College becoming integral part of American Dream


David Delgado//The Daily Cougar

Making college mandatory may be inevitable. Richard Reeves and Quentin Karpilow, researchers of economic mobility for the Center on Children of Families, cite a frightening disparity of income between high school and college graduates in their article for the Brookings Institution, “Is It Time for K-16?”

“In today’s economy, a high school diploma is not enough,” according to the article. “Now, more than ever, college is the gateway to the American Dream.”

A college degree, despite its presumed subjective or objective needlessness, is preferred by most companies that pay $40,000 and above. Also, according to a Georgetown University study, even a dishwasher with a degree will earn 83 percent more than one without, and a plumber with a degree earns 39 percent more.

But enacting compulsory K-16 education may draw skepticism from those who feel placing an emphasis on college draws attention away from millions of other jobs.

Mike Rowe, host of the TV series “Dirty Jobs,” is an outspoken proponent of highly skilled trades. His website, profoundlydisconnected.com, denounces the focus on college: “The goal of Profoundly Disconnected is to challenge the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success,” it says.

Rowe said millions of jobs are not being filled because young folks are constrained by the idea that college is their only option.

One doesn’t often hear about someone passionately pursuing a skilled trade over college, and in many upper-middle class families, there’d be an underlying shame in proclaiming such a pursuit.

Think about what jobs are considered to relate to the “American Dream,” and jobs such as lawyer, doctor, marketing wiz or CEO spring to mind. But if someone’s dream was to become a power line technician, it’d probably be assumed the person failed at a different pursuit and is now chasing mediocrity.

Blue-collar work is not something typically desired as the first option. Thus, jobs like doctor or lawyer — which are deemed “sophisticated” trades, as they go through rigorous training and, in the end, receive a certificate that validates their ability — are held in higher regard. It’s unfortunate, but the brawny nature of trade careers overshadows their very necessitous intellectual aspects.

What Reeves, Karpilow and Rowe all touch upon, however, is the fiscal path to success. Yes, money is integral to living a comfortable life. And to Reeves and Karpilow’s credit, their main concern was low-income students’ access to schooling so they might climb the social ladder.

However, higher education is not only important for financial reasons. There is a cultural awakening that occurs upon entering college. Not only do youths from varying worlds collide, but one is also exposed to more complex forms of education.

“The humanities are a foundation for getting along in the world, for thinking, for learning to reflect on the world instead of just reacting to whatever force is turned against you,” said writer and social critic Earl Shorris in his essay “On the uses of a liberal education: 2. As a weapon in the hands of the restless poor.”

Shorris created The Clemente Course in Humanities. It was his effort to bring college-level courses to impoverished kids. Shorris was a firm believer that, to be on par with the rich, one had to be educated like the rich.

However, his ultimate goal was not to simply give students the tools to relieve themselves of their squalid economic conditions — he wanted to enrich their spirits.

“Will the humanities make you rich? Yes. Absolutely,” Shorris said. “But not in terms of money. In terms of life.”

Degrees in such fields as philosophy, anthropology, sociology and the fine arts are laughed at for their money-making impotence. But what needs to be fully recognized is the self-refinement that these areas of study provide.

Even “academic incompatibilists” — those who can’t seem to get into the groove of college life — would benefit from exposure to the humanities. And consequently, even if they drop out, they would benefit society.

Students develop tunnel vision in their efforts to graduate. Reflection, self-awareness and any type of introspection is put on the back burner until that day when everything seems to have fallen apart and all that’s left is one’s thoughts.

At the root of this zombified quest is the attainment of the American Dream, which, if scrutinized, often revolves around a surplus of money.

But despite the worship of monetary excess, the sobering fact remains that — skilled trades aside — college will only become more and more important, just as high school became more and more important in the early 20th century, eventually causing K-12 education to be mandatory.

At minimum, a college degree is tangible evidence that an individual stuck with something for several years and finished it. This alone is enough to attract employers — tipping the scales to favor graduates over non-graduates.

So unless a student finds solace in a highly skilled trade as Mike Rowe suggests, or unless a student is even one-fourth as clever as Mark Zuckerberg or Matt Mullenweg — the UH dropout who created WordPress — it seems likely that a college degree will be necessary for future financial stability.

Thus, mandatory K-16 implementation may not be the worst thing in the world.

Opinion columnist Marcus Arceneaux is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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