News Herald – Juliann Talkington
For the past forty years, college has been a right of passage – a place to have fun, make friends, and grow up. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s a college degree of any type opened the door to high quality employment and above average compensation.
Then technology began to change and K-12 education faltered. High school graduates no longer had the skills employers needed for many jobs. In an effort to fill job openings with skilled personnel, employers began to require college degrees for a wider range of assignments.
These new employment requirements caught many families off guard. They had not planned for post secondary education, but wanted to provide their children with reasonable job prospects. To fill the gap many families obtained loans to cover the cost of college education.
At first the loans made financial sense, because the cost of college was low compared to income potential. This meant graduates could pay back loans quickly after graduation.
However the increase in demand for college education led to tuition increases as colleges and universities rushed to add programs and facilities. As the cost of university education increased, the payback period for loans increased as well – moving from a few years to decades.
At about the same time technology was radically changing the workplace. Low cost computer and communication technologies reduced the number of people required for most jobs and made it possible for companies to fill openings with lower cost workers from overseas. Most high quality job openings now require strong math and science skills, weak areas for most U.S. citizens.
U.S. colleges and universities have been slow to adjust to the new workplace demands. Many schools are still offering degrees that are useless in the 21st Century. This means students are graduating with poor job prospects and high debt.
According to Clayton Christianson, Harvard University Professor and expert on disruptive change, this is an equation for disaster. He predicts that over half of the colleges and universities in the U.S. will fail within the next 15 years because they are not offering a useful product.
Parents and students need to take proactive steps to avoid problems. Young people should be completely proficient in international level math and science by the end of grade 12. Parents need to confirm a college is financially stable before their child enrolls. Then young people need to select degrees that include advanced math and science and build strong communication skills.