Word from Minnesota: Beware the College Degree Bashing Trend

John Van Hecke is Executive Director & Fellow of Hindsight: The Minnesota 2020, a “progressive, new media, non-partisan think tank focused on what really matters.”

Beware the College Degree Bashing Trend

If teacher-bashing is so last year, college degree-bashing may be the conservative whipping boy issue for you. It’s becoming quite trendy to thoughtfully observe that, maybe, everyone shouldn’t go to college. That argument is a red herring of the first order, a public policy distraction pretending to be a legitimate workforce development issue.

Don’t be fooled by the “college isn’t for everyone” argument.  When conservatives say it, it’s simply a bit of fallacious reasoning leading to their two larger goals: reducing public investment in education and growing the low-wage, low-skilled workforce.

When educators, economists and workforce development specialists say “college may not be for everyone,” what they mean is that a higher education must continue to innovate and adapt, meeting students’ and businesses’ needs. Higher education is critical for everyone, and some students may benefit from modifications to the traditional university structure.

After all, college as we know it is less than 100 years old. Yes, Harvard is working on 400 years in the higher education business, but its current course offerings look nothing like the 1711 curriculum or even their 1911 curriculum. Schools can and will change because people’s needs change.

Conservative policy places the interests of Minnesota’s highest income earners ahead of most Minnesotans. When conservative higher ed policy advocates say, “college may not be for everyone,” they mean that public resources shouldn’t be invested in helping average people prosper. They seek to deny education and training opportunities, limiting lifelong income-earning opportunities and, in the process, create a growing low-skilled workforce.

To compete in the global marketplace, Minnesota’s public colleges and universities must do more than ever. They must translate  dramatically changing workplace needs into courses of study, preparing students to work differently than their parents and grandparents. And, public schools are being asked to achieve this mission with dramatically fewer financial resources.

Minnesota needs  high-functioning colleges and universities, with open access and financing available to all students. It’s our path to prosperity. Higher education moves Minnesota forward. So, when you hear pundits bashing the college degree, don’t fall into the conservative trap. We need more access to learning, not less.

Reposted with permission of the author (first published, August 2011)

Editor’s Addition:

On the impact of defunding public education in Minnesota, please also see Katie Douglass’s blog post Declining Funding Degrading Quality: “According to new Minnesota Department of Education data, the statewide average inflation-adjusted per-pupil state aid will have declined by an estimated 12.8 percent from 2003 levels by the 2012-13 school year. In addition to cuts, underfunding has forced districts to rely on operating levies to make ends meet, putting a greater burden on local property taxpayers. Ninety percent of districts in Minnesota are under a levy.”

Report: Declining Funding, Degrading Quality

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