Study Says College, Not for Everyone

By Liz Goodwin

A new Harvard study (PDF) says American students need to begin to decide in middle school whether they want to prepare for four-year college and then a career. The alternative approach, the study says, is to begin vocational training for a job earlier.

The study is inspired by European systems of education, and its authors say too many students are graduating high school without middle-level skills that could help them land well-paying jobs as electricians, for example. About a third of jobs in the next decade won't require a four-year college education, the study says, and this program would help American kids prepare for them.

The study may raise the specter of "tracking"--the process by which minority and poor kids are pushed into vocational programs at their schools and held to lower expectations. EdWeek's Catherine Gewertz notes that the authors seem to anticipate that concern, writing that students should be able to change their minds about whether they want to go to college or try a different career at any time. But the report also argues that "the coursetaking requirements for entry into the most demanding four-year colleges should not be imposed on students seeking careers with fewer academic requirements."

Gewertz writes that one of the study's co-authors, Robert Schwartz, previously championed a "college for all" approach to K-12 education.

Higher ed policy analyst Sandy Baum told the AP the idea is to enhance opportunities for everyone. "What we'd like is a system where people of all backgrounds could choose to be plumbers or to be philosophers," Baum added. "Those options are not open. But we certainly need plumbers so it's wrong to think we should be nervous about directing people in that route."

President Obama has said he wants the United States to lead the world in college graduation rates again.

(Stock photo: Getty.)