College education in the United States is expensive and forces many people to live in debt for years after they graduate. However, the alternative to this is a low-paying job that is typically the only option for high school graduates with no specific marketable skills or experience. This issue is not only an education system problem because providing professional training to students would contribute to having a strong middle class in the United States. The policymakers and educators have to adjust the education system in the United States to give high school students more options to find good-paying jobs in case they choose not to enroll in a college.
Background of the Problem
First and foremost, the cost of college education in the United States is high, which forces many students to take loans or avoid continuing their education. According to Bustamante (2019), “the cost of college tuition has continuously increased, by 1375% since 1978” (para. 20). There are two implications to this fact, first is that many college graduates spend a substantial amount of their income to pay off this debt for years after graduating. Secondly, some high school graduates are discouraged from obtaining a college diploma due to high costs. The second group, however, does not have a valid option that would allow them to earn enough money to support themselves since there is a significant gap in the salaries of people with and without a diploma.
The college dropout rates and unemployment rates in the United States are high as well. According to the 2018 data, 31% percent of high school graduates did not continue their education, while only 84% of high school students nationally graduated (Bustamante, 2019). As for college dropout rates, 40% of students never finish their studies, and most of them leave college after their sophomore year (Bustamante, 2019). Hence, the rates of students leaving college or not obtaining any degree in the United States are high.
The existing education system and employment market encouraged students to obtain degrees. However, not everyone is capable of achieving this. Moreover, Seeling (2020) argues that “billions of dollars have enhanced opportunities for the best students at the cost of opportunities for struggling students” (para. 3). This issue is the result of the education reform that helps students who prosper academically but fails to address the competencies that other students will need in the future. Hence, students that chose not to attend college dropped out or had low scores on tests are faced with serious employment issues because they do not develop essential and marketable skills that would allow them to find job opportunities.
Not every high school graduate wants to attend college or has the necessary knowledge and skill to successfully complete such a program. However, this is the only way for graduates to earn enough money because even jobs for non-qualified professionals require a certificate (Bustamante, 2019). Moreover, those jobs, on average, have lesser salaries when compared to jobs offered to college graduates. Seeling (2020) notes that over the last years, the gap between top-performing students and worst-performing students, based on the national testing scores, is widening. This means that students who rank among the 10th percentile on standardized tests continue to improve their skills, while something affects the motivation and capabilities of students in the lowest percentile. This is despite the fact that the United States government spends billions on education (Seeling, 2020). However, the purpose of education is to prepare students for their future, either for college or for having a job, and the existing system fails to address the second factor.
The first option is for policymakers and the community to avoid addressing this problem. In this case, it is possible that the dropout statistics that Bustamante (2019) presents, the number of unemployed high school graduates, and the test scores of some students will continue to decrease. From the perspective of the community and society, the large number of students who either struggle in college or choose to not attend it and revert to a low-paying job has an adverse impact on the well-being of these people and their contribution to the community. Moreover, from an economic perspective, the low wages of high school graduates result in them spending less money on essential goods.
Factually, there is a substantial gap between the salaries of college graduates and individuals with high school diplomas only. The report by Bustamante (2019) shows that a high school graduate earns a wage of $25,000 less per year when compared to a person with a college degree. This is a significant difference in income levels creating an economic gap between graduates and non-graduates. Moreover, the lack of a college degree means a “higher chance of becoming unemployed and fewer opportunities for jobs” (Bustamante, 2019, para. 30). Interestingly, college dropouts earn less than high school graduates with a vocational training certificate, on average by $4 (Bustamante, 2019). Hence, ignoring the problem means that millions of high school graduates will continue to earn minimum wage or be unemployed, which will affect society unfavorably.
The second option is the reform of the high school system, with the focus on skills and training that graduates will be able to use in their resumes. This new system will provide high school students in their second year of studies with a choice—pursue a path that will prepare them for college or choose a trade school. Vocational training, as shown in the research by Chea and Huijsmans (2018), helps students improve not only their skills but also enhance their motivation for work. Moreover, these programs are especially beneficial for students from disadvantaged and rural areas. Chea and Huijsmans (2018) focused their studies on two population groups, students living in rural and urban areas, and concluded that vocational programs affect these children by motivating them to “become someone” (p. 39). Moreover, the majority of these youth acquire job-related skills through informal training despite the fact that formal programs are more effective. Hence, vocational programs have a variety of positive effects on the student’s motivation and development.
The best solution is to provide students with choice and the ability to support themselves after they finish their studies. Option two addresses this because individuals who have a specific passion or interest, for example, medicine, will be able to study with a focus on college preparation. Others who are unsure what degree they want to pursue will learn a skill or a trade that will allow them to earn decent money after they graduate from high school. Moreover, by having a good salary, these former students will be able to save up for a college preparation course and for their future studies in case they decide to go to college. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (n.d.), vocational education has been legally defined in the 1990 Perkins Act. It is a standardized program that prepares students for paid or unpaid work by teaching them marketable skills based on the demands of the economy. Moreover, Barrick (2019) argues that such programs existed in the state since the 1960s, aiming to provide students with skills to prepare them to work in fields such as agriculture. The main focus of these programs is providing students with competencies they can use for a job.
Arguments Against the Solution
The downsides of the reform are the costs of implementation and the financing. However, considering that UNESCO recognizes the changing demand of the labor market and the growing gap between students and their achievements, this investment is necessary (Chea & Huijsmans, 2018). Additionally, this will require changes in policies and curriculum that may be an inconvenience for educators and government officials.
The high school system should prepare students for success in later life. However, currently, it only helps promote the students who perform well academically because they are provided with more opportunities to learn and attend a college and obtain a well-paid job. Moreover, this system is designed to encourage students to pursue engineering, law, medicine, or another degree. However, not everyone has a predisposition for these jobs, and some students would contribute more to their communities and the national economy by having jobs that require vocational training. Hence, the solution to this issue is to offer high school students a choice between two paths—college preparation or vocational training, to prepare both groups for success.
In summary, the education system in the United States does not prepare high school students for adult life where they have to find a job and provide for themselves. The professionals without a diploma earn on average $25,000 per year less when compared to college graduates. Moreover, there is a high percentage of college dropouts who also do not possess specific marketable skills and struggle to earn a good salary. This lack of marketable skills and low wages create a community issue and a greater economic problem because these students’ earnings place them below the middle-class level. The best way to address this issue is to give high school students an opportunity to participate in vocational training.
Barrick, R.K. (2017). Competency-based Education in the United States. In M. Mulder (Ed.), Competence-based vocational and professional education (pp. 255-272). Springer.
Bustamante, J. (2019). College dropout rates. Education Data. Web.
Chea, L. & Huijsmans, R. (2018). Rural youth and urban-based vocational training: Gender, space and aspiring to “become someone.” Children’s Geographies, 16(1), 39-52. Web.
National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). Vocational education in the United States: The early 1990s. Web.
Seeling, M. A. (2020). How 20 years of education reform has created greater inequality. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Web.