Is College the New High School?

By Smelter, Richard W. | Phi Delta Kappan, February 2009 | Go to article overview

Is College the New High School?


Smelter, Richard W., Phi Delta Kappan


Outsourcing American jobs will eventually destroy our education system. Our schools will be unrecognizable in 50 years--and not in a good way. Changes in our economy will destroy the integrity of U.S. colleges and, eventually, every public and private school beneath them.

As middle-class manufacturing jobs have moved beyond U.S. borders, education has felt certain ripple effects. It's all well and good to say education's goal is to create enlightened individuals who become more complete persons by the expansion of their mental horizons. But, arguably, the most important goal of educational institutions is to prepare young people to be socially and economically self-sufficient. In short, a capitalist society needs to inculcate its paradigm through its educational institutions to ensure that future workers have the skills to hold meaningful, productive jobs.

K-12 education used to rise to this challenge admirably, and plenty of jobs were available for high school graduates. As jobs disappear, we must investigate exactly what kind of an economy we are preparing young people for. Obviously, they will enter a world in which few consumer goods will be produced in this country. Retail jobs will still be here, but hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs, if not millions, will be lost to outsourcing.

A person with only a high school education will face one of three options: move into the higher socioeconomic class, accept a career in retailing (in which a sales clerk generally makes much less than a drill-press operator), or sink into the lower socioeconomic class. I feel they will opt for the first choice. This means increased college enrollment because a move to upper socioeconomic professions usually requires an advanced degree.

In short, college will soon become the new high school. In a few years, having a bachelor's degree will be the rough equivalent of having today's high school diploma, and a master's degree will be the new entry ticket to the "good life" formerly obtainable with a bachelor's degree. In other words, as the economic paradigm changes, the education paradigm must change with it, unless one wants a society in which scholars who can quote Shakespeare are working at check-out counters or, much worse, are on the state dole.

Here's the rub. While all people are created equal, not all possess the same intellectual ability. This means that, in the near future, many more high school graduates entering community colleges won't be able to function well in an advanced curriculum. …

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