College For All? Experts Say Not Necessarily

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– In a town dominated by the University of Missouri’s flagship
campus and two smaller colleges, higher education is practically
a birthright for high school seniors like Kate Hodges.

She has a 3.5
grade-point-average, a college savings account and a family tree
teeming with advanced degrees. But in June, Hodges is headed to
the Tulsa Welding School in Oklahoma, where she hopes to earn an
associate’s degree in welding technology in seven months.

fought me so hard," she said, referring to disappointed family
members. "They still think I’m going to college."

The notion
that a four-year degree is essential for real success is being challenged
by a growing number of economists, policy analysts and academics.
They say more Americans should consider other options such as technical
training or two-year schools, which have been embraced in Europe
for decades.

As evidence,
experts cite rising student debt, stagnant graduation rates and
a struggling job market flooded with overqualified degree-holders.
They pose a fundamental question: Do too many students go to college?

is what every parent wants for their child," said Martin Scaglione,
president and chief operating officer of work force development
for ACT, the Iowa-based not-for-profit best known for its college
entrance exam. "The reality is, they may not be ready for college."

President Barack
Obama wants to restore the country’s status as the world leader
in the proportion of citizens with college degrees. The U.S. now
ranks 10th among industrial nations, behind Canada, Japan, Korea
and several European countries.

But federal
statistics show that just 36 percent of full-time students starting
college in 2001 earned a four-year degree within that allotted time.
Even with an extra two years to finish, that group’s graduation
rate increased only to 57 percent.

Spending more
time in school also means greater overall student debt. The average
student debt load in 2008 was $23,200 – a nearly $5,000 increase
over five years. Two-thirds of students graduating from four-year
schools owe money on student loans.

And while the
unemployment rate for college graduates still trails the rate for
high school graduates (4.9 percent versus 10.8 percent), the figure
has more than doubled in less than two years.

"A four-year
degree in business – what’s that get you?" asked Karl
Christopher, a placement counselor at the Columbia Area Career Center
vocational program. "A shift supervisor position at a store
in the mall."

At Rock Bridge
High School, one of Columbia’s two high schools, 72 percent of the
class of 2008 moved on to four-year colleges, with another 10 percent
attending community college. That college attendance rate is consistent
with national statistics.

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14, 2010

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