Voice from the Industry

There Is Another Bubble Burst Coming – And It Needs To Happen Soon

We’ve been through too many “bubble bursts” in the past decade—the Internet/tech, housing, and banking bursts were all devastating. However, bubble bursts are natural corrections to unrealistic conditions—they are necessities.

We are headed for a bubble burst in higher education’s bachelor’s degree programs of study—too many degrees are being pursued/earned in programs of study that aren’t needed by the students or the economy. For too long our government (both parties) has promoted and funded an unofficial national policy: College (actually University) is the best choice for every student. The following negative consequences of that unofficial policy will burst the bubble, and I hope that it happens soon. That bubble burst will create a better future for many of today’s youth and our economy/society.

Crushing student loan debt
According to Fox News, two-thirds of the national college class of 2011 finished school with loan debt. US News & World Report estimated that student loan debt is a staggering $914 billion as of June 30, 2012, increasing by $303 billion since 2008, while other forms of debt fell by $1.6 trillion in the same period. Even more distressing, nearly 9% of student loan borrowers were at least 90 days late on their payments. Often, the students holding the most debt are the least prepared to repay that debt.

Leaving college overeducated and underprepared for employment
The pursuit of a bachelor’s degree was at one time the “ticket” to a high-paying career. Today it is simply not so, at least for the majority of students. The Atlantic estimates that nearly 54% of graduates holding a bachelor’s degree are unemployed or employed in a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree. A major, if not the most critical, problem is the program of study choices that students make. Often those choices are poorly aligned with the current and future job market, and college students (and their parents) mistakenly believe that all bachelor’s degrees, regardless of the program of study, are equally valuable.

Real Education book

In his book Real Education, Dr. Charles Murray presents four simple truths (recommendations) for bringing America’s schools back to reality. One of his four simple truths is “Too many people are going to college.” His facts and rationales are thought provoking and persuasive.

High school students dropping out as “College for Everyone” mindset leaves them feeling forgotten, even outcast
It is a tragedy today that so many capable students are not enrolled in stimulating Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs, often because of the stigma attached to non-college preparatory courses. An inescapable fact is most students learn better in a project-based environment—almost all of us learn by doing, not just reading, listening, and/or talking. Many students are capable and bright but have not yet discovered the “sweet spot” where their interests and aptitudes converge. Those students will have their best employment opportunities only when CTE points them to a career pathway that best leverages their aptitudes and interests.

Shortage of qualified “job seekers” for technically based careers
Technical fields need workers that are smart and motivated. Unfortunately, many of the young people who could fill these positions are completely unaware of the opportunities, earning potential, and their ability to have a rewarding career. Too many students are enrolled in four-year universities but never graduate or graduate and cannot find a job. The October 15, 2012, Los Angeles Times estimates that by the end of the decade, the shortage in technical workers could balloon to 875,000. Many of these skilled jobs are blue collar professions that would be great matches to the interests and aptitudes of students now dropping out of high school and students mistakenly pursuing bachelor’s degrees in programs of study not preparing them for attractive employment.

How to burst the bubble now
Parents, educators, and especially guidance counselors need to stop perpetuating the romantic notion that all students will be better off after going to college, because that is a huge disservice for many students.

Everyone at Paxton/Patterson is committed to a much different definition of educational success than “University for Every Student.”

•    We’re enabling students to answer the most important educational questions: “What do I like to do, and what am I really good at?” and “How do my interests and aptitudes best match with careers?”
•    Equally important, we’re creating an environment in which students develop 21st century skills that every employer wants—self-direction, initiative, collaboration, problem solving, and effective communication.

Visit www.paxtonpatterson.com – Featuring success stories about senior administrators and CTE educators across America delivering today what their students need to be successful in the future.
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Roland R. “Bud” Johnson Jr. is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, for PAXTON/PATTERSON LLC.

Mr. Johnson has been involved in CTE for 32 years, including presentations at educational conferences in nearly every state and in six foreign countries. He may be reached at bud@paxpat.com.