Patrick Welsh, who teaches at a large high school just up the road from here (and not in the overly-large school district for which I work), asks that very good question in a piece for USA Today.
More precisely, he wonders whether it’s the right choice for every student.
But how much students with low skills, little motivation and lousy study habits are going to profit from going to college is not so clear. Over the past five years, I have seen students who didn’t have the skills one would expect of a ninth-grader going off to four-year colleges where fewer than 30% of entering freshman graduate.
That means that 70% of the freshman class is likely to end up not with a diploma but a pile of debt. In these days of tight budgets at every level of government, it’s also hard to ignore that these schools are heavily subsidized by the federal government.
Welsh’s school claims that about 80% of their graduates go to college while our district says 92.6% of our graduates go on to “some form of postsecondary education”.
I’ve never seen anywhere in our promotional literature statistics about how many of our graduates actually go on to earn some kind of degree from that “postsecondary education”, or even if the district bothers to ask the question.
However, Welsh asks an even more important question than how many finish: how many needed to go in the first place?
And yet we educators – and most parents – keep giving all kids the impression that without a college degree, they will be on a slippery slope to oblivion and poverty. In fact, for the majority of jobs, what will be needed even more than the subject matter we teachers think is so essential will be what Packer [Arnold Packer, co-director of the landmark study “Workforce 2000: Work and Workers for the 21st Century”ï»¿] calls soft skills.
The report “Are They Really Ready to Work,” put out by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the Society for Human Resource Management, found that the four skills most prized by employers were a work ethic, an ability to collaborate with others, facility in oral communication and social responsibility. “Other than writing and reading English, no academic courses (including mathematics) make the top 10,” says Packer.ï»¿
Ok, so no one, including Welsh, is saying that high schools shouldn’t prepare kids to attend college after they graduate.
We just shouldn’t automatically choose going to college as their only goal.
And, as it is in most high schools, their only option.
Update 7/11: In this short excerpt from an interview with Seth Godin, he talks about how our schools were organized (he calls it a “conspiracy”) for the now-departed industrial age and how college for many students today is a fraud.
Thanks to Will for the link to the video and for his thoughts on the subject at a very personal level, relating this idea to his two kids who are in the middle of that “college prep” process.