Op-ed: What Rubio got right about education—and what we should do about it

We short-change technical degrees, experts say

Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Florida) debate-stage claim that welders make more than philosophy majors may be inaccurate—but he makes a valid point about the stigma around many high-value, technical careers, Eric Schulzke writes in an op-ed for Deseret News.

While Rubio was wrong on the numbers, Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, says he was "right about what he really means to be saying." That is, an emphasis on four-year degrees can obscure high-value career paths in more technical fields.

Welders vs. philosophers: How Rubio's comments revealed the humanities' biggest challenge

Misunderstood fields

"There are a whole series of certifications that take a year or less that earn more than the average bachelor's degree," Carnevale explains. For instance, he says that over the long term, about 20% of technical certificate holders make more than the average person with a bachelor's degree and about 30% of associate degree holders do the same.

Many students—from both rich and poor communities—are steered away from technical education because of stigma, says Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute's College Excellence Program. Wealthier families in particular "view those jobs as dirty jobs, not worthy of a career for their kids," he says.

One possible solution is to make earnings data more widely available, Schulzke writes. Rubio partnered with two Democrats to introduce the "Know Before You Go Act," which would allow the Department of Education to create a so-called "unit records" database of student earnings.

Meeting students halfway

But while waiting on policy changes, schools can tweak their program structures to be more trade-friendly. Mary Alice McCarthy, a senior analyst at New America, says most associate degrees emphasize general education, making them less than marketable, Schulzke writes.

More students stacking degrees—fewer students attending first-time

McCarthy says the model should be flipped, with students getting marketable skills first and backfilling their degrees with general education credits later. Students in Washington state and elsewhere already have the option of getting a so-called "upside down degree."

Carnevale says it the model that may be a better fit for many students. "What most people need is not college. It's a job. Because if they don't get a job, they are never going to college," he explains. "So let's flip the system" (Schulzke, Deseret News, 11/19).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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