Alternatives to College

Marc Plooster is an Accountant for the County of Ottawa, MI. Prior to joining Ottawa County, he worked for the City of Grand Rapids, MI in multiple roles including as a John H. Logie Fellow.

Is college irrelevant? The increasing cost of college and the mounting debt graduates have when they enter the workforce may make the next generation question the relevancy of college. Available jobs go unfilled because of the skills gap that exists between recent college graduates and employer needs. When considering cost, funding, and skills, our answer to whether college is irrelevant depends on what majors we are considering and what careers graduates will hold after completing their studies. For those majors, degrees, and careers that are regulated and licensed by

For those majors, degrees, and careers that are regulated and licensed by state government, the combination of required courses, pre-license experience, and standardized testing makes financing a college degree extremely helpful at minimum and legally required at most. Medical doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, nurses, accountants, social workers, and teachers have varying combination of minimum schooling, internships, student teaching, residency, experience, and examination scores before becoming a licensed professional. While this is a partial list of similar professions, the degree is a means to become a profession and is not the ultimate goal alone.

If we do not consider the professional degrees, and if we do not consider non-teaching PhDs, we are left with the majority of degrees conferred by colleges and universities. As recent graduates in the language, arts, and sciences leave the university to begin careers, some are faced with overcoming skills deficiencies employers require of successful candidates. While having a general business degree will look good on the top line of a resume, millions of job openings go unfilled because of a lack of skills on the bottom of the resume.

The long-term answer is figuring out how to preserve the culture and life lessons learned at college.


Other models of education less popular in the U.S. today are more effective at teaching skills to individuals and providing in demand expertise. High school career centers and community college technical education for decades served as places where phlebotomists, carpenters, home builders, chefs, auto mechanics, plumbers, and electricians learned basic skills and became familiar with a profession before committing to a career or entering an apprenticeship. These same jobs are quality careers and some of the most in demand jobs today. Presently, fiscal constraints, state statutes, and state education boards have changed high school credit requirements with the goal of making all high school graduates “college ready” while reducing the funding available for programs in the career, technical, and mechanical arts. For-profit education instructions have filled the void left by changes in public education to varying degrees of success and failure. Still there are students who might not even realize the demand of these possible careers when they are not exposed to them in high school.

The present model of college is irrelevant if we consider narrowly the economic preparation our education institutions provide. Students and society could spend less on education and obtain quality, in-demand careers through training in high school and community college. If the view is not narrow, universities are great havens of culture where we learn how to be citizens and activist for callings we discover on campus. Whether there is a greater disconnect between what is taught in college and what is expected by employers or among an organization’s job description components and available talent I am not confident, but many management professions suggest the former.

The long-term answer is figuring out how to preserve the culture and life lessons learned at college and how to endow graduates with the necessary career skills required by employers. It may take a combination of improving online and distance education, increasing funding for technical education, reducing degree requirements, paying interns and better supervising mandatory internships, and encouraging employers to identify and invest in making long-term employees. Employees are not changing organization as often, and employers should take note. Consider novel ways of showing investment in employees such as sponsoring students in college. Encourage employees to grow professional skills, and encourage them to help make the organization stronger, more innovative, and more efficient.

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