Nancy Hoffman, in a recent article for the Teacher’s College Record, discusses how many European educational systems effectively prepare students for employment and citizenship without emphasizing college-for-all. Hoffman explains that there is an artificial divide between “vocational” and “academic” learning:

But it’s not an either/or proposition and the job motivation may be a better and more effective route into calculus and scientific literacy than exhortations about liberal arts that often come across as “swallow it; it’s good for you.”

At the REAL School, we want to develop traditional “academic” skills and knowledge as well as student motivation by anchoring traditional subjects in the student’s real-world experiences as entrepreneurs and leaders in their communities. We believe that all students should have the opportunity to choose college, but we should also prepare all students to be confident, able, and skilled citizens regardless of whether they choose college, the military, or a specific career path of any kind.

Hoffman describes the German construction of vocational education, called Beruf…

The three Kompetenze (competencies) making up a Beruf include not only Fachkompetenz: the disposition and ability, on the basis of expert knowledge and know-how, to solve tasks and problems purposefully, appropriately, and autonomously by using the right methods, but Personalkompetenz and sozialkompeten. The former includes developing personal qualities such as autonomy, critical faculties, self-confidence, reliability, and self-determined commitment to moral values. The latter includes the disposition and ability to live and create social relations, to communicate and engage with others and so forth.

In an upcoming post, My former student now a skilled entrepreneur–no thanks to his academics, I share how a former student, M.P, who picked up computers pretty much on his own through a club I was running and learned business design and entrepreneurship completely on his own (as far as I can tell), is running several successful companies right now, and he’s only four years out of high school. M.P. chose the military after high school and although he was a strong academic student, it is his creative and technical skills that have made him successful.

At the REAL School, we believe in pushing students to very high levels of learning in a wide variety of areas. As Chad Ratliff (@chadratliff) writes on his blog, Venture Pragmatist:

We know we’re shifting from globalization toward “globality”. We know what skills employers need from talent. We know there is a looming higher education gap. We know almost all of the nation’s net new jobs come from entrepreneurs.

Yet, most public schools can only offer scant exposure to world languages, the arts, cultural studies, entrepreneurialism, technology infusion, project-based learning and other activities that clearly contribute to needs of the new knowledge economy.

In addition to the “three R’s” and STEM, we should be graduating kids who—at minimum—have learned to play a musical instrument, have experienced a robust arts curriculum, can speak a second language, have some college credit, are financially literate, have participated on a team, can manage the ever-increasing volume and velocity of information, have taken a course online, and have an appreciation for other cultures inside our borders and across the globe.

It’s a mistake to tell all students that they have to go immediately to college. It’s a mistake to only teach academic skills and not interactive and creative skills. If we instead help students be competent and confident, some will choose college and others will make their impact on the world in different honorable and powerful ways.



  1. I agree that not everyone “has to go to college.” And for the students that don’t go to college, don’t want to go to college, or can’t go to college, they are sometimes made to feel less intelligent or less capable than those who do go to college. I am among the group that was not able to go to college but I did find myself back there graduating before I was 40. College is not the end-all to everyone’s experience. Frankly, I think that it sometimes sets up a false hope that just because a student went to college, s/he will be scooped up for employment immediately after graduation. Unfortunately, where a person lives almost determines the necessity of college because of the competitive nature of employment these days.

    Gabe, I’m enjoying the blog.


    1. I couldn’t agree more Hollie. The college-for-all model is deeply problematic. Certainly, as an economic decision, it burdens the individual student with debt and a loss of productive work time and really doesn’t promise the return of meaningful employment. I loved my time in college and have been a big booster both for Brown and for the “college experience” in general, but if we must deal honestly with our students. We have to help them make smart, long-term decisions based on all truthful information. If we lie about the value of college education, we undermine their ability to make smart choices.

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