Thursday, February 01, 2018
This story has been around for a while. I can’t take credit for it, but it rings true.
HR Director: What if we invest in professional development, and then our people leave?
CEO: What if we don’t, and they stay?
Donald Trump declared this week that “‘vocational’ is a much better word than in many cases a community college.” He went on to say that his administration is “working very hard on vocational schools…”
I’ll focus on the second part. If they’re pouring money into vocational schools, they’re doing it without anybody noticing. A likelier interpretation is that he meant that his administration is busily dismantling oversight of for-profits to make it easier for for-profit vocational schools to pick up the slack from defunded community colleges.
That would be consistent with observed behavior. It would also be disastrous.
The data on student loan defaults for publicly traded for-profit colleges is deep and damning. But in some ways, that’s the least of it. Good training involves education.
Part of that is because fields change. Car mechanics, to use the example Trump cited, have to be able to work with computers both in the shop and in the car. Hybrid and electric cars require a level of understanding and equipment beyond what the classic shade-tree mechanic had.
But a larger part of it is that it’s what employers themselves consistently want. They need employees who can do certain tasks, but also who can communicate with the public, who can write up warranty claims carefully enough that they actually get paid, and who can learn new things as they come along. Narrow training is fine if you already have those skills, but most people don’t.
Student loan defaults represent major social costs. Upfront investment in good public higher education is far cheaper, over time, than reduced productivity resulting from poor or no education. In our policy discussions, we tend to put funding for public institutions in one column, student loans in another, and for-profits in a third. But they’re connected. Fix the first, the second will take care of itself, and the third will become irrelevant.
As for names? To paraphrase my former colleague Jeff Hayden, college is what we do, and community is why we do it. I’ll keep the name, thanks.
Sometimes you catch yourself in a mirror, literal or figurative, and realize that you’ve become a short story prompt. That happened to me on Thursday.
A middle-aged man sitting in a Dunkin’ Donuts, sipping decaf while waiting for his daughter to finish her piano lesson, distractedly singing along to “Wouldn’t it be Good” by Nik Kershaw and surprising himself by remembering most of the words…
Have at it, interwebs...