College is not for everyone

By Bill Miston

In a meeting with reporters last week, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards announced that he would pledge to start a government-funded higher education program which would help pay for the first year of college for “anyone that is willing to work hard.”

College for Everyone, part of Edwards’ larger agenda called College Opportunity Agenda, would be just one of seven initiatives Edwards would start if he were to be elected president. Some of these plans would be to lower the cost of college tuition, help students with the issues surrounding financial aid and properly prepare students for that movement into the collegiate level of learning.

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While College for Everyone is a great set of goals – to help educate this nation’s youth to prevent and stop wealth disparity – college (is not) for everyone.

Edwards wants everyone to go to college and his reasons are strengthened by the numbers – in the United States there are 37 million people in poverty. According to his campaign Web site, “College grads are expected to earn $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school graduates … but an estimated 200,000 college-qualified graduates fail to attend college each year.” Edwards’ plan is a righteous cause – so College for Everyone seems like the perfect plan to such a maligned situation.

I don’t think so.

We can all agree that college is a good thing. College is preparing us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to single out Edwards’ efforts. I agree that helping disadvantaged students attend college is very important. Education is one of the most important things that we need to give young people. I also feel if Edwards were elected, this initiative should be pursued immediately to help lessen the financial burden on college students.

But I do feel efforts, like College for Everyone, are actually perpetuating a dichotomy between those in the workforce who have received a college education and those who have not. This dichotomy is reinforcing the idea that if you don’t go to college, you will not have a satisfying career or lead a happy, successful life.

As a society, we need to understand that it is not just the white-collar jobs that grease the gears of this country. Just because someone may not have gone to college and is a construction worker, plumber, or gas meter reader, doesn’t mean their livelihood is less important or they are an unintelligent person. It is just what they do – and they still make money, sometimes even more money than someone who graduated from college.

What needs to be done is not only encourage collegiate enrollment, but to acknowledge the importance of the opportunities available for those who may not have received a college education.

I think that many Americans – whether they know it or not – discriminate against those who have blue-collar jobs. How many times has someone you know – or ourselves – made an offhanded comment about the janitor or the person flipping burgers at McDonald’s? While the job may not be glamorous, all jobs provide some sort of service, making life livable for the rest of us. Just because their job may involve something you would never see yourself doing doesn’t mean they should suffer the brunt of your criticism.

Gaining a college education is a very important opportunity for one to be presented with and anything that can be done to help those who want to go to college should be done. However, it really needs to be understood that everyone doesn’t need to go to college.

While college is a way to better guarantee a better job, who are we to judge what a “better job” is?