English 1A

Skills Over School

In today’s society no matter what background a person comes from they are encouraged to go to college and...

· 10 min read >

In today’s society no matter what background a person comes from they are encouraged to go to college and earn an education. The push towards college education has always had good intentions. Reid Hoffman states that “Every year, millions of Americans embark on the quest to earn a four-year college degree many motives propel them.” Some of these Americans are not entirely sure why they embark on this four year quest, they are unsure what motives propel them, or why.  They are unsure why they would want the degree, or what they would like to gain from it. People most often study subjects such as math or sciences, but the skill they take away from those subjects is much more: “They go to acquire skills and knowledge from experts in their fields. They go, more generally, to learn how to learn, and to broaden their minds in ways that will help them function as autonomous adults participating fully in the civic life of their country” (Hoffman). It is almost viewed as Un-American to not go to college, because a non-functioning adult is not one who contributes to society; just because a person does not go to college does not mean they will not be a part of the functioning “autonomous adults, participating in the civic life of their country” as Hoffman states. Americans begin an investment in themselves when they go to college. They are trying to make themselves as employable as possible, in hopes to land a job. The problem with college degrees is that the knowledge they acquire in relation to their degree seldom has to do with the job they end up with, while “many employers won’t even grant them an interview for a position as a receptionist or a file clerk unless they have a four-year-degree” (Hoffman). It is thought that this would call for a more intelligent, and productive America. In reality, pushing people towards a college education has gotten rid of key American values, skills, and ideals; this is hurting the American economy. Now more than ever, there has been an emphasis on going to college to get a formal education, and this has led to the decline of participation among students in extracurricular activities, vocational learning, and internships, and this decline has negatively affected American society.

It would be a hard case to argue that a person would need a four-year-degree to pick up a phone or file papers. Employers use the college degree as a mechanism of “weeding out” those whom they assume would have less desirable skills than those who have a college degree. This indicates that employers are not really looking for the knowledge obtained during the years of college, but they are looking for an employee with the skills to obtain a four year degree. Hoffman would argue that, “Equipped with a diploma, a job-seeker broadcasts numerous positive attributes to potential employers” these attributes include the soft skills:  “Perseverance, self-governance, competence in at least one area” (Hoffman). Hoffman would agree that the diploma itself is not valuable, but it is the skills that are required to earn the diploma that hold value. Employers rarely care that a student knows how to calculate the reflections of lenses, or that they can name every part of a plant cell. Employers only really value the skills it took to pass the class; the value does not lie in the knowledge acquired itself. Employers are catching on. “The more employers realize that four-year degrees don’t necessarily guarantee the attributes they value most, the more likely they’ll be to demand a system that does” (Hoffman). Employers are realizing that a degree does not directly reflect good job skills that they are really looking for. Hoffman states that employers are in need of a system that reflects the attributes that they want, and where there is demand, supply is bound to emerge. The supply could be in various forms, such as rebuilding the American educational system, or devising new standardized tests, the possibilities of innovation are endless. College is not the only way to learn these key attributes that employers value most. There are easier, less expensive ways to learn these skills, and those soft skills can be obtained with extracurricular activities, vocational schools, and internships.

Football, soccer, band, and debate team are more than just past times. They are extracurricular activities that have a lasting effect on a student’s impact on American society. Extracurricular can oftentimes be the motivation, or a distraction that a student may need. Russell Cassel realizes the value of extracurricular activities for American students,

Repeated records of high school students across the United States have shown that those students who become heavily involved in extracurricular activities tend to be model students and seldom get involved in delinquency and crime (Cassel).

This quotation speaks great volumes about the value of extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities could provide a child from a broken home, a bad neighborhood, or low economic status, stay away from a life of crime. Cassel also uses the words “model student”, a model student is a student which others look up to, and they often are the high achievers, in and out of school.  Model students are those who carry on their success of their school years into adulthood. So not only do repeated records show extracurricular activities keep young students away from the destructive path of crime, but they change who they are for the better. Extracurricular have great value in terms of skills acquired; from a sport like football, a child has the opportunity to learn life changing skills that would include: teamwork, time management, accountability, and humility. In all aspects extracurricular tend to pave a bright path for a student’s success. When a student is successful in school, it leads to future success in other life aspects.

Not only do students heavily involved in extracurricular activities tend to get better grades, but they often stay out of trouble with the law as a young adult. If a high school student is going to morning weights, after school practice, and practice on Saturday mornings he or she will not have time to be partying, and getting into trouble. It would only make sense that extracurricular activities keep students out of trouble. Extracurricular activities affect a student in those positive ways, but they also have a longer lasting effect on a student’s life: “The real success of students who have participated heavily in extra-curricular activities in the past that have become model citizens” (Cassel). Extracurricular activities turn students into model students, and model students grow into model citizens. Model citizens are more likely to be involved in the community as a whole, and set an example for peers. With more model citizen we can become a model America. These soft skills that extracurricular teach are very desirable in today’s job market as well. The attributes like persistence, collaboration, resilience, accountability, and work ethic, can all be learned from extracurricular activities and applied to a job, relationships, and many other real world situations. With all the great things about extracurricular activities, there has been a sharp decline in participation among students. More students are focusing on grades, and standardized tests so they can get into college. When students fail to be involved in extracurricular activities, and only seek college, they lack some of the fundamental skills that employers are looking for in modern-day employees.

Vocations are another aspect that is being overlooked. Vocations teach direct job skills that can be applied directly to the workforce. When a student goes to college to obtain an English degree, they still have to take math, and science classes to obtain that degree. In regards to vocational school a person is learning all they need to know about a skill or trade, and only what they need to know about that skill or trade. Career Technical Education is a route from high school directly to the workforce, it is a type of vocational school. Career Technical Education is vastly overlooked by high school students: “In a speech at Harvard Graduate School of Education, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lamented that career and technical education has been ‘the neglected stepchild of education reform.’” (“Cut to the Core”). The direct, affordable, sustainable path of Career Technical Education is often overlooked because of the stress to go to college, and to get a degree. There are many misconceptions that people getting a degree may think, a four-year degree is hardly the only path for students, especially in today’s tech-driven economy. “A college degree doesn’t guarantee success,” “and not getting a college degree doesn’t guarantee failure” (“Cut to the Core”). People are afraid to not get a college degree. They are afraid of the stigma put on those to not pursue a college degree. When something like a college degree is put on such a pedestal, the alternatives become branded as inferior,  “Although there has been something of a resurgence of CTE programs in the United States in recent years, the stigma attached to this type of education still exists” (“Cut to the Core”). CTE is an acronym short for Career Technical Education. CTE programs mainly focus on giving student a head start in school, or a career. They prepare students for nursing programs, aviation programs, mechanics classes, and much, much more. They not only help a student prepare for careers and to be more competitive in the educational aspect, but they also give students a chance to get their feet wet and test the waters.

Despite the proven success of CTE programs nationwide, many are still struggling with funding or lack of support–and outdated biases that view CTE programs as vocational and meant to relegate students to second-class citizenship (“Cut to the Core”).

The idea that CTE programs are lacking in support and funding is outrageous. These programs are proven to help students find their way into the job market. These programs are affordable, they take place during high school, they count for credits, look good on a job or college application, and can give students a testing field to see what they like or do not like. It would be far more effective for a student to take up a CTE course, and see what they like, before they spend tens of thousands of dollars and four years trying to obtain a degree when they have no idea whether it suits them or not. Many CTE programs give students the opportunity to go straight from high school to the job market. CTE programs are also a great place to network, and many even offer unpaid and paid internships. Internships are another path that need more recognition.

