How Smart is New Mexico for Providing Free-College-For-All?
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham recently signed the New Mexico “Opportunity Scholarship Act”, making college tuition-free for most New Mexicans. The program leads all other states in breadth and depth of the funding and has been lauded by the national press, including The New York Times.
But is free college for all, well, smart?
Across the nation, colleges and universities are seeing dramatic declines in academic enrollment, and it isn’t just because of Covid. In the 10 years prior to the pandemic, there was an 11% decline in degree programs across institutions — rich and poor schools, universities with big endowments and community colleges making ends meet, as well as rural and urban schools.
The reasons for the decline are complex and go beyond the high cost of higher education. Here are just a few.
ROI on a College Degree
Expensive investments in education are fine if there is a strong ROI. But studies have shown that unless a student is in a Science Technology Engineering Math[STEM] field or a profession like law or medicine, there is no guarantee of a well-paying job. A few years before Covid, 40% of recent graduates of Bachelor degree programs said they didn’t see value in their education. Why spend 4 years doing something you don’t value?
For the students who either are not interested in STEM/traditional professions or don’t have the aptitude for the demanding subjects in these fields, we push people to college anyway. You can study business or criminal justice, we tell them, and many of today’s workers with these degrees are in unfulfilling jobs or worst yet, making minimum wage.
Many people excel at one category of subject or another. Say Math vs. English. But for a college degree, you must pass core curriculum whether you have a natural affinity for the subject or not.
Failing due to one category of subjects still carries the stigma of failing college. And after a semester or two you have nothing to show for your time, effort, and money.
Technology Has Changed How We Learn
What do you do today when you need to fix something at home or learn how to do something on your computer? Yes, we turn to the Internet, in particular YouTube.
Digital Natives are especially adept at learning skills online and expect instant gratification. Why wait 2 or 4 years to be able to do something when you can watch a video or if you want more depth take an online course?
Expanded Life Choices
Life today is not as homogenous as when I went to college. Paths are more circuitous and for many students, especially from underserved populations, they have adult obligations such as small children.
Technology has also freed what USC Professor Julie Albright calls the “untethered” generation from a single geographic location. These nomad workers typically do not belong to community organizations like churches or country clubs, so why would they want to commit to a college?
Meeting Market Demand
The world has changed and so have our citizens. Rather than trying to create a 1-size fits all model, we need to support options for 21st century people.
Skill-specific, affordable micro-certifications, academic certificates, bootcamps, and “vocational” schools, all offer training for modern jobs. My own group worked with IBM, the Urban Institute, America Makes, and Youngstown State University to create a U.S. Dept. of Labor registered apprenticeship for 3D Printing technicians. Workforce training is no longer just for the trades.
While the news releases from the New Mexico Governors office talk about also funding “career training certificates”, there is a minimum credit-hour requirement that falls outside alternative education models. I hoping the definition will be expanded to include new innovative education models.
I can hear response to these concepts now: “BUT you NEED a college degree to get a good job.”
Industry is also changing. Even before the Great Resignation companies in many sectors like advanced manufacturing were desperate for skilled workers. So they took matters into their own hands.
IBM and Mozilla created a digital badge micro-certification model that adheres to international standards. IBM offers many digital badges in IT topics for the workforce skills they need, as well as a robust apprenticeship program. Google and Walmart have in-house certificate programs and companies like Walmart and Facebook routinely hire for IT jobs that don’t require degrees.
Former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty headed a White House Workforce Task Force with Apple’s Tim Cook and other large employers that resulted in a 2020 Executive Order. It stated that the nation’s largest employer would revise hiring practices to value skills as well as degrees for certain jobs.
I want my brain surgeon to have a college degree and then some. But many other jobs — including high tech specialities like operating a 3D Printer or repairing a robot — have seen “resume creep” and need to be re-examined.
Learn More from Educators & Employers Disrupting Education & Workforce Training
On May 2 in Santa Fe, NM, the New Collar Network will be bringing together thought leaders from the state and the nation to ideate solutions to our education and workforce issues. We are co-located with the Crossing the Cactus Summit May 2–4 that will also be tackling this important topic.
At the New Collar Summit we’ll be learning about and discussing 21st century apprenticeships, Lemelson-MIT’s high school “Invent” program, New Collar micro-certifications, Santa Fe Community College’s reimagining of academic programs, hiring practices from employers, and how design of a space influences innovation.
Check out the New Collar Workforce Summit today to learn more!
While I have more degrees than one needs, I strongly feel that we have to give our citizens pathways to engaging, well-paying jobs, with or without college!