Everybody Doesn’t Have to Go to College

Dear Parents,

During the last 20 years or so, Americans have come to believe that all students should aspire to a college education, regardless of academic interest or proficiency. “You can be anything you want to be” is the message – even though we all know that isn’t true. Somehow, equal opportunity has become a one-size-fits-all conveyor belt into a four-year college.

Many times, where that conveyor belt takes students is into debt, wasted years, and a sense of failure.

What are the facts? Two-thirds of the students who graduated from college in 2011 had debt, and the average amount of debt was $26,600 per borrower. The unemployment rate for new college graduates in 2011 was 8.8% – and many of the jobs they got did not require a college degree. Less than 60% of those students who enter a four year college actually finish within six years. 70% of available jobs do not require a college degree!

Getting a bachelor’s degree is not a slam-dunk into the good life. Many teenagers are actually more interested in being a plumber, a truck driver, or a police officer – all worthwhile careers that provide a good living, but do not require a college degree.

So let’s look at some of the options for high school seniors who aren’t interested in a four-year college degree.

For many young people, the most cost-effective and efficient way to spend their post-secondary education dollars is at community colleges, which offer vocationally-related associate’s degrees and career-specific technical training at a very low cost to the student.

A certificate, earned at a community college or technical school, tells a potential employer that the certificate holder has demonstrated mastery of a set of skills. Examples of certificate programs at the community college level include database management, web design, heating and air conditioning, construction management, office management, early childhood, automotive systems technology, surgical tech, court reporting, practical nursing, and mechanical drafting.

Associates degrees, usually earned at a community college, are two-year college degrees. An associate’s degree can be the first step on the path to a bachelor’s degree, or it can provide all the knowledge and skills necessary for a great career. Examples of associate degree programs include information technology, engineering, accounting, nursing, pastry arts, cosmetology, hospitality management, and therapeutic massage.

Another time-honored way of getting post-secondary training – for free – is to join the military. Be all that you can be! The armed forces have a website called Today’s Military that features information about recruitment, requirements, military training, and careers in all five branches –  Todays Military Careers. Military service requires technical knowledge, leadership skills, team work, and a strong work ethic – great preparation for any career in any field.

There are many careers that don’t require any formal certification or training, although on-the-job training may be necessary. Examples include retail sales, the performing arts, food service, customer service, insurance adjusters, city maintenance workers, and office workers.

Many jobs in community service fields (law enforcement, firefighting, animal control, emergency medical tech) do not require a college degree, although training is certainly necessary.

There are a number of excellent websites that give students information about careers and how to pursue them.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has a job portal, designed for high school students and recent graduates. The student can click on an area of interest (math, building and fixing things, law, computers, managing money, etc.) and then the site lists several careers that might be appropriate. When the student clicks on one of the careers, the link goes to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which lists all the information about that career, including job description, median pay, entry-level educational requirements, job outlook, and work environment.

The federal government has an umbrella site called the American Job Centerthat includes many different ways to explore careers and job trends. My Next Move, for example, is sponsored by the Department of Labor and has tools that are specifically designed to help high school students look at all the options and plan their future.

Heather Hutchins published a small book for the American Library Association called I don’t want to go to college: Other paths to success. This book offers a wealth of ideas and resources about exploring careers, getting the necessary training, applying to programs, writing a resume, going to interviews, and getting financial aid.

We serve our young people best when we play to their strengths, allow them the opportunity to choose their path in life, and value their hard work in any field of endeavor. Every student should have the opportunity to pursue a four-year college degree if that is their dream – but no student should be pushed into path that isn’t right for them.

Alice Wellborn


Our very own education specialist Alice Wellborn is now a regular contributor at FlyLady.net and we are thrilled to share her wise words with all of you. Alice is a school psychologist and the author of the amazingly helpful book No More Parents Left Behind.

Get the book at: No More Parents Left Behind

You can follow Alice on Facebook here


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