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The Dialogue


Should every American have one year of college education?



the technical, academic, and other skills gained in the first year of college may lead to a certificate or job.

Serena Ota St. Clair
America has embarked on a major economic rebuilding effort to bring prosperity into reach for those who are willing and able to work toward their goals. Industry in the United States calls for “middle-skilled” jobs that require technical skills gained beyond a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree. Reaching economic success will take individual effort and industry support for the concept of career pathways.
Getting started at college opens the door to possibilities. This is why everyone should plan to spend at least one year in college. The technical, academic, and critical thinking skills gained in one year of study may lead to the completion of a certificate and then landing a job with growth potential. Continuing on with coursework can mean finishing an associate and then bachelor’s degree. With each step comes greater financial reward. Supporting the process of building a career pathway makes a compelling case for one year of college education in America.
There is national movement to encourage and guide all high school students into a post-secondary education necessary for advancement in an increasingly technical, knowledge-based economy. We are focusing on building pathways between high schools and college programs. For adults too, education is a critical resource to establish a career pathway. Therefore it is essential to make college accessible to everyone who wants to learn. Education gives people hope for a bright future.

Serena Ota St. Clair, on faculty at Rogue Community College in Southern Oregon, acts as the Pathways and Articulation Coordinator, facilitating innovative curriculum development.


students who actively choose to attend would be overwhelmed by those who do not.

Dan Linker
To approach this topic from a practical standpoint, the word “should” can only be read with heavy connotations of “must,” or the conversation is about all those things which simply “should be” in an ideal setting. While there are many negative results of a mandate like this, three points immediately stand out.
First, creating a required year of college would result in a tremendous academic lowering of freshman level classes. They would be filled with adults present by compulsion, not choice, who would very likely question or not understand why they are there and react accordingly. Those students who actively choose to attend would be overwhelmed by those who do not.
The second effect would be required governmental control of colleges and universities. The outrageous expense aside, this would create a tremendous loss of both academic freedom in the classroom and independence for every institution.
Finally, the effect on student mentality would be profound. Already, many first-year students are unsure of why they attend college. Often, they pay to fail and fail. But when they are self-driven, they usually succeed.
I once saw a pirate T-shirt in a seaside novelty store that read, “The floggings will continue until morale improves.” I do not mean to imply that attending school is like being flogged, but the comparison is that when a system is flawed, simply forcing more of the same is not the answer. Compelling every American to have one year of college would, ironically, decrease our level of education.

Dan Linker has been teaching at Suffolk Community College in New York since 2001. He received his MA in English from Northeastern University.

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