The US higher education system is very broken but no one seem aware. Did you know that no one in America, except perhaps the wealthy can actually afford higher education? The loan system isn’t the answer. Students graduate in debt with at best the hope of swapping that debt for a mediocre lower middle class home. There must be more flexibility in the time and money committment for getting training and knowledge now acquired at the college and university levels. For this the system itself must be redesigned. It takes courageous, bold leaders to bring these ideas to the country. There are many prepared to reject such initiatives claiming that it would be too hard and too expensive. The “can do” nation has become the “too hard” nation.
Today the system is a two tiered system at the college level resulting in Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees. With universities providing Master’s and Doctorate degrees. At the college level, much of the time is spent acquiring basic knowledge that every educated young person should have. The foundational knowledge should be moved to the high school level. Detractors might say that the high school curriculum is already overloaded. Then this should be fixed. There is a lot crammed into the curriculum. The fact remains that young people don’t end up better educated for it. So the higher education reform must be coupled with a revisions at the high-school level.
The goal of the reform, in addition to providing flexibility in the time and money commitment for an education, should be to provide real training. A prospective employer must be able to trust that graduates are prepared to contribute real valuable skills that impact a company’s profitability from the start. Companies must all train their entry-level college graduates nowadays. Instead of the Associate – Bachelors – Masters scheme, I propose a new scheme that at first might seem the same but isn’t. I propose a Professional degree vs. a Master’s degree. The professional degree provides core training from a number of individually accredited, certification modules. The Master’s degree adds modules that prepare for leadership. The Professional degree would focus on the technical and core knowledge aspects whereas the Master’s degree would add decision making and presentation skills. Let say that a young person wants to go into the mechanical engineering field. The professional degree would prepare this person to be a technician with a number of modules individually certified. The person would build the knowledge with a certain amount of flexibility in the time necessary for getting all the modules. Each module is an affordable financial investment. After completing this training, and probably after getting work experience, the person can add more modules for a leadership position to become an engineer with management responsibility. Beyond that, a track would allow this person to go on to the expert level by getting a doctorate degree that would train for design and research. This structure fits well for many different fields. Fields where the goal is expert level knowledge such as medicine and certain liberal arts fields would have a track that leads directly to the expert level. Assessment tests would screen for aptitude to go into this track. But here again there would be modules for the student would have a fallback option towards the Professional or Master’s degree. More details on this proposal follow.
Proposal for a Redesign of the US Higher Education System
High school curriculum redesigned to give broader liberal arts and science foundation and broaden knowledge. Time spent in higher education leads to real professional skills.
Higher education in two tiers: Professional tier (up to today’s Master’s degree) and Expert tier (for expert-level Doctorate degree).
Two years of foundational training lead to a professional degree as reliable as a license. Provides real skills ready to be applied in the real world. Different certification modules add to that degree. Strict accreditation of modules build employer confidence particularly for business administration.
Two additional years (for total of 4 years) leads to the equivalent of today’s Master’s degree. Prepares for leadership position in field with business administration and master level knowledge. Same certification modules available to this group as Professionals. Some modules might require prerequisites.
New Classifications for the Professional Tier
These are designed with a close look at the job market and in collaboration with market leaders. Students are guided to make choses informed by the employment market.
Sales, customer service
Restaurant, hotel, travel
Computer science, mechanical, chemical, electrical
Nursing, medical services, dental services, paralegal, accounting
Education, civil services, non-profit
Performing and plastic arts
Research science and medicine. This field is in preparation for advanced studies.
Divinity, diplomacy, political science, law. This field is preparation for advanced studies
Each area designed to allow students to select profession where they have more control and less of a burden in the time spent getting knowledge and amount of money invested in acquiring that knowledge. The four year Professional degree in the field of business administration leads to today’s MBA.
Core requirements different from today’s college because students come better educated out of high school. Could retain requirements for communications: written and verbal with focus on professional skills: business writing and presentation skills.
It is important that students only be required to make the investment needed to get professional skills. Students who want to take advantage of the opportunity to broaden their knowledge could decide to invest in electives. These should be made affordable enough to permit as broad a liberal arts education as desired.
Students acquire expert-level knowledge for a doctorate for positions that require expert-level subject matter knowledge.
The science classification within the Professional tier is always preparation for the advanced tier. Students unable to go on to that level are redirected to the appropriate classification. Assessment tests can help screen for aptitude for that track out of high school.
This new system should be designed at first as a pilot in partnership with industry leaders before being deployed to replaced today’s structure. The four year uniform system has outlasted its usefulness. The degree accreditation has gone out of hand and out of touch with the real world. Why would anyone need a PhD in nursing? Why should a degree in poetry with minor in basketweaving cost the same as a degree in rocket science with pre-med concentration? This might sound facetious but at certain colleges this is the situation and if students aren’t wise or their parents will give this to them they buy into this system that does not benefit them and does not benefit employers.