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School daze: Rethinking college education 

At some point as a society we are going to have to admit to ourselves that not all kids should go to college.

Billions of tax dollars later, a national study shows that our state public school system, which attempts from kindergarten to push all students toward a college track, utterly fails a large number of students and the state's job market at the same time.

The South now has a serious shortage of workers to fill middle-skills jobs such as medical technicians and computer support workers, the Associated Press reported.

A National Skills Coalition report shows that 51 percent of jobs in the South fall into the "middle-skills" category, requiring education and training beyond high school but less than a four-year degree. In our state, the Associated Press reported, 51 percent of available jobs fall into the middle-skills category, but only 43 percent of job seekers can meet those qualifications.

Despite the recession, the AP adds, Toyota Motors Corp is struggling to find qualified workers to fill jobs. The company needs electricians, skilled maintenance workers and tool-and-die technicians. Some of these jobs pay $50,000 to $75,000 a year, far more than the average starting college graduate makes.

This, like many other fairly easily solvable problems in our society, is the creation of political correctness. It is politically incorrect to believe that some students simply aren't intellectually suited for college — and maybe don't even have a personal desire to go.

Our present education system is based on the belief that everyone must be pounded into the college mold or it would simply be unfair. If they have no desire to go, we believe it's because society didn't provide them with a teacher who inspired them. We obsess about where we as a community failed them.

Then we spend billions trying to close educational gaps between students. And after all that, students leave the public education system largely unqualified for many of the jobs that exist. So they join the army, wait tables or deliver pizzas while Toyota Motors goes nuts looking for qualified workers for jobs that pay more than twice as much.

Why can't we track capable kids into these sorts of professions? Why must another generation of kids who might really enjoy a job as a technical assistant be made to feel inadequate because they struggle to master material they just don't have an aptitude for, or even an interest in? And why do we assume that offering a kid a technical track somehow amounts to shortchanging him out of the four-year degree he could have had? How do we know that tool-and-die technician won't end up starting his own company with branches in four states? It happens all the time.

When I blogged about this, I got surprising responses from college graduates, too. One man who had crammed himself into the professional mold wished he'd done what he'd really wanted, which was to become an auto mechanic. In his 50s, he still regrets it.

Instead of all that teaching to the test and measuring entire schools by a single academic standard — how they score on the test — why not use some of that time and money to test kids to see where their capabilities lie? Why not teach those who will never be college material the tool-and-die trade for two years starting in high school?

And speaking of college, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates is on to something. The days of middle class families paying $200,000 to send their kid to a brick-and-mortar college so that every liberal arts professor can have tenure must end.

Gates wants many students of the future to go to college online for $2,000 a year, not $20,000, and he has been donating money to make it happen. The brick-and-mortar college system shouldn't end completely. Those on a science track will still need a place to show up physically for labs. The scientific research that colleges and universities churn out is critical.

But for liberal arts? Parents must demand that more college degrees be offered online as on option by serious institutions like our state schools. Taxpayers must demand it, too. We just can't afford this educational mess anymore. Gates says it is terribly inefficient. I agree.

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