College may not be the right choice for all high school grads

Each year at this time, high school seniors are busy completing college applications at the same time that they are planning their graduation parties. Juniors are attending spring college fairs as they begin to map their strategy to position themselves for admission to the college of their choice. Web addresses are broadly shared in the quest for scholarships and special programs. High school counselors begin gathering college admissions data and scholarship offers as measures of school quality.

As the world has become smaller and competition more global, we have increased the drumbeat around the need for every child to go to college. We say that each one should aspire to earning a college degree. Many media reports about education focus on the comparison of science and math scores of US graduates with foreign high school graduates. Others report on the percentage of college freshman who require remedial academic work. Yet others tell us about the most popular majors or the careers earning the highest salaries.

However, few discuss the issue of how students and parents should think about the “best fit” for the next phase of the graduate’s educational preparation.

It is clear that post-secondary education is essential for most students. However there is too little attention given to the opportunities that advanced manufacturing, the skilled trades, and other non-degreed options might offer. We talk very little about careers that do not require a college degree. Too often we minimize the value of career programs that may be the best option for many young people. We rarely say “Yes, aspire to college, but perhaps not right now.”

Having spent the majority of my professional life in higher education, I saw firsthand the sad stories of students who acquired significant debt, but did not attain a degree. I watched the loss of self-confidence and self-worth that comes with academic failure.

In some instances students dropped out for financial reasons. For others, it was lack of sufficient academic preparation, and for others it was the lack of maturity, focus, and/or motivation. In every instance, the costs were high. The psychological, emotional, and financial toll on families was frequently devastating.

College is but one option

I believe that it is time for a new conversation.

We must change our rhetoric to include all options for continued growth and development. School counselors, parents, and others must help today’s graduates find the ‘best fit’ for the next step in their educational journey. For many that will be a four year college or university. For others it will be a time out to work for several years before returning to study. Also community college, trade school, and apprenticeship programs should be explored with the same energy and respect for the opportunities that they offer as traditional college participation.

Our task as adults is to ensure that our secondary schools deliver a holistic education that gives the graduate a true choice in the next phase of his or her life.

If we truly believe that education is a lifelong pursuit, we can accept an incremental approach to career development. We can be happy for the big rig driver who is enjoying seeing the country as he earns his living. We will appreciate the skill in the cabinetry of a carpenter who wants to use his hands to build beautiful objects. We can support the culinary arts student who plans to open her own catering service.

Our nation needs doctors and dentists, we need social workers and teachers, architects and journalists. We must consistently recognize and increase the number of those who work in the knowledge economy. At the same time, we need plumbers and electricians, masons, and truck drivers. We need everyone to be productive and proud of their work. We must value all of the varied contributions to our communities; those jobs that require a college degree and those that do not.

Glenda D. Price is president of the Detroit Public Schools Foundation, and former president of Marygrove College.

