I hear people say, too often for my liking, that some people just aren’t college material. (Interestingly, the people who say this are rarely talking about their own children.) These particular students aren’t “meant” to go on to do any schooling after high school. In many cases, this decision is made for these students as early as 7th grade, sometimes even earlier.
I wonder if you are one of those people not meant for college? If not you, then who are “these people?” Your neighbors’ kids? Your friends’ children? The children of people you don’t know? What would it be like if we sat down with these kids and their parents in middle school or high school and the principal said,
“You are here because you are not college material. What that means for your future is that you are highly likely to receive public assistance and not have any healthcare. You are more also more likely to be among the working poo, live below the poverty level, and to have a higher rate of obesity. You will also be disengaged from the political process – your voice will not be heard or counted.”
This is what research shows has been happening to the majority of people who don’t continue their education beyond high school. Now, I’m not talking about success only for those going to a four-year school and getting a bachelor’s degree. Students who have 2-year degrees or certificates in various specialties, or who apprentice in the trades (like plumbing, carpentry, construction, electrical work) also are far less likely to experience poverty.
If we know the outcomes of students not continuing their education beyond high school, and the group of folks who are “not college material” have just been told this, do you think anyone would choose that path? Why then are some educators (and others) choosing that path for people? Is this the kind of future we want for our children or for other children?
I saw a graph the other day at a national conference of educators working on increasing college access and success for first generation, low-income students and those students who are youth and alumni of foster care (often classified as “those people who are not college material”). The graph showed that the United States is the only first world nation whose youth are not outpacing their parents in receiving any kind of college degree. We are stagnant. This means that as the baby boomers retire, we won’t have the educated population to replace them or to take on the jobs and careers that we can’t even imagine right now!
Here’s one thing we can all do to help everyone be prepared for college and all kinds of education after high school: we can ask (legislators, high school officials, colleges in our state) to push for high school graduation requirements to match college entrance requirements. In my state, Washington, they don’t match and that’s a shame. A high school diploma on it’s own doesn’t qualify you for the next step. This means that when you attend a community college or a four-year school with the promise to take those “remedial” courses, you have to pay for them. Take them in high school and they’re free! And those “remedial” classes don’t even count toward college graduation – they are there to get you up to the college level.
This is how I look at it: how can an 18 year old (or any of us!) know what’s going to happen 10, 20, 30 years from now and the skills needed to be successful? I didn’t know during my college years that I’d have to use a computer, email, the internet, cell phones and texting to communicate with people . This is why getting the foundational skills in high school are important: math through at least Algebra II, 4 years of English and writing, Social Studies to understand the world and our history, world language to help us understand and communicate with people from other cultures, and at least 2 years of science with labs. Even if you don’t use these skills in your career (and I do wish I paid far more attention in Algebra II), you have a base knowledge to make sense of the world – to understand articles in the paper and news reports to say the least. The high school courses I mentioned provide foundational knowledge that can be built upon and help us understand our world intelligently. And they help us prepare for continued learning and success as adults.
It is important to me that students receive a good education. That they graduate high school prepared for a good-paying job, further education of any kind, and to contribute to their world. That’s why stereotyping some people as not college material by middle school upsets me. I hope you don’t mind that I took some time to write down my thoughts!
Zinjenzo – The College Application Guru (and advocate for education after high school!)