I am going to be politically incorrect. The fact is not everyone should go to college. Yet we have pushed the notion that the only way to get a useful education is to obtain a college degree.
Recently I spoke with an official of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). He supervizes an important part of the subway system. He told me there are hundreds of vacant jobs. The result is that the infrastructure is deteriorating. MTA has the money; the MTA positions are authorized; qualified people are unavailable. We have stigmatized folks who pound ties or who maintain the electrical system. Mind you, folks who would take these jobs would earn good money. Indeed, they would have a chance for worthwhile promotion. But no, if they have no college education, even in some so-called “university,” they aren’t important. We are digging ourselves into a greater and greater hole. Another downside is that many people who go to college are out of place – they simply don’t belong there.
What caused me to tackle this subject was an e-mail which came screaming across my computer saying that all sorts of blue-collar positions are available in Northern Virginia. We are building a major extension to the Metrorail system to Dulles Airport and considerably beyond. The dirty little secret is that we don’t have the workers available to build this extension.
There are many new light-rail systems under construction all over the nation. In other cities extensions are being built. In New York the Second Avenue Subway is a multibillion dollar project to reduce overcrowding and delays on the Lexington Avenue line and to provide better access to mass transit for residents of the far East Side of Manhattan. Again, workers are scarce for this project.
The truth is we have reversed a very good system. When I was in high school many boys took a shop class. Many ended up with high paying jobs. But then the push came for a college education. If you ask many high school graduates today what he or she intended to do upon graduation you would hear, “I’ve applied to [this and that] college.” There they would not belong. They would struggle and eventually get low grades. Why do we put young people through that kind of situation? We must change the stigma we have placed on noncollegiate work. We again need to make workers who lay the tracks, who pave the roads, who collect the garbage, become proud Americans.