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David Waymire
Wed, 02/12/2014 - 6:40pm
It is with some trepidation I offer a counter view to someone I respect so much, Glenda Price. But the numbers show clearly that in today's society, if you don't have a degree, you don't have much of a future. Of those 25-32, if you have only a high school degree your average income is $28,000, and 21.8 percent of those folks live in poverty. If you have a college degree, the average income is $45,500, and only 5.8 percent live in poverty. The bottom line is our society decides to pay truck drivers, plumbers (not all own the company), welders and others a decent wage. Wonder why every semi has a sign on the back looking for additional drivers? If they were paying well, that sign wouldn't be there. Read this before encouraging anybody to skip college.
Thu, 02/13/2014 - 7:58am
So Dave, Interesting stat I saw, fitness club membership and participation has a higher correlation to wealth and income than does a college degree. Given this lets save a ton of money and get going to the gym! Interestingly the girl that hands me a towel every morning has a BA in psychology!
david waymire
Thu, 02/13/2014 - 11:44am
Show me your facts. I showed you mine. I will bet that there is a high correlation between members of fitness clubs and college degrees -- because they have income high school grad only will never have in this economy.
Fri, 02/14/2014 - 9:52am
Dave, You are right and that's the point! A college degree (especially in the past) is/was an indicator NOT A CAUSE. It indicates(ed) family background, economic status, intelligence, self motivation, discipline, deferred gratification, work ethic etc etc etc. Today they are largely ubiquitous and in many/most have been dumbed down to mean very little other than revenue for Universities. Doubling our number of BAs or any degree with no qualitative restrictions is a waste of money and a disaster. In that world you'll need an MBA to be an assistant manager at McDonalds! Glenda Price is 100% right in getting people to think about other alternatives.
David Waymire
Thu, 02/20/2014 - 6:52pm
Matt, if you check out the link in the initial post I made, it was from a Pew Research project that looked at 25-32 year olds...and it found that there was a huge benefit for those who went to college. If there was any truth to your "college degree doesn't really matter because everyone has one" it would have showed up in that age cohort. The fact is, at any age, getting a 4 year degree in any subject is, on average, likely to make you far, far better off that, on average, not getting a degree. Data over anecdotes.
Fri, 10/30/2015 - 2:40am
Your salary is limitless when you are independent and own your own biz. If your field requires a degree in order to practice or perform a duty then by all means...if not required, then college is a being used by lazy teens and parents to postpone adulthood. It's is shameful how ill prepared and the lack of skills acquired after 12 years of primary education. 90% of teens that go to college are not great at anything or have mastered anything. The only prerequisite for an undergrads Ed is to pay the tuition. So sad:(
Mary C Hartfield
Thu, 02/13/2014 - 8:53am
I agree with Ms. Price. We push college, college , college. Every child is not ready for college. My oldest son went to college for culinary, dropped out of the program; went to college for business administration, dropped out of that program. He had worked for fast food restaurants since he was 16. He was good at managing fast food restaurants. He worked his way up to managing his own fast food restaurant. Then years later he realized that he was good at design work. He now owns his own design company and is very successful. If he went to college just to make sure he had a degree that would have been a lot of debt. My children went through school and no one even asked them what did they want to do when they finish high school. What is their passion. Yes, they need to do something after high school, but let's explore with them what they want to do. " We must change our rhetoric to include all options for continued growth and development. School counselors, parents, and others must help today’s graduates find the ‘best fit’ for the next step in their educational journey. For many that will be a four year college or university. For others it will be a time out to work for several years before returning to study. Also community college, trade school, and apprenticeship programs should be explored with the same energy and respect for the opportunities that they offer as traditional college participation."
Thu, 02/13/2014 - 8:55am
I worked in the educational environment for over 35 years. Quit pushing college on everyone, just as they are trying to ram down the throats of every high school student the present graduation requirements. We all need further education and training use common sense on where and how to get it. This is an opinion based on 35 years of calling over 18000 graduates and non graduates. 1,3,5,and 6 years after leaving high school. Go where you can be happy and make money as well. Thank you Glenda thank you David R.L.
Thu, 02/13/2014 - 10:13am
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Thu, 02/13/2014 - 10:49am
