Debt vs. education debate comes to Oakton Community College

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Jason Nwosu says his experience at Oakton Community College helped him launch a career rather than pushed him to memorize a topic, take a test and move on, as he puts it.

Nwosu, 19, who is double-majoring in economics and sociology, will share his opinion on Wednesday that four-year university degrees aren’t the answer for all students during a round-table event at Oakton, a two-year school with campuses in Skokie and Des Plaines.

“I would suggest removing the emphasis that everyone needs a four-year college degree,” said Nwosu, who carries no student debt, serves in the Student Government Association and just finished a one-year term as an elected student representative on the college’s board of trustees.

He said he learned the intricacies of succeeding at work by carefully watching his managers at his cashier and produce clerk jobs at Jewel-Osco and as a lawn-and-garden sales rep at Walmart. He asked them questions about how they got to their positions.

“I’ve had managers who didn’t get a college degree,” Nwosu said. “They said they succeeded with hard work, having new ideas and thinking outside of the box.”

David Pattinson

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the round-table discussion, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Oakton performing arts lobby in Des Plaines, is hosted by a youth unemployment advocacy nonprofit that welcomes the national debate about how well four-year colleges and universities are preparing students for the workforce.

The nonprofit, David Pattinson’s American Future, is run by its namesake, David Pattinson, who grew up 40 miles north of London and came to the United States to work in real estate.

He is now devoting all of his energies to find out how the U.S. can better prepare young people for the workforce, and then lobby policymakers to make changes.

“How well-prepared are young people to do a good job starting on day one?” Pattinson, 31, said in an interview. “What kinds of skills do they need?”

“There is a sort of panic by young people,” he said. “They hear that they need more education and to take on more student debt. I go for a counterintuitive approach. Let’s do less education, fewer loans and focus on skills that employers want.”

Pattinson’s nonprofit cites statistics such as the 2013 Opportunity Index that shows one in seven people ages 16-24 is neither in school nor working, and that consulting firm Accenture reports more than 40 percent of college graduates in the past two years are underemployed.

As part of Pattinson’s efforts, he will also meet with business leaders from Aon, Boeing Co., Illinois Tool Works, LinkedIn, Marmon Group and Walgreen, among others, to hear their stories about the difficulty of finding skilled workers.

“There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution” to youth unemployment, Pattinson said.

But he has set out to try to figure out some of them.

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