Higher education is broken. Here’s how to fix it.

My relationship with higher education has always been a tenuous one.   I’m a college drop-out, who spent more time working as a butcher than I did studying for exams.

But I also love academia.  Chasing ideas, learning to make connections, having time to think and talk and see things in different ways — that’s all really valuable.

That said, I also think college is a broken concept in America.

Too many young people rack up too much debt and wind up at the end of the road with no discernible skills, nothing that connects the dots between ideas and applications.

At risk of sounding crotchety, I also find that more and more college students emerge from their four or five years of study without much in the way of common sense.

University feels more like a prolongation of childhood, less like a rite of passage to adulthood.

It’s fine to affect the hat-sideways, skateboard and saggy pants aesthetic.  I dressed like a goof, too, the one year I spent on a college campus.  (Ratty blue jeans and tee-shirts were my rebellion attire of choice.)

But students also have to be learning the social cues, the work standards, and the life habits they’ll need when they go for that first job interview.

They also need to learn the beauty and value of work itself.  Of beginning something tangible and bringing it through to a satisfying and profitable conclusion.

When I’m on college campuses these days, I often find kids — I use that term deliberately — who don’t know that stuff.

They don’t know how to look an adult in the eye, shake my hand, or carry on a brief, civil conversation.  The earbuds never come out.  The eyes never come up.

So how do we make college less silly, and more relevant, for far more of the young people who are paying big bucks for the experience?

It’s simple really:  We teach them a trade.

I don’t mean pay them beer money to shelve books in the library, or give them a few bucks to work in the cafeteria.

I mean that every young person passing through a four-year degree program in America should emerge with at least a rudimentary professional skill in something practical.

That would mean every student taking a course each semester in plumbing, electrical work, carpentry, computer repair, and so on.

I think it’s safe to say that this kind of course would be far more beneficial than physical education.  (I spent my two semesters at college satisfying the PE requirement by trying modern dance.  Yikes!)

The University of Pennsylvania offers a freshman course on the “Monsters of Japan” (Godzilla! Mothra! Rodan! Totoro! Pikachu!)

Seems like there might be room there for a course in truck driving or surveying.

Trade work would give graduates a grounding in the practicalities of life.  And it would give some of them a leg-up if that English degree doesn’t, in the end, translate into gainful employment.

I can’t tell you how many college educated people I know are now working a trade, from cabinetry to masonry to organic farming.

And most of them are really, really contented.  Their “Plan Bs” turned out to be far better than their “Plan As”.

The truth is that these two worlds — academia and trade-work — compliment one-another in ways that aren’t well enough understood.

I also think requiring college students in America to learn something meaningful from thoughtful, talented blue collar folks would be beneficial for the society writ large.

If more investment bankers spent an internship semester on a factory floor rather than a trading floor, it would give them a much clearer sense of the value of the people whose lives they influence.

I’m not being romantic when I say that I learned a lot of things while working as a butcher that I would never have picked up on campus.

A program like this would serve much the same function that the draft once did, forcing the increasingly stratified classes in our country to interact, learn, talk.

Isn’t that exactly the kind of exploration that college is supposed to promote?

Finally, I think employers would be thrilled to have young people turning up for those job interviews who have actually produced meaningful work, meeting deadlines, and tackling the hurdles that the real world throws at us when we try to get stuff done.

So what do you think?

Are you a student at college?  If so, would you be willing to spend time each week learning a practical skill?  Do you think your college is giving you what you need to have a meaningful, productive life?

Parents and employers, what do you think?  Are colleges getting the job done with the programs that they offer now?  Comments welcome.


59 Comments on “Higher education is broken. Here’s how to fix it.”

  1. Verplanck says:

    I think the problem with college is that it is not academia anymore, but a continuation of high school.

    What you propose makes more sense at a high school level. In college, you pay good money to learn the details of a field, not on how to solder pipes if you’re a history major. Sure, most of us do something with our degree other than what we studied, but that’s because we didn’t know what the real world was like. How is someone supposed to know what plan B is when they aren’t even 100% sure about plan A?