" The....High School endeavors to be of the greatest possible usefulness to the student body and to the community. The courses both academic and vocational, are planned to meet the present need of the students. There are courses for students who plan to enter colleges and universities, for those whose formal education will end with their graduation from high school, and for those who for various reasons leave at the age of sixteen. In all school activities a definite effort is made to develop an appreciation of those things which are of true and lasting value." ( source- a student handbook, 1924-25) Federal vocational education monies have been around since the 1917 Smith Hughes Act, which has been repeatedly reworked and renamed. So, the concept of needing a college degree to be a successful (make money) citizen is hoax played on the American public. ijs
Thu, 02/13/2014 - 11:00am
I have seen many with college degrees pushing latte's at Mickey D's. I have also seen many with just a high school degree, BUT WITH ADDITIONAL SPECIALIZED TECHNICAL TRAINING, making very decent wages as auto mechanics, aviation technicians, and computer / network technicians to name just a few careers. Now the average high school graduate who specializes in doing oil changes won't make much, but the one who troubleshoots the computers in the engine will pull down a high 5 figure salary.
David Waymire
Thu, 02/13/2014 - 11:51am told a recent auto conference that the compression of wages has moved some auto workers from the middle class to the working poor. He said that when he became a plant manager in the mid-80s employees were paid $24 per hour — the equivalent of $40 today. “They didn’t contribute to health care. Today, that same job,” he continued, “pays $17 an hour and the employee contributes about $200 a month towards health insurance.” pay for auto mechanic...$17/hour. Probably with no benefits. This is what you are condemning your children to if you tell them they shouldn't go to college. Of course, I'm sure every poster here does indeed want his or her children to go to college. It's those other kids who are below average and should accept their lot in life.
Fri, 10/30/2015 - 2:56am
A college grad has the potential to make $$$...if he could only find a job. A college degree is another entitlement program with no guaranteed return on your investment. Many companies will not hire you based on what you can potentially earn based on government statistics. There looking to save money when hiring not to make the employee rich. The government offers more guarantees of employment to the unemployed and welfare to work recipients. The government is selling college degrees with no safety net. Many teens do drugs, have sex, binge drink and go to college due to peer pressure.
John Q. Public
Thu, 02/13/2014 - 9:51pm
It's the doggonedest thing--and I'm sure it's not a heretofore unencountered phenomenon for Mr. Waymire--but no matter how much sense his position seems to make, there's always that nagging unease that he's saying what he does only because somebody's paying him big bucks to push that position, and ignoring any evidence to the contrary. The baggage that accompanies a career in "advocacy communications," I suppose.
David Waymire
Fri, 02/14/2014 - 4:42pm
I hesitate to respond to someone unwilling to debate in public... But I'm still awaiting any evidence to the contrary of what I have posted. The bottom line is clear: If you want your kid to get ahead, get him or her into college. And the states with the highest share of people with college degrees are those with the highest per capita income. And the other bottom line is even clearer: If you want your kid to be a plumber, make sure he or she is working in a state with a lot of college grads in it. A plumber working in Flint is going to make a heck of a lot less than one working in Ann Arbor. $14 an hour factory workers...or even $20 an hour welders...don't build too many new houses or even have the resources to call on a plumber when needed. But a $60,000 an hour insurance company worker (or one working in the PR industry, for that matter) can indeed afford to hire plumbers, carpenters, mechanics... But hey, if you want to attack me instead of the logic, go right ahead, Mr. John.
David Forsmark
Wed, 02/19/2014 - 5:00pm
Unless of course, you spend $100,000 getting a bachelors in Psychology, then you would have been better off working as a mechanic for $17 an hour and not having a crushing debt.
Fri, 10/30/2015 - 3:30am
College grads pay my hubby $125 an hour to repair their residential electrical system with their $15 - $24 per hour salary pencil pushing sales job that they hate because they are useless and have no life saving or life giving skills. Can this insurance peddler provide free policies to his family? No, he's gotta make his quota. No ones going to call him because he is needed for his sales skills in an emergency. They will call him out of fear that his industry has caused. My hubby can actually provide his labor and service to his family for free because he own his own biz. He can provide jobs and relief to those who require him. He chose to not be indoctrinated for an additional 4 - 6 more years and $30k later. We live in an upscale town that people would love to live in with a great school system. He doesn't need anyone to tell him how much he can make because he is an expert and he is paid based upon his expertise not what a peice of paper may or may not declare. You're not a real man if you allow someone to cap your salary and control whether you can support yourself or your family. Adding insult to injury while you pay back loans. College is an experience not a requirement in my opinion.
