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No laughing matter: A former comedian exposes the four-year college “joke”

  • Joanna
  • March 13, 2017

Sen. Al Franken often jokes that his four-year degree gave him all the training he needed.

To be a comedian.

Now the Saturday Night Live alumnus is trying to convince young Americans that they might not need a four-year degree to reach their dreams — and, in fact, such a path could actually be counter-productive.

Indeed, he told high school students at Denfeld High School in Deluth, Minnesota, the four-year route actually doesn’t work out for many young Americans, particularly those who graduate with a mountain of debt and without the skills and experience to get a good-paying job, even in industries dying for workers.

That’s because while there are many good reasons to pursue a university degree, jobs in high-demand areas such as advanced manufacturing, construction and many healthcare careers require specific skills and experience.

“One thing we can do is start getting students to understand there is a career path where you don’t necessarily have to go to a four-year college right away,” Franken told the students. “You can get college credits in high school, you can get a community college or technical college degree, you can get credentialed, you can go into advanced manufacturing, you can start working and getting paid and go back to school and have your employer pay.”

Franken’s message wasn’t “don’t go to college.” Rather, it was “don’t assume college is the best path to your goals.”

As a nation, we need to do a better job of embracing that message. For far too long, high schoolers have been told that college is the optimum post-secondary situation for the “best and brightest,” and that the “college experience” will help prepare them for whatever they choose to do with their lives. We’ve spent way too little time telling these young men and women that not all jobs need — or even value — a four-year degree, that not all degrees are equal when it comes to the job market, and that there are many other paths to landing in a great career.

What has resulted is a world in which those who go to college all-too-often do so without a sense of direction, and in which those who don’t go to college all-too-often feel like second-class citizens.

What Franken was telling the kids at Denfeld was that skipping or delaying the straight-out-of-high-school-and-straight-into-a-university route has nothing to do with one’s potential. Indeed, the “best and brightest” are those who choose paths that are right for them, their families, and their communities — and that lead to meaningful and fulfilling careers.