My youngest daughter just graduated high school in June. She has always been an outstanding student and, as her dad, I welcome the chance to recognize that publicly. One of the high points of one of the speeches given at her graduation ceremony caused a huge round of applause from the audience, which was gathered for the outdoor event. Ninety-Five percent of the graduating class of over 300 students had been accepted to institutions of higher learning. Why would the cheers not abound? This is the exact statistic that politicians, business people, parents, and educators are all calling for in every high school across our land. Percentage of college acceptances has become a component in the way we assess successful schools.
My concern is that if our goal is to educate our students to give them a path to college, how are we preparing those who do not go to college? If they failed on the pathway to college program, have we adequately prepared them for a life short of a college education? That applies not only to those who were not accepted to college, but a great number of those who were as well. Many of those students proud of their acceptance to college upon high school graduation will drop out after the first year. If we have only prepared them for college and that doesn’t work out what pathway do they now step to?
Overcoming the impediments to completing college may not even be within the student’s control. The same politicians demanding a higher rate of acceptance to college are placing impossible conditions on the ability to obtain the money to attend those colleges. The economy combined with the rising cost of education place that very goal of every high school that every student is forced to strive for, out of range financially. If acceptance to college is the goal we can do it. If completion of college is a goal, we need to do much more work. Even with completed degrees in America at an all time high, we only have 30% of Americans with Bachelors degrees. That would mean 70% of America was prepared for a path that they never took. What were they prepared for? Did we offer any alternative programs? What will happen to about 200 of my daughter’s classmates?
Educators may not be addressing the needs of the non-college path students not because they don’t care, but because one thing all educators have in common is at least one college degree. Educators were successful in the education system. They realize and understand the advantages of attaining a college degree, but they may not understand the needs and skills required by non-academics to survive and thrive in a culture that holds college in high regard, but only 30% of its population is able to attain it.
With a majority of our kids not completing college, shouldn’t we consider examining our programs and considering options to address this reality? Should we offer more vocational programs, internships, and apprenticeships? Would educators view this as meeting a need, or would they see it as short-selling their students? Are the views and prejudices of educators concerning the importance of advantages in attending college holding us back? Everyone deserves a chance to obtain a college education, but unless we make considerable changes in financing education, college degrees will continue to go to a minority of students. The preparation for college may not be the proper preparation for a majority of our students, who will never complete college. If college is not a realistically attainable goal, why is it such a great part in assessing schools? Can we continue to cater to 30% of our students without addressing the real needs of the majority?