Thu, 02/13/2014 - 12:50pm
Amen! Skilled trades still provide viable options for those who are less academically inclined and prefer a hands-on career. Plumbers, electricians, pipe fitters, cabinet makers, etc. all make important contributions to our quality of life and can be adequately compensated for their expertise. Most do require post secondary training, however. They are also a god-send to guys like me who may be able to handle quadratic equations but pose a clear and present danger when swinging a hammer. Pursuing a B.S., M.S. or a doctorate should not be the only options available to high school graduates.
Fri, 10/30/2015 - 3:47am
I have to disagree with your statement regarding trades people not being academically inclined. The have to do critical thinking, analyze, make informed decisions, code compliance and execute projects. They have to explain projects and use appropriate jargon. The difference is they can actually make things work or fix things. Try listening to an expert tradesman give you step by step instructions including the tools and material required for the job. They have to pass tests, study code updates and aquire licenses just like a physician. A physician will still get paid for practicing on patients and prescribing kickback RX's whether they cure them or not. Tradesman get a bad rep or don't get paid if the job is not complete. Who is held more accountable?
Chuck Jordan
Thu, 02/13/2014 - 1:01pm
I agree with what Ms. Price says. However, not pushing kids to go do college should not be an excuse to lower our expectations for all kids. We should not dumb down the curriculum or allow kids to avoid the difficult work of education. How many students know what they want to do the rest of their lives while in school? Give them lots of options and set the bar high enough so all kids have the skills and abilities to thrive after high school and if they decide later on they want to go to college, they will have the skills to do so.
Chuck Jordan
Thu, 02/13/2014 - 1:02pm
TO college - sorry
Vivian Carpenter
Sat, 02/15/2014 - 1:51pm
As a former college educator, I too, once believed that college was the only way to longterm success in this life -- but I now know that isn't true. There are other paths to a happy and productive life. I agree with Glenda on this one. We need to value, appreciate and develop all skills in our society-- and that does not mean everyone needs a college degree. We need the skilled trades and they should be properly paid. We need all levels of health care workers and they all should be paid at a level to provide a decent living, not just the doctors. We need educators and child care providers. We need a wide range of service providers and people to fix the potholes. If we develop everyone -- including those with low skill capabilities -- to their highest potential we'll be able to diversify the state's economy and reduce the number of people who need public assistance. Those who are not college material need to be valued for the skills and jobs they can do. If they are contributing to the economy they should not be made to feel they are failures. Gardeners, plumbers and farmers are important people. I'm sorry Dave, but just focusing on those who can perform high skill level jobs that required a college education is not going to address the problem of creating productive lives for those who are not blessed with a paved path to higher education. We've got to figure out something for everybody to become productive and able to make productive contributions to our economy. We've got to focus on low tech job skills too because we need their services and we need everyone to be as productive as they can be. We all need to understand that we have a large pool of people with low skills who want to be productive and earn a decent living for their families. College may not be the best choice for everybody--all things considered. Having said that, everyone blessed with the mental capacity and financial resources should play the game of life to the best of their abilities and I agree that college is the path with the highest probability for success. That's why I pushed my kids through college, but I also had a mentally retarded sister and a college education was never in the cards for her. She needed to be developed to do simple things and to feel good about that accomplishment. Enough said.
Sat, 02/15/2014 - 6:53pm
Every student should have a skilled trade even if they are attending college.I ensured my students went to college but both completed skilled trade training. Skilled trades are not just plumbers and electricians. Video editing and sound mixing is a trade. So is x-ray/ radiological technician. Graphic arts is a skilled trade. Skills are where the jobs are. There is looming shortage of individuals without the skills needed in today's society. Many of them have college degrees but lack the appropriate skills
Fri, 10/30/2015 - 3:05am
I agree!
Sun, 02/16/2014 - 7:33am
This is an interesting panel discussion on education at the House of Representatives in congress. The main topic of discussion is about The discussion is about 2hr long but very interesting. To view copy and paste this link into your browser.
Retired Farmer
Sun, 02/16/2014 - 9:58am
oddly enough,.. I came from a highly industrial city in the mid west, most of the tool & die companies,. maching compaines were owned by high school drop outs. I understand this is the exact opposite of thinking but truthful..
Sun, 02/16/2014 - 9:13pm
It makes me sad to see this article. I work in higher education and on a daily basis spend time with students who are struggling academically for various reasons. I have found that if someone is willing to work with students who are struggling, provide them with structure, help them develop skills, and ultimately show them that someone cares and lets them know they can succeed obtaining a degree can/will happen! I believe one of the main issues students face in post-secondary education is that faculty and staff expect that EVERY student can walk in ready to go. Although, there may be resources available for students to succeed, not every student knows where to go or how to ask for help. And sometimes, although folks in higher ed may say the resources are there, sometimes they just simply aren't. I often equate the transition of a student from high school to college to a student athlete transitioning from high school sports to college sports. Sometimes there's natural talent and the athlete can enter the game right away and make an impact. However, more often than not the athlete faces a huge learning curve and countless hours spent with teammates and coaching staff. True, sometimes the learning curve is too great and the athlete doesn't make the same impact she/he once did in high school, but everyone deserves a shot with support instead of that opportunity being ripped from them before it even starts. I recently worked with a student who was recessed from the university several times due to poor academic performance. Many had given up on this student. We made a plan to work together to make sure he walked across the stage. After 9 years of ups and downs, he achieved what many thought was impossible and walked away with his diploma and a 6 figure salary. Had he read this article, I wonder where he would be today.
Jeff Salisbury
Mon, 02/17/2014 - 8:21pm
More than 30 percent of American adults hold bachelor’s degrees, a first in the nation’s history, and women are on the brink of surpassing men in educational attainment, the Census Bureau reported . The figures reflect an increase in the share of the population going to college that began in the mid-1990s, after a relatively stagnant period that began in the 1970s. They show significant gains in all demographic groups, but blacks and Latinos not only continue to trail far behind whites, the gap has also widened in the last decade. As of last March (2011), 30.4 percent of people over age 25 in the United States held at least a bachelor’s degree, and 10.9 percent held a graduate degree, up from 26.2 percent and 8.7 percent 10 years earlier.> now, I suppose it's safe to assume of the 30.4 percent of people over the age of 25... at least some fall into the following categories are...a. unemployed b. under-employed c. working at a non-degree required job d. unemployable for whatever reason e. retired > so the economy plods along with some figure less than 30.4 percent of people over the age of 25 > conversely, almost 70 percent of people over the age of 25 (less a. through e) are driving the economy --- which we know to be true because United States employment as estimated in 2012, is divided into 79.7% in the service sector, 19.2% in the industry sector and 1.1% in the agriculture sector. > the task for those of us in education is to help students develop and hone their individual talents and personal interests guiding them to the employment sector (and sub-sectors and careers) for which they are the most qualified and not be swayed by "career earnings potential" and/or the "college for all" cheerleaders.
Sat, 02/22/2014 - 7:21pm
Ms. Price, thank you for your article which shows respect to the people, who due to circumstances not under their control, or simply their choice, decide not to go to college after high school. I found the number of comments justifying pushing kids to college being income, very distressing. We are in a sorry place, if income is the determining factor in job selection.
Charlie Ross
Tue, 02/25/2014 - 3:15pm
Dr. Price's view is encouraging. As a former administrator of a registered apprenticeship program I fully concur with her. We serve the top and bottom 10% of our high school students very well but have eliminated any support for those students in the middle, those not inclined to attend university or are not able to due to economic restrictions. School administrators and counselors promote college because that is how they believe their success is measured but I have yet to see any data from a high school that measures student success five or ten years after graduation. I have seen data from the US Dept. of Labor that ranks the income of a skilled tradesperson between that of the holder of a Masters degree and that of a Ph.D. The skilled occupations ensure that our buildings are safe and strong, our transportation systems are safe and strong, the vehicles we drive and the planes and trains we ride are safe and strong... The list is endless. The definition of registered apprenticeship is: On-the-job training combined with related classroom instruction. Apprentices earn while they learn enabling anyone to attain a respected career in their chosen trade or craft without taking out student loans.