Fear Builds about the Value of Degrees and the State of … Things
Madame Nona was a long shot.
Sometime in December 2008, I called the psychic hotline as a gimmick for a magazine article I was working on about the career education sector’s future. My hope was that whoever picked up could make a projection about what the year would bring. After I provided a credit card number (the magazine’s not mine), I asked for a psychic with a background in business.
At that point, Madame Nona told me in a thick New Jersey accent that she needed to call her “su-puh-viz-uh.” And then she switched me over to another psychic with an exotic name: Mike.
I asked Mike straight out: “How do you think (for-profit) schools are going to perform in 2008?” I threw in a couple of examples – schools like Vatterott College, University of Phoenix, and DeVry, so he’d know the types of schools I meant.
When I said DeVry, he said he picked up something. He spoke about the voice or this sense that he felt as though it was coming in a little fuzzy, like he was adjusting an AM radio dial to find a clearer signal.
“I feel people are going to enroll in schools that are quicker,” Mike told me. “Four-year programs are going out the window. I feel like people now are going to enroll more in schools where they can learn a trade.”
His prediction was correct for 2008. I only wish, now, that I’d asked him for a longer range prediction because something close to concern – but more akin to fear – is underlying many of the recent conversations I’ve participated in about the future of higher education.
This fear was implicit on a recent post from the discussion forum in the Career College Central group on LinkedIn:
“ … in a few years (possibly … with another Great Depression on the way (globally, not just in the US). When there are few jobs, Government controlling everything (more and more into debt). What would I tell my kids, does college then still have its benefits? What would you do?
“ … we need to nip the spending in the bud right now. How come Government officials can't see what they are doing, or do they care? They have children too and it will affect them as well. All it takes to run this country, honestly is economics 101, business management 101 ...”
I doubt Madame Nona or Mike could have predicted that the costs of a college education are continuing their rise beyond many families' reach. We’ve seen cuts to Pell Grants, which hurts low-income students – the ones who need it most. More and more students must take out loans if they want to pursue a college education. The poor are getting pushed further down as vital piece of the American Dream is becoming less accessible to low- and moderate- income families.
Higher education is at the crux of this situation. With more jobs becoming available that require technical education, the current administration continues to set a lofty goal for college graduates by 2020, and yet make the availability of funding to these students less common. As a nation, we have the opportunity to determine how we handle our self-inflicted failure.
We can see the problems. We know the answers because they are fairly evident. Again, as a nation, we have a chance to address college costs as well as to steer more students into fields that are growing, and that means reconditioning our education system to better account for students who want – and who would succeed in – career-focused career paths.
There are people in the world who know more than us commoners – people in important stations with the power to influence our future in a real way. I have less and less confidence in these people, and I’m losing it by the day. Either they can’t see the obvious, or they don’t want to.
Until recently, I thought we all might be content to live with these issues in hopes that the powers-that-be might accidentally stumble across the right answers – a solution to the problems that are undermining our nation, and its place in the world.
For anyone who is looking for a positive sign for the encouragement to enroll in college, it’s not likely to come in the job market or with the economy anytime soon. The prospects are not so encouraging for those of us who envisioned sending our kids to college – and those of us already footing the bill. What I sense is real trepidation about the future. People are more fearful, not worried, about the opportunities for their children.
In the bleak sort of environment many of us envision, it appears as though there will be a lack of choices for many families, perhaps even yours and mine. We won’t need to call a psychic for an answer. The decision about what we tell our kids might be more self-evident, unfortunately.