Posted February 3, 2020 by Mark Perna
For the sake of younger generations, we must ditch the college-then-career narrative. Mark’s article, “Let’s Make Students Career Ready—Period,” published at Forbes.com on January 28, 2020.
Every high school in America has a simple goal for their students: to be college and career ready. Too bad, then, that most people interpret that goal as “to be college then career ready.” In other words, they view it as a linear progression. College comes first and then—and only then—comes career.
But semantics are significant here, and to be college and career ready characterizes a critical distinction. Why? Because it connotes that high schoolers have choices. Regardless of societal pressures or (now-outdated) norms, it doesn’t have to be a college-then-career progression. Entering or training for a viable, living-wage profession immediately after high school is also a legitimate choice—and one that should be on the table. College may play into a kid’s plan later, but it doesn’t have to. It’s all about where they want to go in their life and how they can most effectively get there.
Georgetown University reports that 65% of all jobs today require some form of postsecondary education. But that’s not just college; it’s lots of different things, including apprenticeships and industry training programs.
Now don’t get me wrong. College is a great option for those whose career aspirations require it. But not everyone’s career journey can or should take that route.Our college-then-career narrative is hurting younger generations. Click To Tweet
All this to say, our college-then-career narrative is hurting younger generations.
The burgeoning cost of a college education is making major headlines these days—and rightly so. With the average debt burden at more than $35k for a 2018 college grad, it’s not surprising that parents and kids are questioning if a four-year degree is actually worth the cost. Not to mention the 36-million-strong “Some College, No Degree” population, many of whom have been left with heavy loans—and no way of repaying them.
As a rule, Americans have an underlying belief that the only worthwhile careers are those that require a college degree. If that’s true, then choosing any other educational and career path is merely settling for something lesser. But in light of recent reports that trade professionals such as plumbers and mechanics are now earning above the average white-collar salary, such notions are, at best, misguided.
Every high schooler has unique interests and talents, and not all of those interests and talents would be best developed in a college setting. Again, college itself is not the problem. But going to college just to meet someone else’s idea of success—without a clear, overarching purpose—certainly can be.
Pushing every young person to go to college—regardless of individual aptitude, financial circumstances or ultimate life and career goals—is unwise and, in many cases, downright damaging. Just ask those who, for no real reason, bought (or were pushed headfirst) into the college-then-career narrative and are now struggling to balance life and work with crushing student loan debt.
Whether a high schooler is headed for college or for other postsecondary training opportunities—industry credentials, certifications, licensures, apprenticeships and the like—their choices should be celebrated. And that requires parents, educators and society writ large to acknowledge the value of all viable career pathways rather than exalting one at the expense of many others.
Put another way, it’s career readiness that matters most. So let’s ditch the college-then-career narrative and make our high schoolers career ready. Period.