The Problem with College for Everyone

As a person who spent 30 years as a teacher and administrator in higher education I have often thought of the dilemma we have created in the U.S. The term “education” is drawn from the Latin root word: “Educo” which somewhat literally means to draw forth. This attacks the premise that our goal as educators is to “give knowledge” and assume that the end result will be an individual ready, willing and able to function effectively in society. The intent of those who gave the process a name was to provide an environment where the “student” becomes aware of his/her own potential and calling and that they should have as much to offer in the classroom as the person orchestrating the class. What further complicates the problem that we have created is the feeling that without a college education, any individual will have a difficult time in life fitting in, making a living and making a difference.

I must state that I have no scientific study to support my theory except my observations as a teacher and as a chef and restaurant manager. Let me ramble on….

What about the trades? It was the craftsmen who made this country great; the doers, those people who made great things by using their innate creativity and their hand skills. When I watch great carpenters, plumbers, electricians, sculptors, painters (commercial and artistic), line cooks, mixologists, computer wizards, photographers, farmers, cheese makers, wine makers, etc. I find a greater sense of amazement and wonder than watching the most highly credentialed person directing the functions of an office. All of these trades and professions are important and everyone who is good at what they do should be admired. When we infer that one type of career is more valuable than another to our young people then we have participated in the worst form of bigotry.

Colleges have convinced families that a college education is the only real track for their son or daughter’s success and as a result we have many students misplaced in a program that is not for them, is outside of their ability or is simply too expensive in the long-run placing students in decades of debt.

As we have pressed the issue for college as the portal for any success (we even promote statistical data that demonstrates life-long earning power of those with various degrees vs. high school diplomas) more and more colleges have been built, college programs have been designed when the degree makes little difference with their success in that field, admissions criteria has become lax in an effort to fill seats and cover the cost of delivering these programs, and more and more students are either pushed through as a result of lowering standards, or fail to complete because it was not the right fit for them.

Every culinary school allows their graduates to believe that students will be noteworthy executive chefs or restaurant owners soon after graduation thus leading to significant disappointment, specialized degrees result in graduates with an expensive document and likely some good memories, but no prospect of a career in that field, and a debt load that parallels buying a house.

In the meantime, those wonderful craftsmen who amaze everyone who watches (carpenters, metal workers, great plumbers and electricians, line cooks, cake decorators, mechanics, and computer hardware builders) wonder where the next generation of craftspeople will come from.

College is not, nor should it be for everyone. Trade programs and apprenticeships should be restored to prominence and should participate in a program of educating guidance counselors, parents and students about the joy and oftentimes lucrative nature of the trades. I know many carpenters and electricians who have much nicer homes (paid for) than those in the professions that were defined by a college degree.

As an aside, these trade people actually use math, science and communication skills on a daily basis. Just watch a gifted carpenter figure out the angles for an addition to a house or a piece of furniture, watch a cook wrestle with the design of a new recipe or simply expand a recipe to yield a certain amount of finished product.

I support the president’s administration and their effort to promote community colleges and trade programs. Apprenticeship, which is still alive and well in Europe, should receive support from the federal government and trade schools should be a focus of an intensive PR campaign.

If America wants to restore it’s economic prominence in the world we must begin to make things again. Craftsmen are the backbone of a respected economy. Service economics is something that I promote and have always focused on when in the classroom, however, service without a proud product to serve is the basis for a subservient economy.

It really is time for a revamp of not just how we teach our young people but what we teach them and how we present their options in life. As with the meaning of Educo, our job is to draw forth and learn from each individual what will make their life full, enjoyable and financially rewarding.

I imagine many of you will have an opinion about this article. Fire away.

  2 comments for “The Problem with College for Everyone

  1. paul gallo
    August 9, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    I am an old school cook , i did it the old fasten way , i worked my way up though the ranks , i start as a dishwasher as a summer job , and slowly move on though all the other things. i learned that every one has something to offer me with my on the job education .
    and worked with and for all types of people , ones that went to culinary school with big bills and 4 years out of the work force .and some that went the trade school route with little difference between them in skills except maybe ego lol , and some like my self that have been the doers all our lives that find the others mostly amusing .like only an older person with to many years experience behind them..can.
    i feel myself if truly interested go to a trade school or apprenticeship or both. it cost far less for almost same skills so less to pay back in loans , you are in the workforce sooner making money and gaining true experience sooner. it is best to move around some an learn many different forms and styes of cooking from the chefs them selves over the years ( just not to much moving around) you can always go back to school later if you ever feel the need. and should never stop learning let the culinary grads help after all it is a life long on the job training.and as a said before you can learn from everyone. and show them a few tricks.
    The first thing an employer ask is what experience do you have ,the culinary grad after four years i just got out of school. no real experience other then with this school and maybe an internship that are not much good ,
    the trade school two years of school and twos years working with references likely no debt to speak of from lower loans , but very likely will get a better wage and hired over culinary grad at this point. , after this point it the skills and the ability to create something new or make some old ideal better. will win out .
    like i said i am a doer, i never wanted to be more then a cook on the line i like it there an no ego or need to prove anything , the food speaks for me.
    this life is a hard one full of stress and craziness , people with to much ego like you see on tv and i suspect not very good cooks in real life. and people whose whole life is about food and care for people first and it shows though in there food it not only has to look good anyone can do this after a while , but you can taste the love a line cook put into his work. that make a good chefs skill in teaching shine a thousand times a night .

  2. Heidi Kovalick
    August 31, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Excellent article. After 25 years in higher education, I’ve seen way too many kids just going through the motions because “this” is what is expected. Your sentence about where will the next generation of trades and craftsmen come from is right on target. I’m reminded of what my plumber told me last year: “I don’t to advertise all my work comes word of mouth only. I’m busy All the time. When times are good people renovate, and when times are bad, people repair. Either way you’re calling me.” Both his sons work for him. He is a master plumber as is his eldest at age 26. His youngest is 19 and on his way to being a master.

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