Category Archives: Financial Crisis

Education Reform and the Over-Inflated, Over-Rated 4-year College Degree

by Christina Ivazes  

 The current state of the US economy, our unskilled labor force, the need for educational reform, and the skyrocketing costs of a college education demand we be smart and efficient about solutions that affect and connect all of the above. Perhaps a better strategy is to back away from the ideal that every American should go to college. Yes, we can all agree that every American should have the opportunity to go to college if they choose. However, to give our students and our nation the best educated and skilled workforce, we should not focus on every American going to college, but first, on every American graduating from high school with two years of career training. This pragmatic strategy offers numerous benefits to our country. 

vh   By becoming more efficient and effective in preparing students for the real world and college, the US will save money and jobs. In 2010, The Fiscal Times reports, “just 56 percent of those who enroll in a four-year college earn a bachelor’s degree…Some students drop out because of the trouble paying the cost—the average college debt upon graduation is a whopping $24,000” (Reynolds Lewis). According to the U.S. Dept. of Education Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the cost of a four-year college education is from $18,900 to $35,500 and rising. We also know that these quotes are a low-average and not really what a four-year is typically costing our college graduates, where $50-$100,000 is a more common estimate today in 2011. And graduation does not necessarily equate employment as we see with a glut of unemployed college graduates today weighed down with inflated student loan and credit card debt. There are jobs however, that are immune to outsourcing and which do not warrant an expensive four-year degree.

Secondary and post-secondary vocational and technical training programs are historically lower in cost with competitive salaries to those earned from four-year college degrees. Matthew B. Crawford advocates for the many benefits of trade-based training in his bookShop Class as Soulcraft, “You’re likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than as a cubicle-dwelling tender of information system or low-level “creative” (53). The Houston Chronicle published an article supporting Crawford’s concept stating, “Mechanics of all types are in high demand and can command a high hourly wage… Many blue collar jobs require training through apprenticeships or vocational training programs and others may require on-the-job training or passing an aptitude test prior to employment” (Nielson). This is not a proposal to eliminate the college track for high school students in America.

Shouldn’t we beg the questions: Why are we so single tracked about how to create a productive & competitive job force? And, shouldn’t we think about downsizing the cost of education along with our lifestyles? The IES reports that in 2008, earnings for an employed four-year college graduate are on average of $55,000/males, $45,000/females per year. Compare the costly four-year college degree with training and apprenticeship (which can begin as a junior in high school) for an electrician who can earn from $34,000 and upwards with no student loan debt with just two more years of post-secondary training for $400-$1000/yr. “Semi-truck drivers…start out making $50,000 annually…and only requires about four weeks of training to obtain a license” (Nielson). Debt free high school training in the trades or technology/health careers can yield from $34,000-$50,000+ per year. Another pragmatic idea Crawford suggests is “even if you do go to college, learn a trade in the summers” (53).    By increasing high school career training programs, we can create a stronger buy-in for students, reducing training costs while also reducing the costs of high school dropouts for our society.

cgh  The costs of high school dropouts are far-reaching beyond the costs of college dropouts. According to the 2007 report The Economic Losses from High School Drop-outs in California, the significant impact from high school dropouts come from lost tax revenue, Medical and Medicare expenditures, fiscal costs to fight crime, prosecute and incarcerate felons, and increased assistance for both felons and their families. “The economic magnitudes are substantial” (2 Belfield, Levin). After deducting the cost of education, the average total lifetime social gains for a high school graduate is $391,910 per graduate in the State of California, with the savings for black males being the highest at $681,130 (Table 18, Belfield and Levin). My point is not to stereotype but to acknowledge that we need to do everything in our capacity to invest in our high school students to become ready employable adults and/or ready for college, not inmates and/or recruits for drug cartels.

