3 min read
Not exactly on the cutting edge, the New York Times "Styles" section this week includes a lengthy article about kids opting out of college. Following in the steps of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, a bunch of young, tech-savvy, and mostly upper-middle-class high school students decided to move right out to Silicon Valley or some similarly hip location where they can launch their own company. Take Benjamin Goering:

Two years ago, Mr. Goering was a sophomore at the University of Kansas, studying computer science and philosophy and feeling frustrated in crowded lecture halls where the professors did not even know his name.

“I wanted to make Web experiences,” said Mr. Goering, now 22, and create “tools that make the lives of others better.”

So in the spring of 2010, Mr. Goering . . . dropped out of college and moved to San Francisco to make his mark. He got a job as a software engineer at a social-software company, Livefyre, run by a college dropout, where the chief technology officer at the time and a lead engineer were also dropouts. None were sheepish about their lack of a diploma. Rather, they were proud of their real-life lessons on the job.

Since 2010, when venture capitalist and PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel began paying young people $100,000 to drop out of college (or not enroll at all) in order to come out to California and work in some form of tech industry, stories about upper class, well-educated kids opting out of college have been everywhere. College tuition isn't worth it. Why waste the money, they say. Why not get out there now while the getting is good, while I have this great idea?

Of course, everyone knows that if things don't work out, these kids could end up back in college and be none the worse for the wear. But what about kids further down the economic ladder? Those students are also finding themselves worried at the prospect of spending all that money on higher education with little guarantee of employment at the other end. But their alternatives are much more limited. They probably did not attend a high school that gave them the kind of knowledge to go strike out on their own to create an iPhone app. And if they don't go to college, their likely income will be much smaller over the course of their lifetime.

College diplomas may not do much else, but they are a ticket to the middle class, a stamp of approval that you have showed up on time to class, can hold some responsibility and know how to act in a meeting. Unfortunately, beyond that the education you receive in college may have little relevance to your job. People may go to a community college and take courses like "Introduction to Sociology" and "Women's Studies" and "Criminal Justice" but what they really want is a skilled job with a local manufacturer.

There is good news on this front, according to an extensive article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week. The Chronicle reports a rise in apprenticeships in the U.S., which allow students to both enroll in postsecondary school and do skilled work at a partner company. Unlike most internship programs which prohibit paying students if they are going to get course credit, these programs pay students for time they put in at the company, while at the same time helping them work toward a degree. Take Michael Aguilera:

For the past year, Mr. Aguilera has combined his studies for a two-year electrical-engineering degree with shift work, up to 25 hours a week, scheduled to accommodate his college responsibilities, at BMW's Spartanburg plant. . . .

Such close connections between industry and academe, in which students simultaneously train and study, are gaining ground in the United States. Modeled after apprenticeship programs common in Northern Europe, most notably in Germany, they offer a possible solution to a problem that continues to vex the United States: a mismatch between what students are learning in the classroom and what employers say they need.

Even as U.S. unemployment figures remain stubbornly high, manufacturing facilities like BMW's, which rely on workers with advanced technical skills, have difficulty filling positions.

These apprenticeships are not a way of skipping college altogether but they are allowing people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds to get more of what they need out of higher education.

1 thought on “Alternatives to college — for the rich and the poor”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *