The availability of student loans has changed our financial and employment landscape.
While attending college used to be something just a few did, “We now send 70 percent of high-school graduates to college, up from 40 percent in 1970,”according to Marty Nemko, a career counselor based in Oakland California (The Chronicle of Higher Education).
While 70 percent of high school graduates attend college, the number of students who graduate with a degree is smaller. Even when a student does obtain an undergraduate degree, a job is not guaranteed.
“Among the members of the class of 2010, just 56% had held at least one job” (The New York Times) by the spring of 2011.
This naturally begs the question, should all high school graduates attend a college? Should attending college be something we encourage our children to do?
We live in a world where most people want to see their children go to college.
We have seen the reports that show, time after time, that a person with an undergraduate degree will make hundreds of thousands of dollars more in their lifetime than someone who does not get a college degree.
Even President Obama is encouraging a college education, calling “on every American to receive at least one year of higher education or vocational training” (The Chronicle of Higher Education).
But are we setting our children up, both for failure and for debt they may incur while trying to get that college degree?
Before becoming a freelance writer, I taught at a community college for ten years.
While some of the students were prepared and eager to learn, there were many other students who were ill-prepared and did not want to (or were unable to) learn the material. Unfortunately, my classes typically contained about 1/3 high achievers, and 2/3rds low achievers.
I saw some students at the end of my ten years there who were in my classes the first few years I taught. They kept coming back for classes for years and years, but they never completed their degrees.
Many of them came from several of the school districts in our area that were said to focus on “crowd control” rather than education. These kids were deficient in basic skills, and they sometimes couldn’t even understand the basics of the textbook.
One time a student asked what the word, “dialogue” meant. Other low achievers were there because their parents said they had to go to stay on their insurance policies. These kids came to class every day, but they never did any work. They were simply there to stay on their parents’ insurance policy.
Unfortunately, my experience is not unique.
Charles Murray, author of the book, Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality, explains, “When College Board researchers defined ‘college readiness’ as the SAT score that is associated with a 65 percent chance of getting at least a 2.7 grade point average in college during the freshman year, and then applied those criteria (hardly demanding in an era of soft courses and grade inflation) to the freshman in a sample of 41 major colleges and universities, the threshold ‘college readiness’ score was found to be 1180 on the combined SAT math and verbal tests. It is a score that only about 10 percent of American 18-year-olds would achieve if they all took the SAT” (The American).
In a world where many of our high school students do not have the ability to excel at a university, should they be encouraged to attend?
If they will not be able to pass the courses and graduate, should they take on tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt that will impede their financial lives for years while they are working potentially low paying jobs?
Some may argue that students should be encouraged to go to college simply to get a better paying job.
These people understand that students will have student loan debt, but they will presumably get a higher paying job, but that is not always the case.
Simply put, a four year, liberal arts college or university is not for everyone.
As more and more students attend college, there are fewer students that are pursuing blue collar jobs such as automotive repair and electrician, yet these jobs are still needed.
Charles Murray argues that a student who is “at the 70th percentile in linguistic ability and logical mathematical ability” and “is exactly average in interpersonal and intrapersonal ability,” but “is at the 95th percentile in the small-motor skills and spatial abilities that are helpful in being a good electrician,” would make more by going to a trade school to become an electrician than he would going to a liberal arts college to get a B.A. in business with the hope of eventually being a white collar manager. While he may make an excellent electrician and make a good salary as one, he may only be a mediocre manager and as such will never reach the top salary of manager. (The American)
A student’s smartest decision is to evaluate whether she even likes going to school and whether she is a strong enough student for the rigors of a four year college or university.
Not everyone is, and that is okay. If a high school student is honest with himself and realizes he doesn’t want a college degree but instead wants to pursue a blue collar job, he may find that if he excels in his field, he may earn a salary equal to what he would have earned had he gotten a college degree and worked in a field he was less passionate about (and skilled in), especially when he is not saddled with student loan debt.