Today Guv Jen gives her sixth State of the State address. One of the misbegotten notions she will be peddling is that getting more kids into college will help to reverse Michigan's economic decline. To that end, according to the Grand Rapids Press, she will pitch a new $300 million taxpayer fund to replace "industrial-model" high schools with those offering study "relevant to the real world". That relevance is essentially college prep, as explained by Governor Granholm's education advisor Chuck Wilbur: "[She] believes that to diversify Michigan's economy and create jobs, we have to transform our schools so that every Michigan student can attend a high school that prepares them for success in college and in the workplace."
To say the least, that puts the cart before the horse when it comes to building new businesses. Exactly how pushing more and more kids into college to get degrees for jobs that don't exist in Michigan, because the businesses that would provide those jobs don't exist in Michigan, will make those businesses suddenly appear in Michigan is not clear. Granted, companies occasionally move into areas to take advantage of workforces that have characteristics well-suited to their requirements, but it is hardly the rule for the formation of new businesses. And to the extent that it does happen, it is because that area has a well-established reputation for a particular type of workforce, which is acquired over a period of decades not a few years.
So Granholm's new education program isn't going to turn around the Michigan economy. What it would do is exacerbate the trend of spreading out what students used to learn in twelve years over sixteen or more years now. Plus it would further gut vocational training at the high school level, shoving it off to tuition-greedy colleges more than happy to sell degrees for what had been learned through apprenticeships and OJT, and then putting our public high schools at the service of colleges as student prep factories for them.
There is no argument that college is the right path for a genuine liberal education or for training in a true profession (e.g., medicine or the law). However, a college degree is fool's gold for those looking for jobs in sales, teaching, journalism, business management, and the myriad of other careers that have become ersatz professions because colleges have successfully persuaded students, parents, and employers that a prospective employee is not qualified without that degree. The end result is that most kids who get a college degree today have nothing but an expensive credential that lands them a job that any high school graduate could have gotten a generation ago -- WITHOUT the heavy burden of paying back a student loan. On top of all this, college-level training teaches kids even less than what they used to learn through high school vocational classes, apprenticeships, and job experience.
We are faced with serious, fundamental problems in education today. Huge amounts of taxpayer dollars are wasted to provide educrats with sinecures who in return have wrecked the education of our children at all levels. An excellent study by the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy on how this has happened in higher education by the overselling of college is available here. (Thanks to the Maverick Philosopher for posting on this interesting paper.)