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On diplomas and jobs


More than half a million students graduate from more than 2,000 colleges and universities in the Philippines every year. Only about 30 to 40 percent of them would find any kind of employment, and only about 5 to 10 percent would be employed in jobs that match their course, while close to 60 percent would join the growing ranks of the unemployed.

And yet, every single high school graduate dreams of earning that much-sought after college diploma and every single parent would work his bones off to send his children to college. In the Philippines, a college diploma is the measure of one’s worth in life and the measure of a parent’s success in raising his child.

A high school graduate, however poorly he has passed through the four years of secondary education, attends whichever college or university is willing to accept his tuition money, coasts along through four years, earns his diploma and finds out, to his dismay and disappointment, that he could not find the job for which he studied and for which his parents spent thousands of hard-earned pesos.

If he has good grades, he would be lucky to join the some 10 percent who would get into the profession that matched their degree, or he can become one of the lucky ones who end up as call center agents. Otherwise, he can land a job as a salesclerk in a department store, a part-time worker selling phone cards in malls, a minor clerk in a small office, or any other job that would otherwise need just a six-month training in a vocational or technical school.

Worse, he can be one of the close to 300,000 new graduates who will join the growing ranks of the unemployed.
Many of these graduates can’t even find a job in the overseas labor market because many of these jobs require special skills that do not need a four-year college diploma and only requires a six-month, or two-year training at the most in a vocational school.

In the United States, because of the high cost of education and the strict and tough admission requirements of universities, many high school graduates attend community colleges that have two-year associate degree course or vocational and technical course. This way, many students do not have to accumulate thousands of dollars in student loans or force their parents to get money from their retirement funds just so they can get a bachelor’s degree that do not guarantee them success in the workplace anyway.

In fact, at the onset of the recession, many people found out that it was the vocational and technical courses that remained in demand and paid higher wages, such as mechanics, X-ray technicians and medical assistants.

An influential financial guru, Suzie Orman, said “college is worth it if you plan on being a doctor or lawyer. Technical or vocational programs give you a better return on investment. Other financial advisers suggest that if you are in the bottom 40% of your high school graduating class, forget about college, you probably won’t graduate or you won’t do well anyway.

Seems a sound advice. But would Filipino students and parents care to listen?
During the term of President Marcos, the Department of Education implemented the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE) whose purpose was to determine if a student would qualify for college admission, and to encourage those who would not pass to enroll in vocational course instead. If the NCEE were implemented properly, it could have saved millions of students billions of pesos squandered on a college course that didn’t give them desired jobs anyway, and perhaps it could have stopped diploma mills from mushrooming and operating further.

In 1994, then Education Secretary Raul Roco scrapped the program, saying he was in favor of allowing every high school graduate the opportunity to get a college education. I consider this move one of the very few mistakes committed by the highly respected Roco in his colorful government career.

There is now a move to revive the NCEE, but Education Secretary Lesli Lapus is not keen on the idea. A national debate on the proposal to revive the NCEE should be started in Congress, instead of these congressmen arguing over who and how much should be given pork barrel funds.

The bottom line is that the government should start re-assessing the country’s education program. Our leaders are obviously aware that hundreds of thousands of college graduates are not finding jobs and swelling the ranks of the unemployed, and yet nothing has been done to correct the situation. If they can’t provide jobs to college graduates, why not do something to make sure only the qualified students attend college and encourage the others to take up vocational and technical courses that are what the country needs, after all? Why not assess and close down the hundreds of colleges and universities that only churn our diplomas that are not worth anything in the job market?

The Department of Education should start an information drive among students and parents explaining the advantages of taking up the more sought vocational and technical courses. College education is desired, but if the students are not qualified and the parents are not capable financially, vocational training may be the way to go for many of them.

And will somebody please tell Filipino students that nursing, business administration, and hotel and restaurant management (HRM) graduates are no longer in demand in the Philippines or abroad?

Records show that there are at present more than 400,000 nurses who are not gainfully employed, with 80,000 board passers joining the ranks each year. Add to these the 420,000 students that are enrolled in over 2,000 nursing schools in the country, only 40 percent of which will pass the board exams, and you will see why nursing is no longer the desired profession in the Philippines and yet hundreds of thousands continue to enroll in the course.

Many of the unemployed nursing graduates, just like many college graduates, end up in the country’s call centers, a job that perhaps require just a one-month training at the most.

The government should start redirecting the Filipino students’ enthusiasm to courses that are not only in demand in the country and abroad, but which the country needs more, such as agriculture courses, geology, mining sciences, and software engineering, the enrolment of which are low but which are in demand.

A college diploma is every Filipino’s dream, but it is never a guarantee to success. One has to make the right career choice to succeed. And the parents, the teachers and the government have the duty to help students make the right choice.


by Val G. Abelgas

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