Valuing students’ voices in conversations about their futures…and why we must be OK with their plans including different forms of postsecondary education.
We know that through a combination of highly personalized learning experiences in middle school, and an array of discovery and exploration activities, any student can and will find a path that works before they leave high school. In some cases that path may not include formal higher education, but a non-college path can certainly still be the best option for that student. Our view isn’t that college is a bad choice. Far from it. But all students must be empowered to make a choice based on personal interests and aptitudes and must be helped to understand all of their options and develop a plan. The earlier that conversation starts, the better.
For young people entering the bill-paying world today, the global crisis of COVID-19 notwithstanding, time is always ticking and there is little room for missteps. The pressures of making a decision, whether or not it’s the right one, are often overwhelming and cause young people to act hastily. Too often, the conversation is limited to the polarity of going to college or not going to college, and all too seldom is this conversation linked to an in-depth exploration of long-term career objectives. Young people are told, implicitly and explicitly, that four-year college is the only key to unlocking a stable and rewarding life. But adults must be open to the possibility, particularly during these turbulent times, that the desired plan for many students may not include four year
college, and even if it does, many teens can benefit from a more thoughtful exploration and consideration of their needs and goals before selecting a path. We know that education in many shapes and forms can play a defining role in a young person’s success.
But getting into college is not the end point, and education for education’s sake is no longer enough. What must be more carefully considered is why a student is making the higher education decision they are making and what they hope to gain from it. Are they doing it because it’s just what comes next? Because it’s what their parents want? Or because it’s part of a carefully thought-out plan that will lead to long-term success and fulfillment? When carefully considering all the reasons why someone should pursue higher education, we must be more supportive of the idea that the plan may not include a four-year degree.