As each year passes, it seems like college becomes less and less crucial. Another way to describe it, colleges are not the single most important priority for schools to prepare their students for post graduation. High school districts and leaders are taking note of this phenomenon – installing new programs and pathways for those who do not want to venture into higher education.
For one of my jobs, I interviewed my city’s school superintendent. Throughout the interview, it was clear that my former high school shared this same sentiment. Whereas previous years drilled SATs, ACTs, athletics, and community service to pad resumes and applications to high schoolers, current years are seeing a dramatic shift.
After I asked the superintendent of my former high school about the different directions, he told me students could undertake medical, technological, zoological (through having one of the three zoo schools in the United States), advanced manufacturing, marketing, graphic design, and instructional pathways. Some of these do prepare students for higher education, serving as prerequisites of sorts, but others can be a straight shot into a career. The district is also creating an innovation center where students can do podcasts, utilize green screen technology, code, and game.
Back to the matter at hand, fewer students are enrolling in college after high school. Another matter that can be attributed to this fact is the rising costs of tuition and housing. A report by Melanie Hanson cites,
“The average cost of college in the United States is $36,436 per student per year, including books, supplies, and daily living expenses. The average cost of college has more than doubled in the 21st century, with an annual growth rate of 2% over the past 10 years. The average in-state student attending a public 4-year institution spends $26,027 for one academic year. The average cost of in-state tuition alone is $9,678; out-of-state tuition averages $27,091. The average private, nonprofit university student spends a total of $55,840 per academic year living on campus, $38,768 of it on tuition and fees. Considering student loan interest and loss of income, the ultimate cost of a bachelor’s degree can exceed $500,000.”
Many people are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the costs of a degree that, in many cases, needs a master’s degree to obtain the salary many students crave. I have had a fair share of conversations where people label college a “scam” and where many are worried about finding a career after walking across the stage and turning the tassel. Washington.edu examines this phenomenon, writing,
“There is a myth that if you have a college degree, you have a job. The fact is that approximately 53% of college graduates are unemployed or working in a job that doesn't require a bachelor's degree. It takes the average college graduate three to six months to secure employment after graduation. A student benefits from having a career-seeking strategy and previous work experiences. Otherwise, her resume might be lost in a stack of hundreds for a specific job.”
Brianna Hatch writes,
“Nationwide, fewer high-school seniors are choosing to enroll in college immediately after graduation. In some states, not even half of 2020 high-school graduates are pursuing higher education, according to the latest data available. For many states, this shrinking number comes as another grim sign for college-enrollment prospects and for future work forces — especially since students who do not enroll right away are less likely to earn college degrees at all.”
Like many phenomena over the last few years, the cause behind this shift away from college can also be tied to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Kasia Kovacs looked into this issue after the initial year of the pandemic. Her findings are more than worrisome to people in the field of higher education. She writes,
“As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly spread across the U.S. early last year, higher education administrators and stakeholders anxiously wondered what this could mean for colleges and universities. But they weren't just nervous about having to shut down campuses and adapt to virtual learning — they feared students would scrap their plans to apply to college entirely… COVID-19 has caused unprecedented drops in college enrollment numbers… Experts worry these losses could spell trouble for future enrollment.”
Maria Carrasco explored these falling numbers and just exactly how stark the differences were between previous years. She writes,
“The share of high school students enrolling directly in college continues to fall, data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center show. College enrollment by the high school Class of 2020 showed an ‘unprecedented’ decline of between four and 10 percentage points depending on the high school category, according to the finalized version of the High School Benchmarks report released last month. Prospects for the graduating Class of 2021 don’t appear much better; preliminary data from the clearinghouse show freshman enrollment declined 2.7 percent from last fall—13.1 percent since 2019—across all sectors except private nonprofit four-year institutions, which increased 2.5 percent over last fall. Overall postsecondary enrollment for fall 2021 is running 2.6 percent below 2020’s level, for a total 5.8 percent drop since 2019.”
As these numbers continue to drop, high schools are discovering it may be more important to prepare students for careers unrelated to college. Instead of trying to combat an issue that shows no signs of slowing down, many high schools are pushing their career and technical education (CTE) programs as a viable option for students to undertake during their four years in high school.
Brian Jacob writes about the impact of CTE, including,
“CTE encompasses a wide range of activities intended to simultaneously provide students with skills demanded in the labor market while preparing them for post-secondary degrees in technical fields. Activities include not only specific career-oriented classes, but also internships, apprenticeships and in-school programs designed to foster work readiness. CTE advocates cite several goals of career-oriented learning experiences. For non-college-bound students, CTE can provide hands-on training that translates directly to attractive careers upon graduation. Work-related or internship-like experiences that are often a part of CTE can teach students the ‘soft skills’ necessary in the labor market. Finally, by integrating academic skills into a ‘real world’ context, advocates claim that CTE can motivate students to attend school more frequently and be more engaged, and therefore improve core academic skills.”
As the pursuit of college for many high schoolers continues to fall, it may prove beneficial for high schools across the country to promote their CTE and other related programs.
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