Does everyone need a college degree?
Does everyone need a college degree? is a well-written article on a study of the US education system, and how badly broken it is. It touches on some things which have been floating around a while in the econo- and political blogs. It's worth a read, but I think that it misses a few bigger picture issues, many of which are related to race-to-the-bottom offshoring and, more importantly now, increasing automation:
- Helping people make the connection between higher education and "what they want to do in the future." What people "want to do" may be jobs that do not pay enough to support a living or have disappeared/are on the verge of disappearing. This is made worse by the fact that jobs that seem stable right now may be gone in just a few years. "Making the connection" to something that doesn't/won't exist isn't very useful. It's sometimes hard to predict what's going to be in demand next, but the whole "mess around for years, read the BLS site after they've figured out the next big thing 5 years after it actually starts, then race back to college and incur massive amounts of debt trying to catch up and by the time you're done the industry/job is gone" "system" is just not working.
- Job training for "middle skill" jobs has the same issue as the item above. Are these jobs really safe? Sure, they are hard to offshore, but they too can ultimately be automated, and even if they can't anytime soon, just how many electricians can a country support? This really needs to be thought through.
- Finally, what we really need is to do some more serious big thinking about more than "work", which is too narrow now. We need to figure how how we're going to "occupy" people in the transition from post-industrial/service/information technology society to a roboticized, post-scarcity, arts and leisure society. If handled poorly, "social unrest", mass protests, and outright violence may be become a regular part of the landscape, what with millions of always-idle, impoverished people just sitting on the sidelines, ignored. How long could this last? One hundred years, perhaps? That's a long time to have constant social upheaval.
Of course, this is all from the purely shorter-term economic cost-benefit perspective. A highly educated workforce is extremely valuable for both a properly functioning liberal democracy, and for an innovative society. With a universal, free, distance-learning focused higher education system, this calculus changes a great deal. We should strive for this.