    As for professionalism and etiquette, i put that at the feet of parents more than our education system. If it must be done, teach it early, not when they’re 20 and more concerned with their thermodynamics homework.

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  2. marcusaurelius says:

    This idea may be more applicable to Liberal Arts institutions. Often, schools like RIT or Clarkson produce grads that have had some hands on experience through mandatory co-ops. My son lived on a floor of a dorm at RIT that had 2 workshops and that maintained their own server.
    I think Verplanck may be right in suggesting that starting this in High School makes more sense. Sadly, these are just the things that are being squeezed out by budget cuts.

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  3. oa says:

    What Verplanck said. Too many students who go to college aren’t ready for college, even though they’ve been on a college-bound path. I think the behavior stuff has been ever thus. They grow out of it.

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  4. Paul says:

    Brian, I don’t think this is such a great idea. I certainly don’t think that this is what is wrong with Higher Ed or that this would fix anything.

    Go work in a lab on campus. That is the kind of “exploration” they should be doing, not working with the local plumber.

    A smart, well educated person should be able to figure out how to fix the pipes or wire the house. It isn’t that difficult.

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  5. NNYLiving says:

    While learning trades is important, I think what students really need is a broad education where they learn skills like how to effectively (and professionally) communicate (written, oral, etc.), how to collaborate, how to work with people and also independently, how to self-reflect, how to think critically, how to stay organized, manage projects and multitask, and how to be creative.
    I agree with Verplanck that etiquette starts at home, but I wouldn’t be opposed to students being required to take a class(es) about what it takes to make it in the real world and I think that goes beyond trades. Students are graduating with degrees (sometimes in trades) that aren’t even useful in today’s world, so where does that leave them? But if they graduated with a little bit of confidence, a willingness to always learn and grow to meet the demands of industry and the world, and the fundamental skills I mentioned earlier, I think they’d be better off. But I believe there is still value in classes like “Monsters of Japan” and other crazy-sounding course titles. The fundamental values of those courses aren’t spell out in titles because the course title is meant to grab students’ attention to get them interested and intrigued. Who wants to take, “Understanding Japanese Culture”? Monsters sound a lot cooler. Sometimes it’s a little bit of marketing (but of course there are classes out there with little ‘real’ value).
    I think another issue in higher education is that 18-year olds don’t often know what they want to do, or it changes by the time they graduate. So if they discover they want to be a plumber, or they want to go into being an electrician, they should have access to degree programs and certifications that would allow them to do that, and while accessibility is improving through online learning, I still don’t think we’re doing a great job in providing educational programs for adult learners. As the world changes and demands for people in particular jobs and industries grow while others wane, we need to adjust our educational offerings accordingly and make sure local colleges and universities are adjusting their degree programs accordingly to ensure they align with those demands at the local, national and global levels.

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  6. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    We already have a system in place that addresses your suggestion, Brian. It’s called Career and Technical Education (formerly Vocational Education) and the very county you live in has three such CTE centers operated by St. Lawrence/Lewis BOCES.

    The problem, as we’ve bantered about numerous times in here, is that some students, parents, high school teachers, guidance counselors and the general public still view “Vocational” programs as a dumping ground for less than stellar academically gifted students and those prone to spending too much time in the principal’s office and/or detention. The reality is much different. The data now indicates that CTE students outperform non CTE students on Regents exams, nearly half of all CTE graduates attend post-secondary education either in a related CTE program or a completely unrelated degree program. CTE has proven to be so successful that the Board of Regents is now considering an alternative route to graduation that will allow students to pursue more CTE content while in high school and still complete Regents testing and graduation requirements. You may have heard this mentioned recently by JEff/Lewis BOCES district Superintendent Jay Boak in a Watertown Times article.

