Preparing students for non-college alternatives

As Kansans debate the “right” amount of money for state aid to unified school districts, they face an opportunity to think through what makes an education “adequate.” What is adequate and desirable for one student may not be that for others.

One mother, Karin Kasdin, recently wrote about her family’s expectation that her son would attend college, and what happened when it became clear that he would not. “We could register devastation and disappointment and push him one more time, as we had pushed him all of his life, to at least give college a try, or we could accept his decision with full hearts, and by accepting that, we could finally accept him for the smart, funny, loving young man he is. We chose the latter.”

What has happened to her son since then? Did he become the “belly-scratching, gum-chewing, penniless lout?” Far from it. He obtained a license to sell commercial real estate, lives independently, and has a good social life.

Nearly 70 percent of high school graduates start college, but a four-year degree isn’t for everyone.

  • 25 percent of people who have a college degree work in a job that doesn’t require one.
  • 30 to 40 percent of people who enter college fail to graduate within 6 years, suggesting that college isn’t for them.

Kasdin points out there are many useful alternatives to college. “Clearly, a vast number of our young people are wasting valuable time and money in college when they could be learning a trade, working as apprentices, becoming entrepreneurs, immersing themselves in the arts, or working in community service. Most large companies today offer training programs through which employees learn the skills they will need to perform well in the jobs for which they were hired.”

The alternative to college is not Skid Row.  Believe it or not, there are plumbers who can afford to take their families on vacation. Computer technologists own their own cars and even support mortgages. Mammogram technicians feel good about helping women detect breast cancer. Some hairdressers who have opened their own shops earn more than some lawyers who work for other people. And some young men with high IQs, winning personalities, and learning disabilities can sell office buildings. I wish my two degrees could have taught me that before my son did.”

The question for Kansas lawmakers and parents is this: Does the state’s public schooling system–curriculum, financing mechanism, and expectations–recognize the truth that Kasdin brings to light?

If it prepares only a given subset of students for life after school, it’s not adequate.

See also this previous post on an article from TIME magazine.

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