Letters and Opinion

Definition of 'college' misleads readers

April 14, 2012

While I usually find myself in agreement with IBJ’s editorials on higher education, “Not everyone is college material” [April 7] misleads the reader by propagating a dangerous message.

First, the use of the term “college,” as referenced in the editorial, is far too narrow. The editorial seems to assume that college means strictly a four-year, university degree—an outdated notion long since rejected by both the business and higher education communities. “College” can mean a four-year degree, a two-year degree, continuing training or a certificate of completion—any type of high-quality postsecondary education.

By narrowing the definition, you reinforce the message that college may in fact be for a select few—a harmful and economically irreversible notion.

Jobs that require college-level skills and knowledge, including a growing number of jobs in advanced manufacturing, are growing much faster than those requiring a high school diploma or less.

Second, education equals economic and personal opportunity, and college needs to be the goal for a lot more people than it is. Lumina Foundation doesn’t think that college/postsecondary education needs to be literally for everyone, but it should be something that at least 60 percent of the population attains.

It’s not that low-skill jobs do not exist in Indiana; they do, but in diminishing numbers. More importantly, data on wage and employment projections shows us that Hoosiers who hold such jobs are unlikely to enter or remain in the middle class. They are less likely to have access to quality health care, save for retirement or assure their children access to higher education. In short, completing some form of “college” is now critical for reaching the middle class.

The percentage of Americans between the ages of 25 and 64—working-age adults—who held a two- or four-year college degree was 38.3 percent in 2010. In Indiana, only 33.2 percent of the state’s 3.4 million working-age adults hold at least a two-year degree, according to 2010 Census data.

These numbers are important not simply because of the opportunities that advanced education can provide, but because our changing work force dictates we will need dramatically higher numbers of highly skilled workers in the next decade.

Employers need to be encouraged to play a proactive part in making the college attainment imperative a reality, not to cling to tired and expired notions about who is—and is not—“college material.”

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Jamie Merisotis
president, CEO
Lumina Foundation

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