Internships are also another overlooked opportunity for people looking to enter the job market. With an internship a person can get hands on skill. Internships can also be a valuable part of a resume, even more so than a degree, “employers viewed an internship as the single most important credential for recent grads” (Hoffman). From Hoffman quote above, it can be depicted what really matters to employers, job experience. Job experience is hands on, it is not hypothetical, and it is not beating around the bush. By getting an internship, a young job seeker is getting job experience directly for the job they want to pursue. On the other hand, another young job seeker may go to college and try to pick up those skills that employers value, through a long, expensive process; while one who gets an internship is getting the skills directly through experience, and may even get paid for their internship. This is not to say that an internship is easily accessible for everyone. Bryce would provide a valid counter argument, mentioning “Who, after all, can afford to pay money to work for free” internships often cost money through indirect purchases, such as suits, transportation, and lunches. The opportunity cost is also great, because a person could be spending that time making money.  “Thereby give up the opportunity to work for money during an extended period of weeks and months, as most internships demand? The answer, of course, is the wealthy” (Bryce).  Bryce does have a very good point. Internships can be costly, and hard to find. A person must generally have some sort of connection to land a valuable, worthwhile internship. The wealthy often times do have more connections than their poorer counterparts. Finding an internship is going to be harder for someone from a lower socioeconomic status, but is by no means impossible. By members of high, middle, and low classes in the United States, it is still very apparent that the internship is a wildly overlooked source of education and skills.

Not only is the false narrative of a college degree misleading for those who would be better off choosing vocational schools, internships, or developing soft skills; rushing everyone toward college is hurting the American educational system as a whole. The K-12 system is primarily leaving real education up to secondary educational systems. Rep. Miller would agree that “It is unacceptable that many states have chosen to lower the bar rather than strive for excellence” he continues saying “This means that many students aren’t even expected to rise to meet rigorous standards – they are allowed to linger in a system that doesn’t challenge them to do better” Miller proceeds saying the system “doesn’t help them develop the complex skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the jobs of the future” (Rep. Miller). Miller really hit it on the head with this quote. The modern K-12 system is failing America. Instead of making the children smarter, they chose to make the system easier, so it appears that the children are doing well.  The American educational system is lowering the standards a child is expected to achieve. When the bar is lowered for certain children, it is lowered for all children. Some would contest that this is the reasons for AP classes, but they do not have AP classes in primary school. The educational system is getting so watered down that it is predicted that soon products of the American K-12 system will not be able to attend prestigious American Universities, such as the Ivy Leagues. Part of the reason for this is that the Ivy Leagues and other prestigious schools are in international demand. The US has most of the best colleges in the world, but the students who endure the full educational system fall short of their world competitors. Primarily this would be due to the standards being set low, and students not being ready to move on to these prestigious universities, while foreigners would be prepared to take the spots in those universities. The push for everyone to go to college has done a disservice to those who wish to attend globally competitive universities, and negatively impacts Americans, and the American society as a whole.

If the United States wants to stay globally competitive, they need to reform their educational system. College should not be a place one attends when they do not know what to do with their life. College should also not be put on a pedestal by employers, or students. People need to realize that having a successful career lies in an accumulation of skills that would be useful to employers. These skills can be obtained from: extracurricular activities, job vocations, CTE programs, job internships, or the longer more expensive rout, college. The decline of these programs, and activities has negatively affected Americans individually, because they do not obtain the social, and job skills offered from these programs. America also suffers as a whole, when the push toward college has decreased the job skills needed to make a more productive economy. The educational system also suffers from the push toward college, watering down our educational system to accommodate for those whom would be better off in a vocational school, job internship, or CTE program, affects all who are trying to be an internationally competitive student.


Works Cited

Berry, J. (2012). “The New Wageless”. New Labor Forum, 21(2), 112-115,130. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1016789269?accountid=39859

Cassel, Russell N., et al. “Extracurricular Involvement in High School Produces Honesty and Fair Play Needed to Prevent Delinquency and Crime.” Education 121.2 (2000): 247. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

“Cut to the core: College Readiness vs. Career Training.” (2014). Publishers Weekly, 261(45), 20-n/a. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1623525089?accountid=39859

Hoffman, Reid. “College Diplomas Are Meaningless. This Is How to Fix Them.” NewRepublic.com (15 Sept. 2013). Rpt. in How Valuable Is a College Degree? Ed. Noël Merino. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2016. At Issue. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

Rep. Miller: New Report shows too Many States Weakening Education Standards. (2009, Oct 30). US Fed News Service, Including US State News Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/471672895?accountid=39859

Kelley, Jennie. “Extracurricular Activities Allow Teens to Gain Social Skills.” Can Busy Teens Succeed Academically? Ed. Stefan Kiesbye. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2009. At Issue. Rpt. from “Benefits of Extra-Curricular Activities for Teens.” Helium. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.



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