    One other thing that needs mentioning is the VERY high cost associated with providing CTE programming. Once reason why BOCES typically provides CTE programing to school districts is because the typical district could not afford to equip and staff numerous one year or two year programs in house. BOCES, by its nature as a service entity to school districts, basically pools the resources of its member districts and thus makes the programming more affordable to individual districts. Because of these costs, your typical college could not afford such largesse along with its primary purpose of providing multiple degree programs. There are exceptions of course. For instance those post secondary institutions which are referred to as “Technical College.”

    Lastly, I should also mention that CTE today includes a great deal of emphasis on the soft skills you mentioned. Skills essential to any work environment. CTE also includes internships for students typically in their senior year. That is to say, “real world” experience in their chosen CTE program. Oh, and how many realize every CTE program is required to utilize the input and expertise of employers with regard to curriculum, equipment upgrades, articulation agreements with post-secondary institutions, etc.? Yes, that’s right, CTE is to a great extent, employer driven. The system you suggest, and I entirely support and agree with, is already in place. We just need to educate those who are unaware of its existence.

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  7. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:


    I believe you actually live in Saranac Lake and NOT Canton. Let me be clear that St. Lawrence county has three CTE centers operated by St. Lawrence/Lewis BOCES. Sorry for the error…..

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  8. Scott Crow says:

    “Broken” is such a strong word. As someone who works in the community college field in California – and who has children in high school – I know budget is a huge obstacle. Public college (and high school) budgets have been slashed, taking worthwhile programs with them. So many good ideas cost money, money that isn’t there. And large public institutions aren’t built to make rapid changes. It’s like boats: it takes forever for a huge ocean linker to turn, but a nimble, smaller craft can make quicker adjustments. Good discussion; keep it coming!

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  9. Jack says:

    You’ve touched a sensitive area for me for a number of reasons.
    1. I taught at the community college level for over 20 years.
    2. I am currently a professional development consultant specializing in training teachers
    3. As a H.S. student (many decades ago) I felt totally lost academically. If it weren’t for sports I don’t know if I would have survived school. It was all so irrelevant. (and still is) College actually is where I finally started to blossom.

    If we were to reinvent education today what should the topics be? Do you know how the current topics were selected around 100 years ago? It was part of an effort to standardize a factory model of education. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnegie_Unit_and_Student_Hour) It is totally obsolete.

    What if the goal of today’s education was to prepare learner’s for life. Not “jobs” because most of the jobs that students will work at haven’t been invented yet. (http://www.youshouldgotoschool.com/blog/index.php/how-to-prepare-for-jobs-that-dont-exist-yet/)

    I believe the topics we teach should be topics like;
    • Decision making
    • Problem solving
    • Creative thinking
    • Critical thinking
    • Leadership
    • Communication
    • Organization
    • Collaboration
    • Community
    • Self-direction
    • Integrity
    • Quality

    (Full disclosure – My business (http://www.realworldlearning.info) attempts to teach teachers how to teach and assess these topics.)

    I remember a teacher justifying the teaching of math because it taught good problem-solving skills. She had it backwards. We need to teach problem solving so kids can learn math. We can teach all the important content or knowledge that good citizens need by starting with the topics above and linking them to the “traditional” topics not the other way around.

    I’ve visited many public schools and colleges that have posters and banners listing the above topics and stressing how important they are but if you ask most teachers and professors, “How do you make sure your students have these qualities?” they look at you like you are from outer space. With the exception of a few brave institutions very few schools and colleges are willing embrace this vision.

    Brian, I applaud your effort to look at education differently but I don’t think that creating colleges that teach trades is the answer. Ultimately we need to create citizens with what you call “common sense” and what I call judgment. I spent twenty-one years trying to do that at the community college level and felt like I was bucking the system the entire way.

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  10. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul is right on this one. Trade schools are useful, but what you really want is for college to teach kids how to think independently.

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  11. Many of the founders were practical men as well as learned men. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were farmers for example. OTOH I agree with the suggestions that these sort of courses belong in the HS setting. I took shop beginning in the 7th grade and all through HS.

    I do think that higher education has strayed though. There are far too many courses in ‘trendy’ subjects, especially in the liberal arts. As an art student I was given great latitude for creativity in the creation of art, very little emphasis on skill, and no (zip/zilch/nada) education in the professional aspects of being a working artist, business practices, marketing, etc.

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  12. Mayflower says:

    Once upon a time I hired students (high school and college) as retail clerks. They were genuinely baffled that more was expected of them than their physical presence.

    Ultimately I labeled the problem as “Seat Time Syndrome.”

    To a very great degree, we move students through a system with little or no assurance that they have mastered the skills necessary for the next educational level. We declare them ready for the 4th grade because they have been present in a 3rd grade chair for the requisite number of days. Seat Time.

    We decided to institute mandatory testing to measure learning. Oh dear. We’ve discovered that students are falling short. Where to place the blame? Poor teachers? Bad parents? Stingy legislatures? Maybe we need to dumb down the test, or fiddle with the scores?

    The answer — my view — is a broken system. And I think it can be fixed with just two major reforms:

    First, we must have an integrated K-12 curriculum. The first grade curriculum is designed by second grade educators: Students must be able to do X, Y, and Z before entering the 2nd grade classroom, so that becomes the 1st grade curriculum. And so on, through elementary and middle school; integrated building blocks. Ultimately, the high school curriculum is shaped by the requirements of college faculty and/or trade employers.

    The second requirement; We must accept that it learning takes as long as it takes. You move to the 5th grade when you behave like a fully achieving 4th grader. Not a day sooner or later. High achievement? Move right along to the more challenging curriculum. Still baffled by long division? stay right where you are until it’s mastered.

    Ultimately, this system sends well-prepared students into college or employment. If they don’t have the knowledge/skills, they’re still in high school getting them. Prolonged (and expensive) remedial coursework – gone. New hires with no job skills or work ethic – non-existent.

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  13. Paul says:

    I do think that we need to change the way we educate students. This is something that will have to change at all levels of education. I see my son now taking HS classes and we basically have the same curriculum now that we had 30 years ago. It makes no sense. We have learned a lot about how to educate kids over the last three decades and we are not applying any of it. Many of the things listed above that we want kids to learn are best addressed by changing the way we educate children.

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  14. mervel says:

    I would like to see much more focus on skilled trades and good vocational education tied to companies who need those skills. This is more of a German model. However I don’t think that should or even must happen on four year college campus. Universities should not be about learning a trade and it is not set up now to learn a trade, it should be about learning how to think. If we tie vocational education to college campuses who have no experience in the trades it is likely you will not have a good result. No doubt everyone needs to learn how to do something, part of the frustration with higher education at least among 4 year colleges and universities is the idea that they WILL provide a skill or a trade, they don’t. I think that is ok, as long as students and parents realize that they are not there to learn how to “do something”.

    I would rather see us work with our community colleges and trade schools to develop a really good vocational and trades system of education AND job placement. This will mean working very closely with businesses. Where this model has worked the schools work directly with the businesses needing the skilled labor.

    We have too many kids going to 4 year colleges racking up debt as Brain points out without a clear understanding that they are NOT learning how to do any particular job or trade.

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  15. Newt says:

    I pretty much agree with Brian, with some of the caveats expressed by others (Engineering schools are pretty much trade schools …that’s why you can walk into an 80 K job after four years, a lower paying one after 5, 6, or more). I don’t think teaching trades in HS, which should be more widely available and encouraged, speaks to Brian’s point, however. The idea of having to go out and learn something that has a real life impact, and all the hands-on and social skills that would go with it, should be considered part of one’s liberal education, and prerequistie to being considered a truly educated person. But this requrement should be met in ways outside college, e,g,, a kid who already worked construction for several summers, or, as with the PE requirement in my day, having served in the military, to cite a few examples.

