Truth or Consequences: A Response To Bill Gates’ “Help Wanted” Blog

truthorc The education reform movement has reached a new low when Bill Gates latest blog: “Help Wanted: 11 million college grads” brings to mind the title of the TV game show “Truth or Consequences.”

Bill Gates and many reformers have a knack for cherry picking, manipulating, and massaging data to support their predetermined conclusions. In Bill Gates’ latest blog he claims;

“As the class of 2015 prepares to join the workforce, what many people may not realize is that America is facing a shortage of college graduates…

By 2025, two thirds of all jobs in the US will require education beyond high school. (That includes two-year and four-year college degrees as well as postsecondary certificates.)

At the current rate the US is producing college graduates, however, the country is expected to face a shortfall of 11 million skilled workers to fill those roles over the next 10 years, according to a new study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce…

The problem is that not enough people are finishing. More than 36 million Americans—a fifth of the working age population—have gone off to college and left without a degree. It’s always moving to sit down with students and hear the stories of why they decided to drop out…

Many quit when they realize that their high schools didn’t prepare them academically for college. Some don’t make it because they can’t afford tuition. Others leave after getting overwhelmed trying to navigate the college system without enough personal guidance from their college…”

If you read Gate’s blog carefully ( close reading not required ) it is apparent that the title of Gate’s blog is misleading and not supported by his own data.

The 11 million college grads that Gates claims are needed are actually “skilled workers” and he further explains that “two thirds of all jobs in the US will require education beyond high school

Secondary and post-secondary programs that offer certificates and licenses are viable career pathways to middle skills that are in high demand. Internships, job shadowing, and apprenticeships are all excellent opportunities for secondary students to acquire job ready skills before they graduate.

Common Core advocates may claim the standards will “ensure” all students are career ready yet the absence of standards that address any of the above mentioned pathways or programs would suggest otherwise.

Truth is, the CCSS Math and ELA standards are focused exclusively on academic skills and preparing students for Common Core tests, while employers increasingly desire entry-level workers (with and without college degrees) who have actual work experience and job-ready skills.

By the time most kids are in high school, they’ve probably heard some career advice along these lines: get into a good college, pick a marketable major, keep those grades up, and you’ll land a good job.

But that doesn’t quite cover it anymore. In a survey out today from Marketplace and The Chronicle of Higher Education, employers said what matters most to them actually happens outside the classroom.

“Internships came back as the most important thing that employers look for when evaluating a recent college graduate,” says Dan Berrett, senior reporter at the Chronicle. “More important than where they went to college, the major they pursued, and even their grade point average.”

Source: Internships become the new job requirement Amy Scott 3/4/13

Bill Gates also writes about the high numbers of students who do not complete college and claims this is because “some” couldn’t pay for it, while “others” lacked proper college guidance, and “many” were not properly prepared for the academic rigors of college.

Could it be that Bill Gates is so busy thinking up new reasons that we must prepare all our children for college that he forgot about the data from a 2009 college drop out and completion rate report that was prepared for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation?

Among students in four-year schools, 45 percent work more than 20 hours a week. Among those attending community colleges, 6 in 10 work more than 20 hours a week, and more than a quarter work more than 35 hours a week.

Just 25 percent of students attend the sort of residential college we often envision. 23 percent of college students have dependent children.

…If we truly aim to help this new group of nontraditional students fulfill their aspirations, college and university officials, state and federal policy-makers, employers, foundations and other advocates trying to ramp up college completion need to take a fresh, clear-eyed look at their current assumptions and practices.

The findings here reveal gaps in the higher education system that serve to undercut the efforts of students who need to work and go to school at the same time. They raise serious questions about long-standing policies that seem profoundly ill suited to students who simply cannot afford to go to school full-time for several years…

Source: “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them” – Myths & Realities About Why So Many Students Fail to Finish College / Research by Public Agenda, Prepared for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. December, 2009

These sobering findings were supported by another college completion study and report which found;

“…In addition to the diverse pathways students take while working toward their educational goals, students who enroll in college full time immediately after high school no longer represent the majority among post secondary college students (Choy, 2002; Horn & Carroll, 1997; Reeves, Miller, & Rouse, 2011).

Rather, many students delay college enrollment, enroll in college part time, and/or have a full-time job while enrolled. To balance the responsibilities of family, work, and school, these students often take educational routes that require a longer time to a post secondary credential, such as enrolling part time, attending institutions with shorter terms, and occasionally stopping out…”

Source: Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates – Fall 2007 Cohort / National Student ClearingHouse Research Center 

While I don’t want to say Bill Gates is deliberately not telling the truth when it comes to the demand for college graduates, there certainly will be consequences for those students who follow his advice and find themselves in debt, over educated, and underemployed.

