Degrees of difficulty
Proudly framed and displayed in a place of honor in practically every household, the college diploma is the concrete manifestation of the Filipino reverence for the college degree. When Filipino parents speak of the legacy they seek to leave their children, they invariably refer to “an education,” which translates into a college degree, and which is something that isn’t just meant to impress relatives and visitors but is a necessity for succeeding in the world, a requirement for adult life.
The problem is that there aren’t enough college graduates anymore.
This was the alarming development reported by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) last month. The total number of high school graduates rises every year—something to be expected with the yearly increase in population—but the number of graduates with a college degree has been steadily dropping over the last decade.
The NSCB said that from school years 2000-2001 to 2009-2010, the total number of graduates increased from 363,640 to 481,862, or a yearly rate of only 2.9 percent. Yet in 2010, the national census stated that the population had increased to over 92 million with a rate of 1.9 percent, but “the number of higher education graduates has not risen fast enough,” the NSCB said.
This is worrisome because the ratio of the number of college graduates to the coveted employment population of those aged 24-34 years hardly showed improvement from 1.9 percent in 2000-2001 to 2.0 percent in 2009-2010.
According to the NSCB, “competing against the knowledge-based economies of the Third Millennium, these marginal improvements will not be sufficient to build our knowledge base as a nation.” Simply put, we don’t have enough employable people with a college degree to ensure the Philippines’ continued development in this highly competitive age.
It actually gets worse. We are not producing the right kind of college graduates, the NSCB also said. It noted that the annual number of graduates of education science and teacher training decreased significantly from 71,349 in 2000-2001 to 56,209 in 2009-2010. In addition, the percentage of graduates of education, teacher training, engineering and technology vis-à-vis the total number of college graduates dropped from 31.3 percent in 2000-2001 to 22.0 percent in 2009-2010.
“Who will teach our children?” the NSCB asked. “Who will build our future?”
In a country that allots its biggest budget allocation to education, the NSCB findings would seem like a slap in the face for the past three administrations. Of its total 2012 national budget of P1.816 trillion, the Aquino administration has allotted P238.8 billion to the Department of Education—a 14.4-percent increase from the 2011 allocation of P207 billion. But this number still isn’t enough, according to observers, particularly when one considers the spiraling costs of higher education.
In 2012, the Commission on Higher Education, which regulates colleges and universities, approved a raise in tuition for over 200 Filipino educational institutions—about 10 percent of the total number of colleges and universities—with the average increase estimated at P1,438.20 for a student enrolled in 18 units per semester at a Metro Manila school. The increase is sufficient to force a family to stop sending its children to school even if that family considers education to be a primary expense, said Rep. Raymond Palatino of the party-list group Kabataan.
“A tuition moratorium, more than providing a pause for thought to regulate tuition increase, will provide immediate economic relief to students and parents, especially in the context of the unabated price increases and the unjust imposition of fee increases in schools,” Palatino pointed out. He suggested a wage increase to enable families to continue sending their kids to school.
The DepEd’s new K to 12 program seeks to produce high school students, at the employable age of 18, who are ready to join the work force. But that program’s results won’t be evident for years, and right now, the problem is already evident, the NSCB said.
As economic costs continue to rise wildly, more and more college students drop out to take up minimum-wage jobs to help provide for the basic needs of their families. If college degrees are so important, then the government needs to take strong steps to enable students to stay in school and complete their degrees, and make sure that the Filipino dream of a good education does not turn into a nightmare.
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