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  16. Newt says:

    Per Clapton;s comment re CTE. Amen, (but it’s not the same as Brian’s point about the value of making college student’s take the earbuds out and perform real-world work). A friend of mine who in an earlier life worked as a voc instruction at a BOCES center told me that he constantly heard of students being discouraged, warned, intimidated, by their school guidance counselors from taking BOCES tech courses, telling them “your degree won’t count”, “it’s for kids who can’t cut it regular school,” etc, when in fact it was because these programs cost the local districts more, and the counselors were pressured by adminstrators to keep these transfers to a minimum. I wonder how many good jobs this practice has cost students, their future families, and the U.S. economy.

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  17. Peter Hahn says:

    HIgher education isn’t broken, its just too expensive.

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  18. It’s a terrible indictment of our university system that the kids are racking up $200,000 in debt and not learning these basic work skills. What are they paying for?

    When I was exploring universities (1990), colleges were expensive but, it was thought, ultimately worth the investment. With tuition/fees inflation increasing far faster than the regular cost of living, I’m not sure that’s true anymore.

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  19. mervel says:

    It is way to expensive I agree with Peter, the next bubble?

    But on the BOCES comments, indeed the problem today is that BOCES at least in the North Country is no longer seen as a high quality trade education, it is seen as where you go to prepare for your GED or because you are a discipline problem or because you skipped so much you are now in 9th grade and are supposed to be in 12th so you get “alternative” education or special ed. This is not true, but that is the perception.

    We have all of these people saying you MUST have a 4 year degree, but I do think that idea it is skewed and flawed. The trades are disrespected to our own demise. Also the “trades” today are not what we used to think of them as, today we are looking at medical technology, alternative energy tech’s, computer programming (does not need a college degree), HVAC, and of course the more traditional automotive etc. But lets face it if you have a CDL with HAZMAT designations and are willing to move to some of these oil boom areas, you can make in excess of 100,000 per year. You work your tail off, but many college grads will never make that sort of money.

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  20. Pete Klein says:

    No, absolutely not!
    Part of the problem with high school is teaching all the stuff that has nothing to do with academic subjects.
    The thought of doing the same thing in college is just adding to the problem of not teaching academics.
    I would be in favor of bringing back dress codes for both high school and college. But I see no reason to waste time on idiots who don’t know how to carry on a conversation.
    This leading the “kids” by the hand are things they should learn from their parents, not the schools.
    As to trades, BOCES and 2 year degree programs teach those things and there is always the military which is pretty darn good at teaching a trade. Maybe bring back the draft?

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  21. Walker says:

    It’s not just that higher education is broken, it’s that the culture is broken. We simply do not value anything but high salary jobs. We need plumbers and factory workers and carpenters and mechanics, but our culture is telling our kids that they need to go for the top colleges and pursue top salary careers.

    And one of the chief reasons that higher ed is so expensive is that we’ve applied the super-star model to it, paying star faculty astronomical salaries and asking them to teach a minimum of undergraduates, who are taught mostly by under-paid adjuncts and graduate students.

    When all a culture really values is money, everything else gets left by the wayside.

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  22. Larry says:

    High school diplomas became largely meaningless soon after it became obvious that one need only “be there” in order to obtain one. The next step was pushing all those uneducted HS grads into college, based on the premise that every American teenager should be a college graduate. Now, many are, and their diplomas aren’t worth a damn. Lowered standards have produced several generations of uneducated and socially inept people. In a recent conversation that included a young college graduate (of the same college I graduated from, albeit many years apart) someone mentioned George Orwell. The college guy’s question: “Who dat?”

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  23. Anita says:

    I propose another possible solution – that not all young people rush off to college straight after high school. Doing so worked out well for my daughter, because she had pretty well fleshed out goals. On the other hand, my stepson took some time off from school after high school, and went to the school of hard knocks for a year. He discovered that it’s hard to have an apartment and a car – and eat – while working full-time in a fast-food restaurant. He learned a lot about living with roommates and paying the bills, serving people, and keeping a boss satisfied as well. When he finally went to college, he was ready to get as much out of school as he could.

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  24. Anita says:

    I should have said – that not as MANY young people rush straight off to college. I know that not all young adults can go to college, nor do all of them want to.

