Education: New balance needed in college degrees

We have been hearing it for years — four-year college degrees are not the end-all, be-all of higher education, and in fact can do more harm than good to students who graduate with a mountain of debt and not much to offer a potential employer.

West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine spoke in Wheeling earlier this week about what our schools’ obsession with four-year (or more) degrees has done to our young people.

“The reality is no more than 50 percent of the jobs today and tomorrow will require a four-year degree, yet we only prepare 17 percent of our kids for those two-year programs that have high technical skills as a prerequisite for placement into occupations,” he said. “That’s a real mind-shift that I have to make, and you all (educators and school boards) have to be challenged with, too.”

Paine pointed to Maryland, Texas and Colorado, where research shows graduates from two-year programs are earning salaries higher than those with four-year degrees — and there is no sign that trend will change.

Of course, Paine reminded his audience of the China Energy Investment Corp. deal he said could bring “thousands of jobs” that will need to be filled by “highly skilled applicants,” he said.

Paine’s suggestion of a 50-50 curriculum balance in high schools between prep for four-year colleges and two-year programs is a good one. Four-year college degree programs are not right for every student, and more young people should feel free, and prepared, to follow a path that gives them the skills and training they need for the good jobs that will be available to them.

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