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.







Two charter school students among GWU Trachtenberg Scholarship winners

Yesterday, as has been the tradition since 1989, D.C. high school students learned that they were awarded full-ride Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarships to the George Washington University.  G.W. President Dr. Stephen Knapp surprised these extremely fortunate young people in person in their classrooms complete with college acceptance letters.  Two of the ten students currently attend charter schools.

These are not easy scholarships to win.  The press release announcing the awardees states that “GW selects students based on high school academic performance, strength of curriculum, recommendations, leadership qualities, community service, extracurricular activities and achievements and standardized test scores, should they choose to submit them under the university’s new test-optional policy.”  The students are nominated by their high school counselors.  There are also interviews with the students in order to identify the finalists.

Student winners from charter schools include Joel Escobar of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy – Parkside High School Campus.  Mr. Escobar plans to major in computer science.  He is the first in his family to go to college, and will graduate at the top of his class.  Mr. Escobar has been a supporter of those who have suffered domestic abuse, and he is also captain of the school’s soccer team.

Jenesis Duran was offered a scholarship and is currently attending Washington Latin PCS.  She is also captain of the charter’s soccer team.  Ms. Duran wants to study international relations and so will attend the Elliot School as did my wife.  She is currently both the school’s secretary and treasurer, and is active in the League of United Latin American citizens.

Eight other students were presented with this prize.  They include:

Cherisse Hayes from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts; Lorrin Davis from the Columbia Heights Education Campus; Ana Lopez also from the Columbia Heights Education Campus; Sydney Austin from the National Cathedral School; William Davis from Woodrow Wilson High School; Michael Degaga from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School; Emmoni Morrisey from McKinley Technology High School; and Adonte Yearwood from Eastern High School.

Students enrolled in accredited charter, traditional public, and private schools are eligible for the Trachtenberg Scholarships.  The money is awarded annually and then renewed based upon satisfactory academic results.  166 young people have been provided with these grants since the program started, which covers tuition, room and board, books, and any additional fees.  Impressively, about 92 percent of those students receiving the scholarships have graduated.

This will be the last year that Dr. Knapp will be giving out these awards as he is retiring.  He has told me that he always feels that this is his favorite day of the year.

10 D.C. students receive GW Trachtenberg Scholarships

Last Thursday 10 D.C. high school students were surprised with the gift of a Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship to the George Washington University.  The award covers tuition, room, board, and books for four years at GW.  Traditional public school, charter, and private school students are eligible for the prize which has been given out since since 1989 to more than 160 kids.

There were some extremely interesting winners for 2016.  Mr. Carlos Lopez Sanchez from Bell Multicultural High School traveled alone from his home country of Guatemala to the United States three years ago.  After a highly dangerous trip and detention he was accepted to live in an American home.  Mr. Sanchez now is conversant in three languages and serves on his school’s robotics and debate clubs.  He plans to study engineering in college.

Md Ahammed, also from Bell, was raised on a farm in Bangladesh.  His father was a school principal and his mother was a teacher.  Mr. Ahammed is now an apprentice at the National Building Museum.

These pupils, as well as eight others, were greeted in person by George Washington University president Steven Knapp, Karen Stroud Felton, GW’s dean of undergraduate admissions, George, the GW mascot, and admissions department staff.  None of the high academic achieving students knew that this day would be one of the most important in their lives.

The press release around the event points out that the Trachtenberg Scholarships are one way GW is trying to bring hard working students from all backgrounds to the school.  Others include “GW’s July 2015 announcement that it will no longer require most undergraduate applicants to submit SAT or ACT test scores was another. Still more include the university’s participation in D.C. College Application Week, its Early College Program at School Without Walls, the District Scholars Award and partnerships with the Posse Foundation and Say Yes to Education.”

Others winning the 2016 scholarships include:

Mikias Gebremeskel of Roosevelt High School;

Nathan Hanshew of Washington Latin Public Charter School;

Adel Hassen of School Without Walls;

Asia Jones of Benjamin Banneker Academic High School;

Lisa Le of Bell Multicultural High School;

Daniel Nguyen of Capital City Public Charter School;

Jarid Shields of Eastern Senior High School; and

Sakiya Walker of Duke Ellington School of the Arts