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  25. Walker says:

    Anita, I like your solution, but it’s a relatively rare HS grad who doesn’t feel like a loser for choosing not to go straight to college. The same could be said for choosing a community college for the first two years, but that is definitely the sensible approach– no one much cares where you spent your first two years, only where you graduated from.

    I want to say that we need a new sixties. But then look where the last one got us. The advances in the science of marketing are eating us alive.

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  26. TomL says:

    Brian, I notice that you did not invite comments from the people who actually teach the college students. I’ll go ahead and comment anyway. I am a tenured professor at one of the colleges within the NCPR service area. My pay is comfortable, but I make less than most professionals in other fields. I do actually teach undergraduates – lots of them.

    Some of my students work on teams designing, building, and testing low-emissions snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, methane digesters of food or manure, algal biodiesel production facilities, or low cost septic systems for the developing world. Some learn to teach, as teaching assistants in our freshman labs. Many do research, and some actually published their research. Quite a few intern with physicians, vets, or biotech/biomed companies. The local rescue squad depends on my students for staffing. In fact, all students are required to complete a professional experience during the school or over the summer as a condition to graduate.

    What do we do to prepare students? Labs teach practical skills in biotechnology, environmental sampling and monitoring, computer-based informatics, experimental design and statistical analysis etc. Students are required to take writing and public-speaking intensive courses, mostly done within the context of their professional courses.

    How do my students do when they leave college? Some launch immediately into their careers, and others go to graduate / professional school. In the end, nearly all are successful. Sure, students are variable, and some shine less brightly than others, but my students aren’t the coddled, unmotivated, ignorant, and oafish caricatures that many commentators to this thread seem to imagine. Sure, they need some shaping. But I have to say that my college cohort (in the early 1980s) was no better, and probably less well knowledgeable and skilled, that the students I teach today.

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  27. Paul says:

    You can make more money teaching at a NYS high school than you can with an Ivy league PhD teaching at a NYS Ivy League School. This myth that professors at these schools are being paid a lot of money is just that a myth.

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  28. Kathy says:

    Walker said: It’s not just that higher education is broken, it’s that the culture is broken.

    The bar has been lowered too many times. If colleges weren’t so easy to get into perhaps there would be more plumbers, mechanics, and carpenters.

    Jack said: What if the goal of today’s education was to prepare learner’s for life.

    This is why I’ve homes schooled. The objectives you listed were my goals.

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  29. PNElba says:

    At risk of sounding crotchety, I also find that more and more college students emerge from their four or five years of study without much in the way of common sense.

    Common sense would be good if it was real common sense – not something commonly believed or a GW Bush type “gut sense” that passes for common sense these days.

    I hope students learn to use reason to evaluate evidence to come to a decision.

    Personally, I still think the most valuable degree today is a solid liberal arts education.

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  30. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I haven’t had a chance to read all of the comments above but its late and I have to be up early, so just a quick point about learning a trade. The hand skill involved in a trade is the easy part. If you want to be a successful tradesman you need to have business skills, marketing savvy, accounting skills, and the ability to communicate effectively in a variety of ways.

    Vocational education in high school is good but there is a need for trade education at a higher level. Unions provide some of that education in larger areas. Access to hand skill courses at colleges is a good idea. Some good art programs provide practical problem solving education as well.

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  31. Larry says:

    Do you think we could leave Bush out of a topic for once? I’m surprised someone didn’t blame him for the feral pig situation. What an unhealthy and tiresome obsession!

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  32. mervel says:

    We do need a better overall plan for how we train our workforce. I am not sure traditional 4 year colleges and universities are broken at all, they are filling a niche and are important. But they are not nor should they be purely vocational. We need English majors, we need history majors and so forth; we need that type of thought process and knowledge in our population, but those are not vocations and that is ok they are not meant to be.

    As far as the cultural skills of a solid handshake and looking someone in the eyes when you talk to them, no college is going to teach that, that is about parenting and your experiences.

