Perhaps we should admit that college is not for every child

Yesterday’s New York Times “The Corner Office” column featured an interview by David Gelles with Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of the social networking website Reddit.  It includes this question and answer:

What’s your advice for college grads?

Do you really need to go to college? There is a huge student loan debt problem in this country. I think there’s going to need to be a drastic change in how these universities work. And I also think we’ve lambasted the trades for way too long. You can make six figures as a welder.

Mr. Ohanian’s response reminds me of the conversations my wife and I had recently with Allison Fansler, KIPP DC’s president and chief operating officer; and Susan Schaeffler, the charter school’s founder and CEO.  At this year’s KIPProm, Ms. Fansler related that she was extremely proud of the fact that for her students half of those that are accepted to college obtain a degree, while across the country for the population of students that KIPP serves this number is only nine percent.  She added that KIPP is striving to get this number even higher.

But this still leaves 50 percent of students needing a path toward a career and there are going to be some students who don’t obtain a post-secondary education.  During the 2018 FOCUS Gala we discussed with Ms. Schaeffler her school’s efforts to address both of these populations.

These discussions remind me of the tremendous work being done at IDEA Academy PCS regarding its Academy of Construction and Design.  Michele wrote about this program for The Washington Post in 2016:

“ACAD was established not just to provide training and workers for the construction industry but to give options to D.C. kids and teach them skills they can use for life,” said Shelly Karriem, director of ACAD since 2015. “We wanted to help kids who can’t go to college or don’t want to go to college, as well as those who do go.”

I have to say that my thinking is becoming more aligned with Mr. Ohanian’s opinion on the importance of going to college.  Many kids today graduate with humongous financial debt and no real job skills.  While there is no doubt that over an individual’s lifespan there is tremendous financial value in having a college degree, maybe the curriculum at these institutions needs to be revamped to increase the likelihood of employment.  In addition, there is nothing wrong with young people learning a trade and then going back to school.  They could then tailor their college education to more closely track with their chosen profession.

There is another point to made here.  The cost of college is way too high and it continues to grow seemingly unabated.  If enough individuals decided to focus on a career first it would force universities to lower the price of admission.  We are experiencing rapid changes in the American economy.  It is time for our schools to react in a way that better prepares them for success in life.







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