Schooled Reporting on education

The college question

Education | Democrats call for free college, but a bachelor’s degree may not be for everyone
by Laura Edghill
Posted 5/22/19, 03:39 pm

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., reasserted his demand for free college for all when he released his education platform last week. Sanders joins other high-profile 2020 Democratic contenders such as Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former Vice President Joe Biden in their campaign claims that four-year degrees at public universities should be tuition-free.

“Higher education should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few,” Sanders said in his Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education.

The self-proclaimed democratic socialist claimed that a high school diploma that was good enough “40 or 50 years ago” is not anymore due to a changing world. But according to a report released last fall by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), there are now 30 million “middle-skills” jobs in the nation that pay an average of $55,000 or more without the need for a bachelor’s degree.

“Despite the common misconception that the middle-skills economy has hollowed out, good jobs in this sector have seen robust growth,” said Jeff Strohl, director of research at the CEW and co-author of the report.

Those jobs include many respected traditional professions such as police officers, electricians, nurses, mechanics, and plumbers. They also include numerous emerging occupations like computer programmers, robotic and industrial equipment technicians, and many types of healthcare specialists. The report defines middle-skills jobs as those that require a professional certification, some college classes, or an associate’s degree.

Students, along with some of the 2020 presidential hopefuls, too often assume that a bachelor’s degree is a golden ticket to gainful adult employment.

“There’s that perception of the bachelor’s degree being the American dream, the best bang for your buck,” Kate Blosveren Kreamer of Advance CTE, an association of state officials who work in career and technical education, told NPR. “The challenge is that in many cases it’s become the fallback. People are going to college without a plan, without a career in mind, because the mindset in high school is just, ‘Go to college.’”

The cost of going to college without a plan can be steep. Recent reports show that more than 44 million borrowers across the nation collectively owe more than $1.5 trillion dollars in student loan debt. Even with historically low unemployment rates for young workers, loan default rates hover at about 10 percent. And according to the National Center for Education Statistics, an average of 40 percent of students never even complete their degrees. All that borrowing and dropping out does little to answer the big question: Which students really need a bachelor’s degree to pursue a viable and satisfying career?

Careers like those in the rapidly expanding industries of construction, healthcare, and personal care will account for one-third of all new jobs over the next three years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not a single one of them requires a bachelor’s degree.

Middle-skills job training is also experiencing a renaissance in local public and charter schools. San Antonio’s Southwest High School hosts an Information Technology Career Cluster that prepares students for careers in the IT industry, including helping them acquire professional industry credentials. Another nationally recognized program supplies Tucson, Ariz., with qualified machine operators and other specialists for the burgeoning manufacturing industry there. Other award-winning programs include a hospitality and restaurant track for high schoolers in Des Moines, Iowa, a STEM center in Traverse City, Mich., among many more.

The conclusion of last year’s CEW report is that the outlook for middle-skills jobs has never been better. The conclusion of Psalm 139 is each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made by God. Parents and politicians alike possess remarkable opportunities to direct young people toward pathways that will lead them to adult lives filled with purpose, dignity, and a steady paycheck.

Associated Press/Photo by Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution Associated Press/Photo by Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution Robert F. Smith at the Morehouse College graduation ceremony in Atlanta on Sunday

Graduating with a clean slate

Morehouse College’s graduating class of 2019 received an unexpected and, for some, life-changing gift at Sunday’s commencement ceremony. Billionaire businessman Robert F. Smith, the commencement speaker, shocked the crowd by announcing his plan to pay off all the class’s student loans—the largest gift in the school’s history.

The students graduate with an average debt of between $30,000 and $40,000 dollars, according to Terrance L. Dixon, vice president of enrollment management at Morehouse. That puts the total bill for Morehouse’s 396 grads at more than $10 million. Smith, the founder of venture capital firm Vista Equity Partners, ranks in the top 500 wealthiest men in the United States. His gift to the historically black, all-male college had an important condition.

“I know my class will make sure they pay this forward,” Smith said.

One graduate received more grace than most others. Finance major Aaron Mitchom faced a massive $200,000 debt that he estimated would take 25 years to pay off. But with one sentence, that debt disappeared.

“I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” Mitchom said. “I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off.”

Critics cautioned students about making others’ charity their debt payoff plan.

“A gift like this can make people believe that billionaires are taking care of our problems, and distract us from the ways in which others in finance are working to cause problems like student debt, or the subprime crisis, on an epically greater scale than this gift,” Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All, told The New York Times.

Morehouse was also in the news last month when the school announced it would open admission to female students who identify as men starting in 2020. —Kyle Ziemnick

Associated Press/AECOM/Courtesy of Baylor University Associated Press/AECOM/Courtesy of Baylor University The Baylor University basketball facility

Windfall at Baylor

Baylor University recently announced it will receive an unprecedented $100 million gift toward the Baptist school’s current philanthropic campaign.

“This is truly a momentous day in the 174-year history of Baylor University,” school President Linda Livingstone said. “We are deeply grateful to these members of the Baylor family whose spirit of generosity and undying love for Baylor and its Christian mission will galvanize support from others.”

And while the multimillion-dollar anonymous gift pales in comparison to the $1.8 billion bequeathed to Johns Hopkins University last November by former mayor of New York City and wealthy philanthropist Michael R. Bloomberg, it puts Baylor on a select list of schools that have received large-scale gifts in recent years. Other notable recipients include the University of California, San Francisco ($500 million), Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($350 million), and the University of Washington ($279 million).

While Baylor’s enrollment has steadily trended upward over recent years, many colleges and universities are struggling with precipitous enrollment declines. Falling national birthrates, recession-induced economic casualties, and the emerging availability of low-cost degree options have all forced higher education to count donor dollars more carefully than ever.

The anonymous gift takes the university to nearly $700 million of its ambitious fundraising campaign goal of $1.1 billion and is the single largest gift ever given to the school. —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Dave Killen/The Oregonian Associated Press/Photo by Dave Killen/The Oregonian Police outside Parkrose High School in Portland, Ore., on Friday

Averted

A quick-thinking high school security guard in Portland, Ore., likely averted tragedy Friday when he rushed a student who pulled a shotgun out from under his trench coat. Former University of Oregon football star Keanon Lowe works for the Parkrose High School as a coach and security guard. He described how he had just seconds to react when the suspicious-looking student entered.

“I saw the look on his face, the look in his eyes, I looked at the gun, I realized it was a real gun and then my instincts just took over,” Lowe said. He tackled the young man, wrestled the gun away from his grip, and wrapped him in a bear hug. The football and track coach said that he spoke with the distraught teen while waiting for the police to arrive.

“It was emotional for him, it was emotional for me. In that time, I felt compassion for him,” Lowe said. “A lot of times, especially when you’re young, you don't realize what you’re doing until it’s over.”

The suspect, 19-year-old Angel Granados-Diaz, remains in custody on $500,000 bail. The police report states officially that the incident was a “suicide attempt with a gun.” —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura Edghill is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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Comments

  • Laura W
    Posted: Sun, 05/26/2019 08:15 pm

    So I was thinking--if expanding college enrollment may not actually be the best way to help young job-seekers, could there be another reason why the Left thinks it's such a great idea? It might have something to do with the fact that college professors tend to fall well on the leftward side of the ideological spectrum.

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