I had the good fortune to send my kids to college using the Florida Pre-paid Tuition Program. Before 529 plans, Florida’s program allowed you to make monthly payments while your kids were growing up. When they matriculated, the program paid for 120 credit hours plus room and board for 4 years. College was an imperative for those who wished to succeed and the program saved me a healthy 5-figure sum of money.
Recently, the Wall St. Journal published an article about a High School dropout with a clear vision of his future and how to succeed. That may sound like an oxymoron; but it’s not. We all know that the cost of a college degree is unaffordable for many and that many well-educated 20-somethings find themselves underemployed. That business degree from no-name university doesn’t get us the dream job we thought it would. The young man featured in the article had decided to be a welder.
Welding may sound fairly simple, if a bit dangerous. However, in the modern age, knowledge of metallurgy and physics is required. A welder needs to be able to read and interpret blueprints and creatively solve problems.
A welder doesn’t need a college degree. He or she needs specific training.
The mainstream press has finally caught up.
In a post to this blog last year (Don’t Send Your Kids toCollege), I described programs developed by local governments, employers and community colleges that are designed to train students to work in modern, automated factories and oil fields (where welders are much in demand). Earlier I had written about the apprenticeship model and programs to make it work in this country (Is the Education We Want, the Education We Need?).
These nascent models are challenging the existing paradigm. Four-year college may not be the best course for all; and, the free market is providing an alternative. It’s creative destruction at its best.
Colleges have begun to adapt. Non-profit corporations like Coursera, Udacity and edX have created Massive On-line Open Courses (MOOC’s) that deliver the course content of leading academics to thousands of students. In a world where college students often attend classes on-line while lying in their dorm room beds, do we really need to fund all the overhead of maintaining a college campus?
We take for granted that universities will change their programs to offer the best value for their prospective students. It’s a free market model to which we have become accustomed.
Now, the effort to create great high schools has begun. In study after study, we read how American students are falling behind those in other industrialized countries. Here in Rochester, NY, our inner city schools are ranked among the lowest in the nation in graduation rates and demonstrated proficiency upon graduation.
Can the free market provide a solution?
This fall, inner city families will have a choice of 18 charter schools to which they can send their children. Non-profit corporations, like e3 Rochester, have responded to the need to develop a highly qualified workforce to work in 21st Century workplaces by creating competition to the public school system.
Charter schools are very controversial. Free public education is embedded in American life. And, we have become accustomed to having it provided by the government. It was promoted in the Virginia Commonwealth by James Madison before the American Revolution and by George Washington in his farewell address in 1796. And, it’s fair to say that not all charter schools live up their billing.
But, the system is failing us – particularly in the inner cities. New York’s state government sends the Rochester school district over $19,000 per student per year. The school district allocates about $13,000 to charter schools for those who opt for that choice. As for the balance – well the taxpayers are covering overhead and salaries for the public school system despite their inability to provide a quality education.
Charter schools are not a panacea. They represent a choice.
Parents who wish to send their children to college have choices. Those who want a college education and who have done well in school can choose among universities -- public and private, large and small. Why shouldn’t they also have a choice of high schools?
WHO WILL LEAD?