In Louisiana (and U.S.), a Need for More Two-Year College Grads

By September 30, 2009Education and Training

From The Associated Press, “Labor agency: La. needs more 2-year college grads“:

BATON ROUGE, La. —Suggestions from a Jindal administration official Monday that Louisiana has a “surplus” of four-year college degrees rankled members of a commission looking at ways to overhaul the state’s public college systems.

Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the state’s labor department, told the commission that Louisiana needs more students enrolled in — and graduating from — vocational training and community college programs.

Eysink said there are more graduates with four-year college degrees than the state can employ in their fields while the state has a shortage of workers needed for skilled labor jobs. He presented occupational forecasting data that showed the top growth jobs projected for the state included ticket-takers, home health aides, retail salespersons and nurses.

Not sure how that list of jobs in the last sentence was selected. You probably don’t need a two-year degree to be a ticket-taker.

But Eysink and the commission have identified real workforce trends that are affecting students and manufacturers nationwide. Skilled jobs, the kind you find more and more in high-tech manufacturing, often do not require a four-year degree. Two years degrees, vocational certification and apprenticeships can serve students with training that not only leads them into well-compensated careers but also aligns with their individual skills and interests.

In the story, Arits Terrell, chairman of the Louisiana Board of Regents asks, “Can you ever have too many four-year degrees?”

Yes! Of course! In fact, AEI scholar Charles Murray wrote a valuable book on the issue, “Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality.” In a 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “What’s Wrong With Vocational School?,” Murray anticipated Chairman Terrell’s argument:

Large numbers of those who are intellectually qualified for college also do not yearn for four years of college-level courses. They go to college because their parents are paying for it and college is what children of their social class are supposed to do after they finish high school. They may have the ability to understand the material in Economics 1 but they do not want to. They, too, need to learn to make a living–and would do better in vocational training.

Combine those who are unqualified with those who are qualified but not interested, and some large proportion of students on today’s college campuses–probably a majority of them–are looking for something that the four-year college was not designed to provide.

Terrell’s comments could well reflect a common point of view about higher education. To many state officials and people who earn their paychecks from a university system, students equal income. But yes, you can have too many four-year degrees, especially when the degrees serve neither the student nor the demands of the economy.

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