When College Isn't a Choice

When College Isn’t a Choice!

Recently I was having dinner with several girlfriends. After the frantic winter holidays, it was nice to just relax. Mary (not her real name) shared some family news that was a bit astounding for a private person like Mary. Her youngest son, Ben (not his real name) had completed his first semester in community college and wasn’t going back. Three years ago, this would have elicited an emotional breakdown for Mary. Ben’s older brother had broken Mary’s heart back then by not staying home and going to college. Like so many of us Baby Boomers, Mary shared the belief that college would give us all the good things such as a great job, great pay, and a great career. Mary and her husband felt well able to send their sons off to college. I am an attorney, life coach, and parental educator on how to get your teens and adult children to independence. It took quite some time for me to convince Mary that you can enter college at any time. Maybe it wasn’t relevant to his career at this time. Her older son had worked through high school with sound systems and DJ stints. Since high school, he has been developing his own business as well as working in this field. At 22 yrs. old, he is doing incredibly well. Mary has come to accept that college isn’t for everyone and if needed, is an option down the road.

I remember clearly back in the 1960’s seeing a film in middle school on the merits of going to college. It cited studies that showed that merely having a college degree in any major dramatically increased your salary and choice of well-paying jobs. Also at that time, the virtues of a liberal arts degree were extolled as means of being well educated and well rounded. For those in the middle class and blue collar class as my family was, this was the ticket to the American dream. Community colleges sprung up overnight and off we went into the sunset. This was a dream that everyone could aspire to and achieve. And so began the big push in high school to send everyone to college.

But as degrees became more commonplace, the new rally cry was to get advanced degrees. It seems they are becoming as commonplace as the bachelor degrees. As one young lady graduating from a four-year university said, “I don’t feel grown up enough to go work so I’ll get my master’s.” Our high schools have become obsessed with college testing, college placement, and more testing in general. I always feel so bad for high school seniors who are being constantly asked which college they are going to rather than what are their plans for life after high school. We are a nation with a one-third high school dropout rate. Perhaps only one-third of graduating seniors will go off to college. Of those going to four-year colleges, only half will graduate. Then half of those go home to live with their parents. This is a pretty dismal way to plan for your young adult’s future.

I sit on my school district’s Academy Steering Committee in California. Academies sprang up in the 1960’s as a response to “at risk” kids in high school. These were kids who were not very motivated, missed school, and performed poorly academically. With the current dropout rate and many students reporting to study after study that school lacks relevance and interest, the Academy model seems to be worth incorporating into our general high school curriculum and our college curriculum. In the Academy program, known as “a school within a school”, students are given academic support, are required to do internships, and mentored by members in the business community to work towards a job and career with college as a piece of the puzzle if desired. The workpiece and the apprenticeship piece have gone missing in developing our young adults. But isn’t this why we are sending our students off to college? To get a good job?