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  33. mervel says:

    Our confusion is that higher education is supposed to be about jobs and money, at one time it was about personal improvement and enlightenment, knowing for knowings sake. The joy of poetry is never going to have much to do with making a living. What is the old saying, they teach you how to live, not how to make living, or something like that.

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  34. PNElba says:

    Do you think we could leave Bush out of a topic for once? I’m surprised someone didn’t blame him for the feral pig situation. What an unhealthy and tiresome obsession!

    Sorry, but the above comment is a perfect example of a lack of critical thinking skills. I did not blame anything on Bush. I used his famous “gut sense” instincts as an example of the type of “common sense” used today. Common sense isn’t reliable when it consist only of things “commonly believed”.

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  35. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mervel, there should be some of both. You’d be surprised ( or maybe not ) at how many people I know who are carpenters, plumbers, etc who are also poets, writers, fine artists and musicians. some of the best-read people I ever met were merchant seamen.

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  36. mervel says:

    Knuckle yes I totally agree we need and must have both. That is the beauty of a Liberal Arts education (formal and informal). I don’t view it as one or the other, just different forms of education. I do think that universities and colleges take some of the blame here in creating this confusion.

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  37. jeff says:

    TomL’s comment reminds me of a young man I met at a store in Potsdam who was a graduate of one of the local colleges. He was working in Walmart. Electronics degree. Didn’t know General Electric or Lockheed had facilities in New York (didn’t know what General Electric was). He had interviewed at IBM several months before I spoke with him but openings froze. Knowledge of where his education could be applied didn’t seem to be something he acquired.

    But to the other point, the applicability of college, college is oversold. I know numerous people who are doing well without college who never went to 11th grade. Some have taken additional education or had on the job training in electricity or refrigeration. I have take numerous evening courses since college which when the drive is 60 miles one way has been a challenge.

    I think it says something that some colleges have adopted trade school programs such as Automotive Technology. I know a kid who completed a trade school and finally has a job at $12 an hour doing what he went to school for, it took a year of looking, some false starts and some working at jobs far removed from his education.

    Too much emphasis on career, profession and not enough on finding something to do to earn a living. All work is honorable. It is those who look down on the trades or even menial workers who are a problem. Someone has to clean the toilets in the ivory tower and pays taxes that help to support many towers. College is one source of education and not necessarily the best because colleges cannot decide that. That is for each person to decide what is best. Employers cannot decide, only to broadcast what their needs are and hope there is a pool of employees. Thus today, a report that Asian immigration exceeds Mexican immigration. They are coming for “high tech” work.

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  38. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    TomL- I love you! Keep up the good work.

    About kids these days, I doubt very many of them are bigger losers than I was at their age.

    About a liberal education, I finally got around to reading the Illiad and Odyssy recently and my take-away from those torturous thousand pages came early on and something I haven’t heard any comment on when people talk about them. A common soldier gives a speech about the stupidity of being at war for 9 years and that the ordinary soldiers have nothing to gain for their loss of blood and life, but the kings and princes end up with all the spoils including gold and women. He entreats his fellows to get on the boats and go home to see their wives and children and live their lives in peace. He is ridiculed and called ugly by his betters and his good sense is ignored. As far as I’m concerned he is the only hero of the books.

    About liberal arts colleges in general, how is it conscionable that prestigious universities can charge such outlandish tuitions while at the same time reducing the benefits to teachers, reducing the numbers of tenured professors, increasing the numbers of teaching assistant led classes, all while building interstellar endowments?

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  39. Larry says:

    Come on, PNElba, do you think I don’t understand your meaning? You and others of your ilk think yourselves so clever but the rest of us know you for what you are: a bunch of whiners who can’t get over the Bush presidency and are content to continue blaming him for all the country’s troubles. Well, get over it now! Your snide and disingenuous comments aren’t fooling anyone and indicate a lack of any kind of thought, much less critical thinking.

