Reaching an intellectual peak: Should Everyone Go to College?

February 13, 2013 at 1:36 am 4 comments

Ann Sobel has an article in IEEE Computer asking “Should everyone go to College?”  as part of a special issue on education.  Her answer is, “No.”  She might be right, but I disagree with her argument.  For example, below she suggests that students should avoid college if they “have already reached their intellectual peak.” Modern cognitive science suggests that fluid intelligence “peaks” in students’ 20’s, but other forms of intelligence develop and grow throughout one’s life.

I’m particularly concerned about this article appearing in IEEE Computer.  Thinking that high school is enough for a computing job is (a) wrong and (b) counter-productive at the high school level, since it encourages the instruction to be more vocational and less about developing computing concepts that could be used in post-secondary instruction.  I’m particularly worried about what an emphasis on high school computing education means for under-represented minorities.  A high-school only IT job will earn, on average, far less than a college degree IT job.  Emphasizing high school IT jobs may mean trapping more under-represented minorities “in the shallow end.”

Ann identifies several important issues that prevent students from succeeding in college, like lack of adequate preparation and cost.  I see those as challenges to be addressed, not roadblocks.  If the context of the piece is taken seriously (i.e., high school degrees as preparation for jobs like those of IEEE Computer readers), then we have to consider the far more considerable issues of inadequate numbers and preparation for teachers.  We are challenged to produce enough high school teachers to cover Exploring CS or CS:Principles, both of which de-emphasize programming compared to a traditional CS1.  If we wanted students to be ready to get an IT job right out of high school, they better learn some serious vocational computing skills, from network management, to database administration, to low-level coding.  How are we going to develop enough high school teachers to teach all of that?!?

Here’s my bottom-line: “Should everyone go to college?”  If you want a job in computing, yes.

Students can attend a community college to help improve these test scores, but this route doesn’t always work, particularly when students have already reached their intellectual peak. While students have the potential for intellectual growth, if they can’t grow sufficiently, they should be supported in considering myriad rewarding career paths that don’t require a college degree.

via Computing Now | Should Everyone Go to College?.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Shovel Ready or High Tech? | nosacredc0w  |  February 13, 2013 at 5:47 am

    […] Reaching an intellectual peak: Should Everyone Go to College? ( […]

  • 2. Don Davis (@gnu_don)  |  February 13, 2013 at 8:45 am

    Though there is a certain wisdom to the cited blog post, certain troubling classicist elements are embedded within its assumptions. It is one matter to indicate that an undergrad shouldn’t borrow $100K to become a public school teacher, it’s another to lose sight of the fact that education can and does better the lives of many lower SES students. While it’s true that many people over-borrow and over spend for an education that isn’t immediately compensated – for many students from lower SES backgrounds, an education is the ticket that gains them greater social acceptance and career mobility to escape a life of very poorly paid jobs.
    Many students may not benefit financially from such schooling – Red Hat and Cisco certified engineers certainly earn more than many advanced degree holders. Vocational tracts and other career trajectories should certainly be more accepted – as a society there should be less of an assumption that college is the only way. However, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that for many people without the necessary ‘social capital’, it can be near impossible to get into better earning career tracts (those with retirement, health benefits, and salaries beyond sustenance level). Though the original blog post’s author did not contra-indicate any of the aforementioned benefits of education, it is important to note that they can quite easily be interpreted as such and, in turn used to justify a system of economic and educational disparity.
    Furthermore, as the author of this blog points out – there is a qualitative difference in the skills acquired in the course of a CS degree compared to IT certification — or what one might have picked up before graduating high school. One might certainly successfully pursue an IT related career without learning the big ideas. However, some people enjoy the big ideas. Who’s to decide when a child is sixteen, who is entitled to learning about the big ideas or not? Is it based on ‘predilection’ or ‘expressed interest’ which are all grounded in the opportunities and life experiences prior to that moment?

  • 3. nickfalkner  |  February 13, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    I am in furious agreement with you, Mark, but I shall still ramble slightly to explore some of my own concerns.

    I shall be horrifically predictable and comment that there is a great deal of difference between whether everyone _should_ go to college and whether everyone _could_ go to college, especially when one considers that we are assuming that the college one attends is meeting a need at a reasonable standard. “Need” is a funny concept because this is a mash-up of perceived prestige, vocational requirements, accreditation concerns, over-inflation of educational requirements and the desire to just go and study art history (for example).

    Do I believe that everyone needs to go to college and that every job requires it? No. Do I believe that the majority of people would benefit from further education? Well, yes, whether it’s for depth, breadth or a combination. Do I need everyone to do it? No. Would I like it to be available for those who wish to, regardless of their race, gender, wealth and so on? Yes.

    This brings me to the real problem I have with the article: that every ‘characteristic’ is presented as immutable rather than, as you note, something to overcome. “Ability”, “interest” and “over qualification” used to be reasons for keeping girls out of any number of fields – or people of different races. As it turned out, these immutable characteristics were a far better indicator of an assessor’s bias than a student’s ability to benefit from or succeed at tertiary education.

    Again, not everyone needs to go to college but, frankly, if the problem is perception of accumulated debt – that’s a funding issue. If the problem is low usefulness of received degree – that’s a quality issue. The solution is not the ghettisation of certain groups where management by broad policy attempts to replace the actual management of people with specific issues and problems.

    Yes, there are many career paths for success and college is but one of them – but there is a world of difference between choosing not to go to college and being unable to go to college because someone else has determined, for a variety of excellent reasons, that the person you present as at 17 or 18 is a good indicator of how your life will unfold, and hence your ability to benefit from college.

    Most schemes along these lines wave a magic wand that, as Mark notes, pushes all of this content magically back into schools or in a collection of ‘rewarding’ career paths that can, through some mechanism, provide equivalent training to a three-year full time college program. There are examples of programs that do this, or things like this, but a number of the successful professional ones tend to require good study skills and self-discipline and take a very long time because you’re eking out the subjects.

    The article raises a lot of problems and valid concerns but, rather than dealing with detailed solutions, makes too much of the intrinsic quality of the student for my taste. If we are offering worthless degrees then let us fix that, rather than solve the ‘unemployed graduate’ problem by replacing it with an ‘unemployed school leaver who is now excluded from a large number of jobs’.

  • […] to the issue of when an employee needs college, and when they don’t.  For Cybersecurity, they do.  Relates to the growing needs in cybersecurity in the UK and in the […]


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