Career and technical training can be a ray of hope for all high school students, not just the disenchanted. Crawford makes a strong case in favor of the trades in Shop Class as Soulcraft, including his highlight on their little recognized intellectual merit, “I quickly realized there was more thinking going on in the bike shop than in my previous job at the think tank” (27). With a PhD. he describes a collegiate fall from grace as a blessing because it led him back to his original high school training as a motorcycle mechanic.  Crawford describes his own cognitive journey as well as those of other tradesmen he interviewed. The conclusion is worth a new focal point in our education reform. In Crawford’s view “Given the intrinsic richness of manual work— cognitively, socially, and in its broader psychic appeal—the question becomes why it has suffered such a devaluation as a component of education” (27). Some may view this idea as undermining a college education, but what Crawford is really pointing out is that “Practical know-how… is always tied to the experience of a particular person. It can’t be downloaded, it can only be lived” (162). Children and teenagers have always responded positively to the value of hands-on learning, especially when it has a practical application in their lives.

At the age of 16, a teenager’s cognitive maturity starts him or her on the path towards the reality of the adult world and all that entails. You may wonder what cognitive maturity has to do with a broad-based high school career and technical training program, but if students are struggling in school, have no money or family support for college, many see no future in the value of their junior and senior years. Challenged students need full engagement to prevent them from becoming avoidable statistics. By focusing on Math and English proficiency by the end of sophomore year, juniors and seniors can take core subjects and science classes with their half day of training courses to ensure they are ‘college ready’ at graduation. This schedule does not limit a student’s education, it enhances it by making it relevant; it prepares the student both for life and for college should they choose to attend.

 cvb  Though career and technical training in high school is not the solution for every student, it can serve a healthy percentage of our labor force. Some model programs in the US illustrate the potential of every high school, such as the Howard High School of Technology in Delaware.  The 2010 report by the Delaware Department of Education declares, “Howard has a high graduation rate (97 percent) and daily attendance rate (95 percent) and a low serious infraction rate….In addition to an academic program, Howard students choose one of the following career pathways: finance and business; carpentry; computer network administration; cosmetology; culinary arts; dental assisting; electrical trades; engine technology; legal administrative assisting; medical assisting; nursing technology; public service; or structural steel detailing.”  This richly diverse program serves a variety of student and community needs. It is a model that deserves replication.

There are still many questions to address in more detail before programs like Howard can be implemented effectively across America.  Questions like: How will we pay for this?  How can we make a solid case for the benefits of high school career training that will not be sabotaged by budget cuts every time state and federal revenues fluctuate? How can we refocus dollars from punitive institutions to education so we can create a higher skilled work force, reduce high school dropouts and prison populations while also reducing student loan and credit card debt? The answers to these questions and are necessary for the design of lasting and effective education reform that will strengthen our economy and society.  Of course, to change the current system, we may also have to challenge for profit college and prison industries that have benefitted by the shrinking of high school career education in the U.S., but it’s a challenge worth taking up.

Work cited

Belfield, Clive R. and Henry M. Levin. “The Economic Losses From High School Dropouts in California.” University of California, Santa Barbara: California Dropout Research Project Report #1, August 2007. PDF.(Table 18) Web. 7 April 2011.

Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class as Soulcraft. New York: The Penguin Press. 2009. Print.

Delaware Department of Education. “Delaware Partnership Zone: Howard High School of Technology.” PDF. 2010. 21 April 2011.

Nielson, Lisa. “Highest Demand Blue Collar Careers.” The Houston Chronicle. 2011. Web. 7 April 2011.

Reynolds Lewis, Katherine. “High College Dropout Rate Threatens US Growth.” The Fiscal Times. October 28, 2010. Web. 22 April 2011.

 Wei, Christina Chang. “What is the Price of College?” U.S. Department of Education. December, 2010. PDF. (Table 1). Web. 7 April 2011.






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If Bush Tax Cuts are so great, Where Are All of the Jobs They Are Supposed to Create?



The short term memory of the American public often needs a jolt of history and there has  never been a more important moment than now to exterminate our amnesia. I would like to offer a view of the situation as I saw it evolving during the last administration.  People on Main Street were suffering from the toxic effects of the Bush administration’s economic policies much earlier than their radioactivity hit Wall Street and other investors.