“About 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests requires less than a four-year college education.

Eleven percent of employed college graduates are in occupations requiring more than a high-school diploma but less than a bachelor’s, and 37 percent are in occupations requiring no more than a high-school diploma;

The proportion of overeducated workers in occupations appears to have grown substantially; in 1970, fewer than one percent of taxi drivers and two percent of firefighters had college degrees, while now more than 15 percent do in both jobs;

About five million college graduates are in jobs the BLS says require less than a high-school education;

Comparing average college and high-school earnings is highly misleading as a guide for vocational success, given high college-dropout rates and the fact that overproduction of college graduates lowers recent graduate earnings relative to those graduating earlier;

Not all majors are equal: Engineering and economics graduates, for example, typically earn almost double what social work and education graduates receive by mid-career;

Past and projected future growth in college enrollments and the number of graduates exceeds the actual or projected growth in high-skilled jobs, explaining the development of the underemployment problem and its probable worsening in future years; “

Source: “Underemployment of College Graduates” The Center For College Affordability and Productivity 1/28/13

While Bill Gates claims a college education is required for future employment the Labor Force projections of U.S. Department of Labor would suggest otherwise;

“Occupations related to healthcare, healthcare support, construction, and personal care services are projected to add a combined 5.3 million jobs, an increase representing approximately one-third of all employment gains over the coming decade…

Occupations requiring a high school diploma are expected to add the greatest number of new jobs, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all employment gains over the projection period.

As demand for medical services increases as a result of population aging and expanding medical insurance coverage, the health care sector and its associated occupations are expected to see sizable gains in employment and output.

The construction industry, as well as the occupations that support it, also will experience rapid growth in employment and output. Employment in the construction sector is expected to return to its long-term trend of increase, a rebound consistent with expectations about future population growth and the need to replace older structures.”

Source: Overview of Projections to 2022 Bureau of Labor Statistics 12/2013

So who did designate Bill Gates as the authority on future employment trends in the United States and the defacto E.F. Hutton of the education reform movement? hutton2

What if education leaders listened to former secretary of labor, Robert Reich, as intently as they are currently listening to reformers like Bill Gates?

“The biggest absurdity is that a four-year college degree has become the only gateway into the American middle class…

Last year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 46 percent of recent college graduates were in jobs that don’t even require a college degree.

America clings to the conceit that four years of college are necessary for everyone, and looks down its nose at people who don’t have college degrees. This has to stop.

Young people need an alternative. That alternative should be a world-class system of vocational-technical education. A four-year college degree isn’t necessary for many of tomorrow’s good jobs.

For example, the emerging economy will need platoons of technicians able to install, service, and repair all the high-tech machinery filling up hospitals, offices, and factories. And people who can upgrade the software embedded in almost every gadget you buy.

Today it’s even hard to find a skilled plumber or electrician… It’s time to give up the idea that every young person has to go to college, and start offering high-school seniors an alternative route into the middle class.”

Source: “Why College Isn’t (and Shouldn’t Have to be) for Everyone”, Robert Reich 3/26/15

America is a great nation and our education and political leaders owe citizens the truth when it comes to the value and utility of a 4-year college degree.

All of our children deserve a quality education and the opportunity to follow their passions as they pursue diverse academic, artistic, trade, and vocational pathways to post-secondary education and careers.

Every child regardless of ability or disability deserves a well-balanced education that cultivates the basic knowledge and skills that support lifelong learning.

We can and must do much more to ensure career readiness than wishful thinking and the tenuous “promise” of a 4-year college degree for every student.

I can almost hear Bill Gates concluding a college commencement speech with the phrase Bob Barker spoke at the end each episode of Truth or Consequences;

“Hoping all your consequences are happy ones.”



3 thoughts on “Truth or Consequences: A Response To Bill Gates’ “Help Wanted” Blog

  1. Thank you. I find myself making similar points in conversation with friends, family and by now, anyone who will listen. We desperately need to get over this one-solution-for-all mentality. I greatly appreciate the sources you draw on to support your arguments. When we talk about career readiness, almos no one considers what the labor statistics folks have to tell us. Isn’t that funny?

  2. Over and over I have watched diverse parent groups inside our large, inner-city district fight over the “rules” around what our district’s educational path should be. For some groups, the highly regularized on-track-to-be-a-doctor-or-lawyer theory of how to run public education for ALL students is the only accepted model, and their loud, cannot-be-swayed voices tend to drown out any advocate calling for a more diversified approach. It can be heartbreaking to watch this same scenario repeatedly break down any possibility which might allow our students to find alternate pathways to employment.

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