Ann Sobel has an article in IEEE Computer asking “Should everyone go to College?” as part of a special issue on education. Her answer is, “No.” She might be right, but I disagree with her argument. For example, below she suggests that students should avoid college if they “have already reached their intellectual peak.” Modern cognitive science suggests that fluid intelligence “peaks” in students’ 20′s, but other forms of intelligence develop and grow throughout one’s life.I’m particularly concerned about this article appearing in IEEE Computer. Thinking that high school is enough for a computing job is (a) wrong and (b) counter-productive at the high school level, since it encourages the instruction to be more vocational and less about developing computing concepts that could be used in post-secondary instruction. I’m particularly worried about what an emphasis on high school computing education means for under-represented minorities. A high-school only IT job will earn, on average, far less than a college degree IT job. Emphasizing high school IT jobs may mean trapping more under-represented minorities “in the shallow end.”
Ann identifies several important issues that prevent students from succeeding in college, like lack of adequate preparation and cost. I see those as challenges to be addressed, not roadblocks. If the context of the piece is taken seriously (i.e., high school degrees as preparation for jobs like those of IEEE Computer readers), then we have to consider the far more considerable issues of inadequate numbers and preparation for teachers. We are challenged to produce enough high school teachers to cover Exploring CS or CS:Principles, both of which de-emphasize programming compared to a traditional CS1. If we wanted students to be ready to get an IT job right out of high school, they better learn some serious vocational computing skills, from network management, to database administration, to low-level coding. How are we going to develop enough high school teachers to teach all of that?!? Here’s my bottom-line: “Should everyone go to college?” If you want a job in computing, yes. Students can attend a community college to help improve these test scores, but this route doesn’t always work, particularly when students have already reached their intellectual peak. While students have the potential for intellectual growth, if they can’t grow sufficiently, they should be supported in considering myriad rewarding career paths that don’t require a college degree.