In a story that rings a bit of The Emperor's New Clothes, a young girl from Missouri by the name of Kate Hodges is taking her 3.5 high school GPA and her college savings fund and heading off to Oklahoma … to go to welding school. Sounds like a career in manufacturing awaits young Ms Hodges – good for her; good for manufacturing.
Her family is none too thrilled. Apparently the President doesn't approve either. "President Barack Obama wants to restore the country's status as the world leader in the proportion of citizens with college degrees." The question that Ms. Hodges apparently asked and didn't get much of an answer to, and the question that should be asked of Mr. Obama and a lot of people is, "why?" How are we, as a nation, and a kid, as an individual, better off by pushing that kid into getting a degree in Classical Studies, for instance, than becoming a certified welder?
Just as the tailor in the Emperor's New Clothes was the only one to finally state the obvious – that the king was naked – it is good to ask the question how everyone is better off by having a degree – in anything – we just want everyone to get a degree from somewhere in something – and why?
An economics professor from Ohio U opens up a real can of worms when he points out that the number of jobs requiring a degree doesn't reach the number of kids who get degrees every year, which should come as no big surprise, and then commits heresy in many circles when he says, " If people want to go out and get a master's degree in history and then cut down trees for a living, that's fine, but I don't think the public should be subsidizing it." That takes quite a bit of integrity on his part since the need for economics professors like him would drop significantly if we only subsidized economics majors to the extent that we really need economists.
It seems to me that it would make a great deal of sense to cut down on the number of college grants doled out, focus them into needed professions, and make each grant worth more. Give out 50,000 grants for kids majoring in engineering, for instance, but only 1,000 for history majors. Make grants available for medical professionals, but not so much for philosophers. Most important, make education for kids who want to go into technical programs like Kate's welding school easy and cheap.
We collectively wring our hands at why we don't have enough people knowledgeable in the tough subjects – science and engineering, medicine and physics - then turn around and underwrite kids majoring in areas we don't need and in which they won't find work.
I doubt young Kate grappled with any of these big issues. More likely she just likes welding, and she is bright enough to figure out that her welding cert is very likely to land her a good job; while her high school classmates who go off to college for no reason other than to go to college are likely to be over-qualified sales staff in some lawn and garden center somewhere when they get out.
Regardless of the answer and the proper course for the country as a whole, and the proper use of tax dollars, I say, "Thanks Kate", for challenging the status quo and having the courage to ask the question the adults should have been asking all along – why should we spend our national treasure and strong arm our young people in a collective effort to be the "world leader in the proportion of citizens with college degrees"? Shouldn't we be the world leader in the proportion of people with education that aligns with both their economic and personal interests, and our economic and national needs?