Is College Right for Every Student?

A guest post written by EdNet Insight editor Anne Wujick Over the last decades we’ve seen growing acceptance of the[…]Continue Reading

A guest post written by EdNet Insight editor Anne Wujick

Over the last decades we’ve seen growing acceptance of the belief that every American student should go on to college. The arguments are most often based on economics—college graduates receive a high return on their investment in the form of better job opportunities and increased earning power. Of course, there are also arguments based on the belief that learning in and of itself is a worthwhile endeavor. A college education encourages critical thinking and broadens students’ horizons. But there are other ways to achieve those goals, so the question of whether higher education is the right path for every high school graduate persists.

Absolutely! Maybe not…
“I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I had not gone on to college. The intellectual challenges, the exposure to new ideas and new disciplines, learning to deal with a wide diversity of people and consider their opinions, all contributed to my becoming a successful and engaged member of the community today. A college education builds habits of mind that stay with you forever and equip you to deal with the challenges of future employment, citizenship and building a meaningful life. Everyone not only deserves the opportunity that college offers but in today’s world must seize that opportunity to build a better life for themselves and the nation.”  “It’s true that the college experience can be very enriching, but building the foundations for becoming a life-long learner starts well before college. I work hard to enrich every class I teach, making academics come alive with art and music, drawing the connections between and across disciplines. I encourage far-ranging discussions that require students to listen carefully to all points of view and support their contributions with evidence, not just opinions. We all work hard not just at learning, but at learning how to learn, so that students understand that there is always a way to find information and use it to solve problems. Whether college is in the picture or not, I am working to ensure that my students leave high school prepared to live rich, productive lives.”  
“In today’s word, the lack of a college education severely limits job opportunities and future earning potential. No one should be denied that opportunity because they don’t know how to access it or don’t believe it is possible for them. I understand that career education is a viable path for some students, but worry that we are too quick to give up on students who don’t fit the “college-going” profile. It’s our job to help broaden our students’ horizons and help them believe in themselves. I do all that I can to make sure that learning more about the local institutions of higher education and the various support programs they offer is part of my students’ agenda. We can’t give in to the tyranny of lowered expectations.”   

“I worry about how little attention we seem to pay to the career part of graduating high school seniors who are college and career ready. I’d like to see us put the whole range of options in front of our students, both academic and career-oriented. And I’d like to see that happen early enough that students really get a good idea of what is required to follow any of the many paths to becoming a productive adult, while they still have time to act on it. Many college graduates end up underemployed while good “middle-skill” jobs like machinists, electricians and plumbers go begging. Not everyone wants a liberal arts or business degree. Let’s support students in following their interests.” 

“Higher education is a must for all students. Beyond job opportunity and better pay, we know that college graduates enjoy more productive, healthier and longer lives. Their children are healthier, better prepared for school and more likely to participate in productive after-school activities. Who wouldn’t want the chance to gain these advantages? And who are we to deny that chance to any student? But if higher education is a big step on the path to the American dream, then our schools (and we, their teachers) have to get serious about college readiness. Look around your classroom. Do your students have not just the content knowledge, but the ability to persist, to rise to a challenge, to collaborate, to organize their work and focus their attention? Helping students develop those skills will go a long way to helping them be successful in higher education.”

“In the end I agree that some type of further education is a requirement for successfully navigating employment and citizenship in the 21st century. My quibble is that for a whole lot of students the appropriate time to engage in that education is not the September after high school graduation. Further education can open the door to greater opportunity, but the student has to be ready to walk through that door. College is now so expensive that to graduate or even exit part way through without having gotten all that it’s possible to get from the experience is a huge waste of money, to say nothing about the deleterious effects of the debt most students incur. Let’s factor maturity and preparation into the college-going equation.”  

We’d love to know—what do teachers think? Should schools prepare every student for a college education? Should alternate paths be more predominantly featured? Why or why not?