On the job training. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
Yes, this is a play on the president’s once-successful television show, but it is really about something more important: the country’s growing recognition that college for everyone is a failed idea. Apart from the unconscionable expense involved and the failure of higher education to prepare its graduates for the jobs market, this recognition also reflects a clear fact of life: not everyone wants or needs what college has to offer. Many of those who have gone four years or more and saddled themselves unproductively with huge debts would have been better off learning a trade. So also would American business, for the economy’s most acute need these days is less for new BAs than for trained technicians, what employment economists refer to as the “semi-skilled” or “middle-skilled” worker.
In responding to this individual and economic need, the United States could learn a lot from Germany. That country in particular, but also Switzerland and Austria, never stressed universal college for its population. Instead, these nations have established apprenticeship programs, where young people acquire the skills to pursue useful and rewarding careers that pay what Americans would describe as a middle-class wage. These programs combine vocational courses at school with on-the-job training at participating firms, usually with a job offer at the conclusion. Now that many in this country have begun to take to heart the advantages of these apprentice programs, German firms with operations on this side of