For people on Main Street it went something like the chronological list below combined with imagined (though probably not too far from the truth) conversations among President Bush’s string pullers and other Republican power players:

• 1999-2000 The economy continues to soften after the dot-com bust.  
• Wages flatten
• September 11, 2001
• Voila’ a distraction from our economic woes
• A great way to capitalize on this American rally & create more profit for our wealthy base is to ramp up the war machine
• Anyone who opposes war becomes unpatriotic
• Go to war & keep the American public in a state of fear
• Don’t let the public see the real cost of the war by creating tax cuts for everyone
• Make sure the public believes that the tax cuts for the wealthy will stimulate jobs
• When this doesn’t work, hide the fact by lowering interest rates
• Promote “It’s patriotic to shop.”
• As Americans get a little more money in their hands & a lot more credit available to borrow, everyone experiences the illusion of wealth.
• Even the poorest Americans are swept up in the moment with credit they never had before!
• Poor people in America have big, shiny trucks, SUV’s & Hummers & own homes for the first time. Magically, many first time homebuyers even qualify for homes big enough for 3 families, complete with 3 car garages.
• Regulators turn a blind eye so a building boom can further disguise the true cost of the war and real weakness of our economy, just until the elite & savvy base can quadruple their wealth.
• All that matters is whether housing starts & the DOW are up; just hide the rest.
• Tax breaks for the rich are tasty as regulators sleep. The real clever rich hide more money in Swiss banks so they don’t have to pay taxes at all. This party looks like it will never end.
• Deficit grows further (but the true cost of the war still is not disclosed in the Bush budget; private contractors create an unknown factor that works to the advantage of the Bush policies).
• Let’s distract further and go after Saddam Hussein; we can buy a few more years from this one and no one will notice whether or not we find Osama Bin Laden if we catch Saddam Hussein.
• People protest
• Interest rates drop further.
• Let now become the best time to buy a house.
• It’s the best time to buy a big, new car.
“An Inconvenient Truth” is released.
• Consumerism starts to wane as conservation efforts multiply.
• Economic woes continue as the bubble starts to burst & consumers realize that too much debt & waste is not the key to happiness.
• Bush administration ignores the economic warnings, just until they get enough of that wealth stashed away.
• Election of 2008 takes place.
• Let the Democrats deal with this & let’s make sure they fall flat on their faces by depending on the American short-term memory.
• Obama reveals the true cost of war.
• Obama continues to shed light on the true American problems, removing the veil of illusion. (Of course, Obama cannot help but have some of the problem makers work with him to untangle the mess they made.)
.• Republicans find the best strategy to channel the anger at the true devastation to the American economy is to again, use distraction by igniting the witch hunt against Obama.
• Let’s make Obama the problem; let’s hide what really went on by allowing the Tea Party voices to drown out the truth once again. Fox News will help, which they do!
• Damn- we’re good!
• The perfect storm for the 2010 election now that the Democrats have been successfully characterized as the problem.
• And on and on and on………

So, my question is:


They never were meant to create jobs as much as they were meant to extend the free ride for those at the top in an act of  The Base self-preservation, protecting  investments with no strings attached. These tax cuts encouraged investors to seek haven outside the U.S. and outsource to increase profits.  Instead of job creation, tax cuts for the rich that are still in effect today continue the lifestyles of these rich and famous, like personal luxuries shown on the Today Show recently where $75,000 a pop did not seem to make these tax cut beneficiaries think much about job creation: “Gone in 180 Seconds” is how Neiman-Marcus  the run on 100 specially outfitted 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertibles from the luxury department store’s annual Christmas catalog.

So, for anyone on the fence about a candidate and all others, including  Tea Party candidates and Republicans who think that trickle down really works, think again! These policies have not worked. If they have, WHERE ARE ALL OF THOSE JOBS?  Perhaps the Fair Tax is what we need!

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