools and the job market. Yet, as Samuelson points
out, by and large in the U.S.
“vocational education is de-emphasized and disparaged,” and “apprenticeship
programs combining classroom and on-the-job training…are sparse.” Who earns
more than a lawyer, a resident physician, or most company directors, Marvin
Olasky asks. The answer: a plumber.
Another part of the solution,
and this should certainly be the case within Christian education, is that all
students need to understand clearly that their worth as a human being is not
measured by their academic success. No matter how challenging and dynamic a
school’s curriculum, engaging its faculty, or impressive its facilities, some
people simply were not made to be in a traditional classroom—especially one
that is college driven.
Lastly, one factor that
cannot be ignored when it comes to educating children is the influence of
family. In fact, it is the most important factor. As a popular
columnist noted in 2010, “research suggests that about 90 percent of the
differences among the proficiency of schools can be explained by five factors:
days absent from school, hours spent watching television, pages read for
homework, the quantity and quality of reading matter in the home -- and the
presence of two parents in the home.”
In other words, “the best
predictor of a school’s performance is family performance.” Until our culture
addresses the sad and destructive decline of the traditional (biblical) family,
school and student performance will merely reflect this decline.
Copyright 2012, Trevor
At the Intersection of
Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason