|Hordes of Job Seeking Undergrads (Flickr, Lee J Haywood)|
The South Korean education system is often held up by Ed Deformers as an example of an education system that works. They have high test scores and graduation rates and a whopping 82% of their high school grads go onto college, according to Good Education.
South Korea also has a dearth of jobs requiring a college degree or that pay enough to justify getting a degree in the first place. Thus, many are investing their valuable time, energy and money into a college education only to remain unemployed and in debt long after graduation. The problem has become so bad that South Korean president Lee Myung-bak is now discouraging students from going to college.
|(Image from Flickr, GDS Infographics)|
Could it happen here?
Not if the status quo holds. Currently, only about 30% of American adults have degrees—not even close to Korea’s 88% —but those who do are far more likely to be employed than their peers without college degrees. At the same time, college has become so expensive here that it is out of reach to many, while growing poverty has reduced the chances that children will graduate from high school with the skills necessary to succeed in college, or get in in the first place. Unemployment is not going to skyrocket in the U.S. because of increasing college graduation rates.
Not surprisingly, American college grads believe their investment was worth it, even though they now owe more for that education than any generation before them. Until now, this investment has helped them maintain greater financial security. This may soon start to change, as even college grads are now starting to find it difficult to find work, especially work that brings in enough to support them and pay off their debts.
The Project on Student Debt at the Institute for College Access & Success just published their annual report showing that the average graduate in 2010 now owes $25,250, a 5% jump from last year. Total student debt is now close to $1 trillion. (You can click here to see a graphic showing the break down by state).
Just to pay down the principal, graduates would have to pay $1,000 per month for over two years, $500 per month for over 4 years, or $200 per month for more than ten years. Considering the poor employment prospects and the relatively low pay currently being offered for many jobs requiring only an undergraduate degree, most of today’s grads are looking at years of debt or default. After rent, food, clothing, and other necessities are factored in, even those lucky enough to find work may be unable to make regular loan payments.
Why Should We Improve K-12 Education?
“College and Career Readiness” is an extension of the American Dream mythology (see College and Career Ready Farce). It presumes that anyone who works hard and plays by the rules can become successful, possibly even a member of the 1%. According to this “logic,” success during the K-12 years leads to success in college and career, which necessarily lead to success and happiness in life.
In other words, if we take the education reform movement at face value, it is all about improving K-12 education outcomes so our children can grow into successful and happy adults. Copying the Korean or Finish model, therefore, is supposed to lead to a society in which everyone has a meaningful and rewarding vocation and all their material, social and emotional needs are met. Yet even in Korea and Finland this is not true. Nowhere is there a society completely free of poverty, privation and misery, and unhappiness is a part of life for everyone, including the 1% (they just have the ability to drown their sorrows in Dom Perignon and fois gras).
|A Degree for This? (Flickr, My Cubicle, by Damek)|
However, even the more modest demand of employment for all is not such a wonderful goal. Lots of jobs are degrading, dangerous and low-paid. Some are so low-paid, in fact, that workers continue to live in poverty, despite being employed. Even a college degree does not guarantee a well-paying, meaningful career. Millions of Americans with degrees do mindless and meaningless work at low wages.
In reality, the goal of public education is to perpetuate existing social relations, not change them. School is designed to sort kids into the future leaders and financial rulers and their employees. Not everyone can become a boss, or even a scientist. The losers are the overwhelming majority of us, whose roles are to become dutiful consumers and obedient employees, with just enough skills to do the required jobs. Public education is doing a pretty good job at this, perhaps even too well, since there aren’t enough jobs for those who are graduating from the system.
A New Vision
If 82% of the population wants to go to college, then they should and society should support them, but not to get them “good” jobs or because it will help the economy. A truly “good” economic system ensures that everyone has material security and access to the good things in life anyway, regardless of their education or vocation. In such a society, education no longer needs to be a tool for enforcing class privilege, but can become a means for exploring interests, developing desired skills, or simply enjoying a love of learning.