On January 27th, 2012 at the University of Michigan, President Obama outlined his plan to cut public college and university costs down by working with states, universities and Congress. Meanwhile, he also emphasized that he wants America“…to be a big, bold, generous country where everybody gets a fair shot, everybody is doing their fair share, everybody is playing by the same set of rules.”

We can all attest to the rising costs that come with attending college, but does everybody need to go to college after all?  Sure, people should get “a fair shot” and be judged based on their merits when it comes to college admissions. But do all Americans need to waste away their lives learning theories far removed from reality or pursue purposeless majors such as Ethnic Studies or Women’s Studies?

Although “college for all” sounds like a marvelous principle, it is an idealist concept that countries like Sweden are paying a heavy price for pursuing.  As Per Bylund explains in The Modern Welfare State: Leading the Way on the Road to Serfdom, “…many young people were gently pushed into ‘free’ (tax-financed) higher education programs to get an (additional) advanced degree while receiving grants and heavily subsidized student loans to cover living expenses” as Sweden became “progressively” more socialist (43).

Because the government heavily invested in “public-sector services such as higher education” and discouraged “low-productivity labor and firms from the labor market,’ Swedes came to regard higher education as a right, not a privilege (43). As a result, Sweden collapsed as an individualistic, self-reliant nation and thus, transformed into a welfare state favoring government dependency over individual achievement.

But what happens when everybody goes to college and “low-productivity labor” is discouraged? A weak society that lacks a strong workforce enriched with basic trades emerges. Without such a workforce, a society lacks the very self-reliance needed to produce and sustain economic prosperity. America is experiencing such a “crisis” as both middle and high schools continually do away with courses focusing on basic trades and instead promote the “need” for everybody to go to college.

High schools in America used to prepare adolescents for successful futures by requiring their students to participate in woodworking, auto shops, and home economics classes. Even though some high schools still continue to offer these essential courses, many have discontinued them.

In Oregon, teacher Glenn Campbell is trying to prevent the Hillsboro School District from closing the last auto shop existing in the district. Concerned about America’s decaying quality of STEM education and lack of manufacturing jobs, Campbell says that “if we don’t design it here, what are the odds we’re going to build it here?”

In 2010, Superintendent Shawn Himes of Enid Public Schools in Oklahoma announced woodworking would be cut from high schools due to “budget cuts.” As both of these courses are continuing to disappear from high school campuses across the country, America’s young men are being deprived of the skills needed to develop industries that produce real economic growth.

In addition, home economics, which emphasizes interior design, commercial cooking, consumer education, sewing, and other essential skills need for successful homemaking, is also being cut from K-12 education. This year, two middle schools in South Orange and Maplewood, New Jersey will have their cooking and sewing classes replaced with a technology course. By doing away with home economics, such schools are depriving young people of basic skills needed to be a functioning adult. Learning how to operate technology is important as well, but what happens when technology fails, and the future generation would have to operate without a technological device to do everything for them? Everyday activities that used to be considered standard have puzzled the dependent, entitled young people of America because we rid our schools of programs not college focused.

Instead of discouraging basic trades, K-12 education should promote trade schools as an alternative to college education, because not everybody wants or needs to go to college. Trade schools are not only perfect for people who want to directly enter the workforce, but are also important for feeding real GDP.

Anna Maria Hoffman :: University of California at San Diego :: San Diego, California :: @AM_Hoffman