In his highly provocative book, Real Education, Charles Murray makes a strong case that only a small percentage of high school graduates (between 10-20%) have the intellectual capability to handle a true liberal arts college education (before colleges become purveyors of customer satisfaction) and that America needs to de-stigmatize vocational/technical training. It is true, many Americans associate completion of a bachelor's degree with success. Murray also suggests that the expected payoff to a college education is grossly over exaggerated and that the earnings differential is attributable to innate differences in intellectual capabilities.
Murray argues that it is wrong to direct all students on to four year colleges and that each student should evaluate his/her own abilities, as well as interests, in deciding the best route for him/herself. That is to say, that many young people ought to consider what they have a comparative advantage in when evaluating postsecondary education options, including technical/vocational schools (as well as the costs and benefits of each option). A person who has relatively strong linguistic and mathematical-logical intelligence should probably shoot for a four-year college, while someone with relatively strong spatial and naturalistic intelligence may be better for suited for a technical/vocational field.
A recent study prepared by the Hudson Institute and CNA, offers some evidence in support of Real Education, as well as provide support for colleges to track student outcomes, such as job placement and earnings. Researchers Louis Jacobson and Christine Mokher made use of a large longitudinal dataset that tracked the postsecondary education choices and earnings of a cohort of nealry 145,000 Florida public high school students. The data were used to estimate the effect of education on earnings, postsecondary outcomes, and the differences in earnings and postsecondary outcomes by family income. Among the key findings:
"...that there are postsecondary pathways available to raise the earnings of students who did not perform especially well academically in high school."The moral of the story is that high school students who are not prepared for college are often saddled with remedial courses when they begin college--course material which they were unable to grasp in high school and have a high probability of failing to grasp in college. This sets these students up for failure in addition to being a drain on taxpayer dollars and the individual student's personal economic situation. Instead, it would be much better policy to guide students who possess a comparative advantage in spatial or technical knowledge into a vocational or technical field, where their chances of completion are increased and earnings potential greater.
"Student preparation and performance are important predictors of persistence and the attainment of a credential."
"Students with weak performance in high school have high probabilities of attaining a credential in career-oriented high-return fields"
"For students receiving degrees, close to half of the difference (in earnings) is associated with better high school preparation and performance, better performance in college,... This result implies that the earnings of students attaining degrees would be substantially above average even if they did not attain degrees or attend college (emphasis added). This result suggests that attainment of a certificate, especially in career-oriented fields, offers a pathway to substantially increase earnings that is open to lower performing high school students."
"when all factors are taken into account, students with certificates show substantial earnings gains relative to students with similar characteristics who leave college without credentials"
As for a call for outcomes, as stated earlier, this study was possible due to the State of Florida's unique data system that links its citizens education and employment records. If this type of system was available on a national level, then policy makers would be better equipped to make decisions on how to allocate taxpayer money to education. This makes logical sense, but there appears to be resistance from college leaders--who state a need to protect the privacy of their students, which is blasphemy, considering the increasing number of security breaches happening at US colleges, which allow hackers access to personal information of thousands of students, as well as the fact, which Kevin Carey points out, that colleges are already electronically submitting personal information on a monthly or quarterly basis to the National Student Clearinghouse--used to track the location of students for loan purposes. Some colleges may simply be afraid that the truth may be found out-- that their institutions offer little value added, other than a credential.