College is Not For Everyone...But Some Kind of Post-Secondary Education Is.
Yes, you read the title right. Yes, I know you disagree. And yes, your arguments are valid. Everyone can benefit from a college education. The latest statistics bear you out. Over their working lifetime, college grads will make more money. Of course, that is if he or she is not under-employed or employed out of field. Big "ifs" in today's job market. Add to that the increased time needed to secure a four year degree, and entrance requirements (grades, test scores, and other "bars") that must be reached, and a two-year associate degree or even a certification or diploma program (lasting months instead of years) may be an option for many high school grads. (Remember, I did not say you should not get post-high school training, only that another four years of education is not for everyone.)
Two-year and technical colleges may be the best-kept secret in the American educational system. Thanks to specific, even tailored programs, they consistently turn out graduates who routinely go right to work (with the support of placement services and business/industrial partnerships) in speacialized, stable fields. Currently, there are over 600 different technical college programs in Alabama and surrounding states developed with the help of business and industry. The typical technical college program in Alabama and surrounding states developed with the help of business and industry. They typical technical school students is a twenty-something year old (sometimes with a 4-year degree) who has experienced the working world and now sees value in being retrained in a field where he/she knows opportunities exist for a future that is secure, valuable, enjoyable, and financially rewarding.
A big hindrance to new high school grads entering technical or two-year colleges is parents' insistence on their child "going to college." That is the dream of most parents, mine included. Parents are willing to sacrafice and do whatever is necessary to get sons and daughters a college education. That is a good dream, especially if the child agrees and knows he/she wants to be a professional. College is absolutely necessary for teachers, doctors, attorneys, engineers, and many other professions. And, if money is no object, a good liberal artss education, expanding one's horizons, is of great value to anyone. But it is not the answer for everyone...particularily if, as my mother insisted "I do not care what you get a degree in, but you WILL get a degree." (As it turned out, I got a degree in education, and spent 41 wonderful years as a teacher, coach, and administrator.) I am eternally grateful for my parents' sacrafice.
One of my rewards of being an educator, however, was my involvement in career/technical or vocational education, first as an indutrial arts teacher, then a technology teacher, later as vocational director for school systems in Alabama and Georgia. A great frustration was seeing kids "skip" school, but sneak on campus to go to their vocational class. They saw a relevance to a technical education class that answered the question "Why do I have to learn this?" Those kids, and many others, failed to connect to the academic world but saw value to using hands and head together in the same endeavor. Those kids, without the academic interest or grades- had no dream to attend any post-high school institution.
In the 70's, when I first became a teacher, vocational education was for those students who someone decided could not work with their "head". By the 90's, when I first became a director, a grass-roots educational movement from the Southern Regional Education Board called "High Schools That Work" was documenting great success in raising high school achievement by combining academics and vocational education. It raised the academic levels of vocational classes, while making academic classes, particularily math and language, more hands-on, adding rigor to both facets of the high school curiculum. The "head" and "hands" became one. Pertnerships formed between high schools and technical colleges, with students being dually-enrolled in both, receiving college credit and a "taste" of the world of work while still in high school. Kids began earning certification in healthcare, business, computers, electronics, and other fast growing, specialized fields shortly after or even during high school. Other kids, with no aspirations of post-secondary education, were realizing they could be successful in a college setting.
Many times in my role as Vocational Director, I have asked a group of middle school students "How many plan to go to college?" and immeadiately most hands go up. That substained not only lofty self-goals, but parent expectations as well. Then I would ask "How many plan to play professional sports?" and almost as many hands go up and I would realize that worthy goals and realistic goals are not always the same. Financial restrictions, time constraints, student interests, and many other factors, beg parents to look into the many options of two-year and technical colleges for realistic goals for their children. For parents of kids who have no desire or plans for any educational experience after high school, technical colleges may be a way to plug you child back in to neccessary post-secondary education. After all, college may not be for everyone, but some kind of post-secondary training is.
Denny Bailey is a lifetime educator with over 41 years in public education. Denny Bailey has worked in many facets of education; as teacher, coach, and administrator in both Alabama and Georgia public schools. Bailey is recently retired and lives in Oxford, Alabama with his wife Kae Willingham Bailey. They have four children and three grandchildren.