David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Standing In The Crumbling Train Station

June 3, 2022

The state of Maryland, along with many employers, is no longer requiring a bachelor's degree for many jobs. Inside Higher Ed posted a set of two interviews this morning with representatives from Opportunity@work, a nonprofit group, and Kaplan, a for-profit, about how this requirement has changed. It was difficult for me not to be thinking about all of this when I conducted academic sessions at two New Student Orientations today. In a half hour, I, and some combination of deans and faculty, give an overview of what to expect academically at SMC.

You would think that I felt good delivering our usual witty, edgy, informative sessions (at least they are in my mind) having read that in some quarters an associate's degree (the bread and butter of a community college) is valued more than the bachelor's degree. That only works to a degree (pun intended) with SMC, because we are unique in being very high transfer for a community college (in other words, more than half of our students will use us to earn half of their credits toward a bachelor's degree at a 4-year institution). That mentality also only works to a degree for all community colleges because in many ways this is a trend toward microcredentials, which is the alternative to traditional higher education models that is exploding through for-profit sources such as Coursera.

Think about some of the statements made in the dual interviews from IHE today: 

  • "[Maryland was] having trouble filling their talent pipelines, and the thought was, let's just remove degree requirements from jobs that we feel like don't necessarily need them."

Degree requirements have become so ubiquitous that this could have a trickle-up effect, removing master's and doctorate's degree requirements from so many positions. I might even burn in academic hell by admitting that the doctorate to teach undergraduate classes at colleges and universities is not really needed.

  • "The state of Maryland wanted to create an equitable process where more Marylanders can see themselves in opportunities to move themselves into the middle class. So, the impetus was, yes, we can’t meet the demand, but we can also be very equitable in how we think about approaching these jobs."2

Long-term, if this kind of forced distinctions between straight-to-work credentialing versus college degrees remains, will return America to a  country very divided by education, a world prior to the great explosion of community colleges in the 1950s and 1960s, where some students saw a pathway to the ivy-covered institutions and others were supposed to find a trade. It's fine to want to get more people to the middle-class, but the power rests in the upper-class. Trust me, I am not disparaging the trades, it is why I work at a community college; I am disparaging a country built upon democratic, egalitarian principles openly accepting barriers that informally separate the haves from the have nots (and I know there is a whole dissertation, probably thousands of dissertations, on how that has been the history of our country). 

  • "Degree-seeking enrollments in U.S. higher ed have now declined for 13 straight years. We’ve shed in real terms 3.72 million students since 2011. There’s a real story here that people are turning to other alternatives or nothing."3

So, there you have it, potential students are not going to college for the very things they could go to a community college for, trade-based credentials at a very reasonable cost. And, gee, as I articulate in all of these New Student Orientations, they will see what other kind of degrees are possible, maybe not for them at this moment in life, but later as they realize that an entry-level job is not necessarily the lifelong career they seek. Yet, our public narratives keep lumping all of us inexpensive, short-term post-secondary options, in with the Ivies, the States, the Land-Based, and the Privates. How the hell is a Provost supposed to combat that narrative in a half hour session?

So, today, when I am standing there telling students that as of that moment they are all in the same railroad station (I am good at antiquated analogies) getting on the same train, but getting off at different stations (certificate students first, associate in applied science students, later, transfer students at a multitude of different stations along the way), and perhaps even changing their mind about their stop (since the ridiculous idea that students know exactly what they want to do at 17 or 18 still rankles me), I worry that I need to tell them that some stops may be shut down by the time they get there, and that they might be encouraged by the railroad authority along the way to get off right away to pick up a badge at the first station.

Too bad our founding fathers hadn't thought to include an amendment that guaranteed every American the right to a college education. Would we stand as true to it as we do our right to bear arms?  Nope. Instead, our governments are sending the message that we can provide funding for you to get a degree, but it's a waste of our money to have you do it to come work for us. 

I know this is a broad statement, but you are reading a nonprofit blog, so cut me some slack. Don't lump me in with the profitable ones.

1Gray, Bridgette. Opportunity@work. Interview. Inside Higher Ed, June 3, 2022. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/06/03/state-eliminates-bachelors-degree-requirement-many-jobs

2Gray, Bridgette. Opportunity@work. Interview. Inside Higher Ed, June 3, 2022. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/06/03/state-eliminates-bachelors-degree-requirement-many-jobs

3Busteed, Brandon. Kaplan. Interview. Inside Higher Ed, June 3, 2022. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/06/03/state-eliminates-bachelors-degree-requirement-many-jobs