Just because everyone else seems to be going is not a reason to attend college
Published 17/08/2016 | 02:30
A new study has found that one in three Leaving Cert students targeting 550 CAO points when they returned to school last September didn't know what college course they wanted to study.
But shouldn't parents and teachers be pointing out the pros and cons of studying for a degree rather than blindly herding everybody off to college as if it is the only option?
For today's 17-year-olds who are about to get their Leaving Cert results, the option of working out if college is for them isn't there - college is for everybody now.
Michael Moriarty, general secretary of the Education and Training Boards, says: "There is a fixation with going to third level directly from secondary school, and a look at the failure rates after the first year of university makes it clear that a large number of people have been inappropriately placed and that maybe third level isn't the best place for them."
Around 16pc will drop out of their course in the first year.
Why do we go to college? Is it to learn a skill? Is to learn how to think? Is it to become a well-rounded person? Is it a means to an end - a place to dawdle away a few years before you get a job? Or is it purely because everybody else seems to be going?
On some level it's all of that stuff, and yet most of us end up in the real world without a clue how to navigate the fresh labyrinth of the expectations involved in working a real-life job.
Third-level student numbers here increased by 105pc between 1990/'91 and 2003/'04. In fact, Ireland is now leading the way in Europe, as the figures show that more than half of our 30-34-year-olds (51.1pc) have completed third-level education. That's where the problem lies - having a degree is ubiquitous. The more chilling figures are the ones that show that almost half of graduates end up doing jobs they could have done on leaving school.
The survey 'What do Graduates Do? The Class of 2013' found that graduates in arts and humanities who did find employment placed little value on the relevance of their degrees.
Only 32pc said their education was relevant to their employment, and a whopping 49pc said it was irrelevant or mostly irrelevant. Starting salaries among arts and humanities graduates were low, with 27pc of those in employment nine months after graduating with a primary degree earning less than €13,000 a year.
Only 9pc earned more than €29,000. The report also found that higher education graduates experienced more fluctuation in unemployment than the general population.
A degree used to get you employed because of the simple fact that there were fewer people with them. Now that everyone has one, their worth has been diminished - and it might be time to accept that many young people would have more success not going to college at all.
There are lots of people out there who probably feel that if they had skipped college altogether, they might be a team leader of their division by now and have a savings account.
No other paths were ever suggested to me at my school, so off I went to spend four years reading Penguin classics.
Michael Moriarty thinks that an apprenticeship model should be expanded here, saying: "An apprenticeship council has been set up and it recommended 25 new apprenticeships, with eight to 10 of those proposed to start this September in things like commis chef, electrical engineering, insurance practitioner and accounting technician.
"There are 450 apprenticeships across Germany. We have 27 - so now there's a rush to expand that."
In Germany, the apprenticeship route is a genuinely respected and highly valued alternative to university.
Employers provide apprentices with three years of training towards a nationally recognised vocational diploma, and the apprentices spend three to four days a week in workplace-based training - and the rest of the time at a further education college. They also get a small salary so that they can 'learn and earn' at the same time.
Then there's the oldest option in the book - just work. It's entirely possible for young people to learn on the job and progress on to senior levels. Experience and commitment can be more important to an employer than having a couple of letters after your name.
All those years of education, education, education mean that our graduates are emerging into a world where there are precious few opportunities - because we let the banks run off with all of our money, but mostly because our great educational leap forward means that many college degrees and diplomas are hardly worth anything at all.