Jun 13

College Admissions and Student Debt: Can Students Consider the Alternatives?

If you are a parent of a recent high school graduate, allow me to extend my congratulations and also my hope that all goes well with your graduate and his/her future. You no doubt have been placed in a position along with your graduate of choosing the best fit for education beyond high school and preparation for careers in the future. But does education beyond high school need to be at a four year institution which is associated with tuition/fees that increase annually?  Seemingly so as higher education enrollment continues to fill the grounds and buildings of our country’s colleges and universities. Considering the number of students enrolled in higher education and the reality that 60% of freshmen fail to complete their program of studies by the end of six years, should high school counselors and parents take a realistic view of student goals beyond high school and the family finances that are needed to support these goals?  If the goal of college/university studies is the ability to “land a well paying job”, then a reality check is very much needed.  In addition, graduates of institutions of higher learning are facing more than ever a large student loan debt that may take years to repay.

As a recently retired teacher and school administrator for four decades, I have watched and attempted to let parents and students know that while higher education is an option, it is not always the best fit for many students. In Virginia, the opportunity for students to attend classes in our community college system has opened the doorway for students fresh out of high school or as “later in life learners” to proceed with learning beyond high school. Students who lacked the maturity or focus in high school for learning can reassess and adjust to a new type of learning environment. This learning arrangement in community colleges may lead to an associate’s degree and then guaranteed admission to many of our public colleges and universities in Virginia with tuition set as the same rate as the community college level. It is a win/win situation for the student and for the families.  In addition, the educational programs in our community colleges focus not only on academics, but on the trades such electrical, plumbing, CDL licensure, nurses aide, computer tech and others designed to provide learners with a skill and an avenue to licensure for a career. And yet, the community college system is not the only direction for learning and training. I have often encouraged seniors to consider a branch of service for both personal growth and as a avenue for job training, travel and good benefits.

As educators, we need to continue to support student choice for careers and occupations after they leave our schools.  Our goal is to help students with career and college readiness and also to guide them to the best of our ability in choices for their future.  Graduating seniors have options and they need the best assistance educators can provide to help make realistic and productive choices for their lives. This opportunity for choices includes helping high school graduates realize the financial as well as the personal commitment they will make for education after high school. Stuart Singer, in his recent article, “Re-Thinking College for All” noted that “too much money is being spent on too few positive outcomes (higher education). Graduates are crippled with debt, dropouts find themselves in hopeless situations and potential jobs are left unfilled. America needs to invest more heavily into the education of our youth.  But, that money needs to be spent wisely.” (www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/157064085.html)