4-year colleges not for all; explore your options

November 16, 2011


The time is now with us when high school seniors are getting serious about college applications. I have been involved in higher education as a teacher and administrator for more than three decades and it’s not surprising that I have some definite opinions on the subject. If I were talking with a high school senior trying to figure out what type of school to apply to, I’d say the following:

(1) A four-year college degree is not for everyone. Many people who go to a four-year college or university would be far better off either at a junior college or a vocational school.

Four-year colleges and universities are extremely expensive. Junior college followed by a transfer to a four-year institution will save you money and, furthermore, you may well have teachers who are just as good or better at the junior college.

You should always look at junior colleges nearby and see whether they offer the courses you will want for the first two years of your area of study. In particular, you should look at the size of classes, the qualifications of the instructors, and the credit-hour cost at every institution that you consider. In many fields, going to a junior college for two years to study will put you at no educational disadvantage and it could save you tens of thousands of dollars;

(2) Think about whether what you want to do really requires a four-year degree. Many very successful people — carpenters, plumbers, small-business owners, etc. — have either vocational-school degrees or two-year degrees. If you want to be a nuclear scientist, by all means attend a research university. If you want to work in the construction trades, a vocational school may be a better choice.

(3) Whatever type of school you choose, shop around. Don’t simply look at tuition; look at all of the other charges you may have to pay and decide whether the total cost of each school is justifiable. Your college education may well turn out to be the greatest expense you will ever have, and a bad choice can cost you tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We in Kansas are fortunate in higher education. We have excellent public and private universities, private colleges, junior colleges and vocational schools. Where you go to school is not only an educational decision, but it’s also a financial decision. Make sure you make the right decisions educationally and financially. Talk to as many people as you can, not simply those with a financial interest in where you ultimately go. Do research and choose wisely. Your decision will affect the rest of your life.

Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


Kendall Simmons 6 years, 6 months ago

I've been giving this same advice to young people for almost 25 years. They even take my advice sometimes!!

Paul R Getto 6 years, 6 months ago

.......and, remember. Higher education is not a trade school or a guarantee of good income. Heck, if you want a good, steady income, learning a specific trade that is in demand is probably your best course of action. Education is for the mind and the soul, not the pocketbook. All work is worthwhile and noble. The key is to find something you actually enjoy; that is worth more than money. Good column, Mike.

bszemere 6 years, 6 months ago

Good points...its strange people think college will solve all there career problems. It won't. A key is selecting what you will be good at and whether college will satisfy that need. You have to choose the right school. Remember, the best school for what you what to do might not be the closest to you. Also, just because you go to Yale or Harvard doesn't mean you have served yourself well. You do not have to run up huge bills to go to school. I was able to go to Jr Collage ( I went to school in Florida, they had lower tuitions, same classes, but I had doctors instead of teacher assistants, unlike alot of my friends who went to UF or FSU. Go figure), finish the last two years without going off (and running up the bills by having dorm expenses, etc), and get a quality degree (and getting good job offers before I finished school).

3up3down 6 years, 6 months ago

This is very true in what all of you have said, but there is a real issue that needs to be addressed right here in our own backyard. USD497 has it in their heads that every student that walks the hallways at the high schools is going to college. This is evident. What this district sadly needs is a votech program, not just auto mechanics, but carpentry, plumbing, electrician, welding, heavy equipment operation, construction. I have spoken to many business owners in the is community who loved the idea that people they could potentially hire would be trained and ready to go instead of having to be sent for training and then work. Centennial Grade School was closed years back. LHS was just down the block. Student wishing to choose the path of votech would enroll at LHS for their required courses for graduation in the a.m. and then go right down the block for afternoon votech training. However the narrow sitedness of the head shed blew it.

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