Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Pattern Recognition, or, The World at 16
- Paths to jobs that pay enough to actually want are less legible than they’ve been in generations, but to the extent that they are legible and you aren’t a standout athlete, they tend to go through college.
- Starting July 1, colleges that want to be eligible for Federal financial aid -- which is to say, just about all of them, including all of the public ones -- have to stop admitting students on an “ability to benefit” basis. That means that students will have to have either a high school diploma or a GED to be admitted.
- The GED is about to become markedly more expensive.
- High school diplomas now are contingent on passing a high-stakes statewide standardized test. If you fail the test -- even with good grades -- you get a “certificate of completion,” rather than a diploma. As of July 1, that certificate won’t be enough to get into college.
- So now if you finish high school but don’t do well on the test -- say, your district is struggling and you didn’t learn English at home -- you need to find your way to another standardized test that’s about to become more difficult and more expensive just to get into community college.
- Or you could try your luck with the local job market for workers without degrees, certificates, or specialized skills. Jobs exist, but moving beyond single digits per hour requires the next tier of credential. The middle-class unionized blue collar jobs of yesteryear are gone now.
- You can’t blast your way through college as quickly anymore, either, since summer Pell went away. And if you don’t get full Pell, you’ll probably notice that tuition and fees are increasing at a rapid clip, even as the minimum wage just sits there, assuming you can find a job at all.
We can argue about what people “deserve,” or about how much of this was a function of deliberate choice and how much just sort of happened, but ultimately those arguments miss the point. For a host of reasons, the landscape confronting today’s lower-income 16 year old as a found fact is pretty forbidding.
And that will matter for the rest of us.
A market economy, even a mixed market economy, will have winners and losers. Some of that will be luck of the draw, and some of it will be the results of untoward shenanigans, but as long as people perceive that there’s a generally fair method of winning that’s somewhat under their control -- such as hard work -- then they’re pretty willing to tolerate some shenanigans on the side. I might be a little annoyed at some of what investment bankers have been allowed to pull, but as long as my family and I are doing fine, it won’t rise above the level of annoying.
But if legitimate avenues up start all closing at the same time, a certain fatalism starts to make sense. That fatalism can be politically passive, as in drug addiction and small-time crime, or politically active in ways I prefer not to think about.
If we want to maintain a mixed market economy, we need to maintain some perceived level of basic fairness. That means realistic and ethical ways for a kid whose parents don’t make much money to climb by his own effort. Piece by unthought piece, we’re blocking those ways. Some of that may be outside of our conscious control, but much of it isn’t. Before we send a message to an entire generation that there’s just no point in bothering, let’s at least stop blocking constructive effort. Kids can read patterns, and if the pattern says that they needn’t bother, they’ll draw some pretty awful conclusions.
A high school diploma is a meaningless as a credential so we need a test to validate that a passing grade has value.
Funding is limited so we need to focus our resources on the people most likely to benefit from them.
My solution is to change the admission requirments for college so that 2 years of paid work are expected. I'd also accept 2 years of full time (40 hours a week) of charitable work but I would NOT accept unpaid internships or a series of short assignments. I'd want W2's. The work would be evaluated on how well it demonstrates the students ability to be responsible and acutally get things done. Letters of recomendation would be expected.
Personally, I don't see why we should maintain a 'mixed market economy'. That wastes human capital badly, and its increasingly clear that it doesn't distribute its rewards on the basis of hard work, or anything approaching fairness.
(And for the record, the current economy has rewarded me. I was in a field that paid well for a period, and made enough money to be able to go back to school to study what I wanted to. But it wasn't my hard work that made the money, it was a set of impossible to replicate regulatory events that made me temporarily very valuable (and compliance upgrades done, not valuable any longer). Nobody in the current generation can plan on being able to do the same.)
So there is an option to the GED at step 2: transfer to a private school a semester or two before graduation and then go to college or a trade school.
Brilliant. This is your best post in a long time, out of a good number of great posts.
College has become increasingly expensive, and about the only way a kid who does not have wealthy parents can afford to go to college is to take out a loan that offers a lifetime of indebtedness. And even with a college diploma, there is no guarantee that there will be a job there when they do graduate. The competition for good-paying jobs that offer a future is becoming much fiercer, and in many fields there are far more applicants than there are actual job openings. A lot of fresh graduates are finding that the market is so glutted with job applicants that the chances of landing a decent job in their chosen field are not much better than the odds of winning the PowerBall lottery. About the only chance for them to be hired is if they just happen to be at the right place at the right time or if they have connections or know the right people.
In the future, our nation is going to split up even more into just a wealthy few at the very top, and the rest of us struggling somewhere to pay the bills and to keep our heads above water. The prospects for those of us who work hard and play by the rules will become increasingly bleaker. Of course, there are winners and losers in the competitive marketplace, and not everybody can be successful, but I think that the nation’s welfare depends critically on most people believing that they have at least a chance of making it if they work and study hard, keep their noses clean, and manage to catch a break here or there. If people start to think that the whole game is rigged against them and that they have no chance for success, they might start to turn to fascist-type solutions, in which their plight is blamed on dark conspiracies or on various minorities. Not a bright prospect.
"A lot of fresh graduates are finding that the market is so glutted with job applicants that the chances of landing a decent job in their chosen field are not much better than the odds of winning the PowerBall lottery."
That's story from recent college grads I know. Two of them finally gave up on CT after a year of hunting and part time work, and found decent jobs in Texas. They don't care for the climate, but the job trumps that.
Again, it depends on the state. Many private schools in my region are church affiliated and cheaper than you might imagine. Probably cheaper than getting certified for a disability exemption from the test. Quality might be a bit dodgy at some of those schools, but this is about getting a certificate, period.
Edmund Dantes reminds me that there are currently some very good paying jobs for barely-graduates if you are willing to catch a bus to the Dakotas rather than Texas and work REALLY hard.
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