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  40. Peter Hahn says:

    larry lighten up

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  41. Larry says:

    Why? So I can continue to read pejorative comments about myself without responding in kind? I don’t think so. I have read here lately that I (and other conservatives) enjoy the misery of others, lack critical thinking, don’t understand history or economics and other similar comments too numerous to mention. I’m tired of the polemics and will continue to respond as I feel appropriate. If people would like to raise the tone of their comments I’m all for it and can do that also.

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  42. Brian Mann says:

    Folks – Please take a deep breath. Keep it conversational. Remember that our differences are real, but we still treat one another with respect – always. If you feel that someone is being uncivil, point it out as specifically as you can. That helps the community, and it helps us moderate.

    Stay cool out there!

    –Brian, NCPR

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  43. “ We simply do not value anything but high salary jobs. We need plumbers and factory workers and carpenters and mechanics, but our culture is telling our kids that they need to go for the top colleges and pursue top salary careers.”

    The irony is that many of these trades actually pay a pretty decent living. A friend of mine is in a trade and he told me that his profession STARTS at $19 an hour. I have a college degree, not in the field I ended up pursuing of course, and I make about 20% less than that… after 15 years.

    Too much of our educational system is trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes, instead of recognizing we need pegs of all shapes and sizes. Of course, SOMEONE’s making a lot of money off the university racket. The $50,000 a year is certainly going somewhere…

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  44. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Or better yet, “Stay Frosty” From the new VH album, “A Different Kind of Truth” The perfect tune to put things in perspective:


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  45. PNElba says:

    Larry, I apologize if you took my comment the wrong way. It wasn’t meant the way you interpreted it at all.

    I was attempting to point out (poorly I guess) how we now have climate and evolution deniers, birthers (mostly on the right) but we also have looney left (zero balancing; energy therapy; 911 truthers) types.

    Both groups suffer from the same problem. Lack of understanding of what contitutes evidence (a basic part of critical thinking skills). Rather, their beliefs are often based on “common sense”.

    As for whining about the Bush presidency – maybe its whining or maybe its evidence-based. That is an arguement that I believe can be made (eg. Iraq War). But don’t you also see plenty of whining about the Obama presidency? Do you feel the same way about those “whiners” as you do about “lib” whining?

    Us “libs” don’t particularly care to be called fascist, communistic, socialistic, atheists either, so we feel your pain.

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  46. Paul says:

    “I hope students learn to use reason to evaluate evidence to come to a decision.”

    I agree and we need to start teaching these important skills at a much earlier age.

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  47. mervel says:

    Well if 40% drop out of high school they won’t know the difference between a liberal and a conservative anyway. They will have much more pressing issues in their future, mainly figuring out how to feed themselves in an economy that has no use for them.

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  48. Will Doolittle says:

    I think Verplanck made the most relevant point. Students pay for college, and it is a competitive marketplace. Colleges respond to the desires of their customers (fancy dorms, meal plans and workout facilities). Nothing wrong with that. You can get what you want in the marketplace of post-secondary education — trade schools, tiny liberal arts schools very serious about academics, granola colleges where the students milk cows, pretentious places where the pricetag is mainly for the college’s name on the diploma, huge party palaces and on and on. Or you can save gallons of money by skipping college. But then you have to figure out what to do with yourself at 18, which is not so easy.

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  49. Pete Klein says:

    Can’t prove it but…it seems to me one of this things that has happened over the past 50 years or so is some businesses requiring a college education when a college education wasn’t really needed to do the job.
    I think this was just any easy way for some businesses to eliminate the number of people they would need to interview for a job.
    The more education you have, in college, on the job or on your own is always a good thing.
    Naturally, to protect the public, you do need to require doctors and lawyers to have a college education or more. But there are many jobs, in sales for example, where people skills are far more important than a college degree. Still, nothing wrong with a college degree but without the people skills, you won’t go anywhere in sales.
    Bottom line, college or no college, you need to know what you want to do and what you want to do needs to be something more specific than “make some money and get married.”

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  50. Larry says:

    PNElba says:
    “As for whining about the Bush presidency – maybe its whining or maybe its evidence-based.”

    Just couldn’t resist, could you?

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