Higher education is among the most valuable of activities for young adults. It opens intellectual and professional doors that otherwise would remain forever closed. Apollo Group/National Journal Next America polling finds that colleges and universities rank highly in the public esteem, in the 80 percent range, slightly above K-12 education and well above labor unions, major corporations, and Congress.
I recently wrote in a National Journal magazine feature arguing that the standard narratives about college must change. They must expand beyond dorm life and late-night pizza cram sessions to accommodate the people who will fill the 'middle jobs'--the ones that pay at least $50,000 annually and require some post-high-school education but not a bachelor's degree. There are 11 million of these jobs, according to new research from the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. And they are tailor-made for the folks who can't get into college or can't afford a full four years.
Finishing college has to be the ultimate goal, not finding yourself. Many students can't waste time and precious credit hours trying out several majors. "When I was in college, the idea was that your freshman and sophomore years was an exploratory time. Totally gone. It is not exploratory," said Joyce Romano, vice president for student services at Valencia Community College. "Decide when you're in the womb what you want to do."
How can the narrative about college evolve to accommodate a new crop of "middle" workers? What kinds of skills are most important to teach them? How important are the middle workers to the next economy? Should there be more college options than just an associate's degree and a bachelor's degree? Are there career or technical models for higher education that should be explored? What is missing in the higher education spectrum?