Archive for Monday, June 11, 2012


Double Take: Alternatives to college

Not every teen takes the same path after high school, but continued education is necessary

June 11, 2012


Dear Dr. Wes and Miranda: In your graduation column, you gave general words of encouragement to high school grads and Miranda addressed those going to college. But not everyone goes to college, and of the ones who do, not everyone finishes. I was wondering if you could write a column for those kids.

Dr. Wes: Indeed we can. Lets start with young people who don’t finish high school. For them, my best advice is go back.

Not necessarily re-enrolling in a local high school to pick up where they left off — that’s often impractical and a bit weird, as they’re no longer matriculating with their peers. Instead, most communities, including our own, offer adult education programs that will get kids back into classes that actually land them a diploma, not just a GED — though that’s an option, too. Many of those programs are self-paced, but they expect their clients to be there working or they’ll drop them from the roll for someone more motivated.

For those who graduated but don’t feel they’re ready for the full college experience, my advice is don’t go.

Too many young people feel pressured into college by their parents or because they have no other plan. There’s nothing wrong with a gap year or two, as long as it’s used productively on life exploration (real life, not “Second Life”). There’s a lot wrong with spending a lot of money for a 1.5 GPA and then dropping out.

For many late teens, the academics of high school were a horror show of unmanageable classes with little personal meaning followed by disappointing grade cards, sadness and anxiety. In our yearning to make everybody a math and science whiz, we’ve left a lot of kids behind who would have enjoyed school and learned a lot there if it met their needs, instead of some committee’s “Standard of Excellence.” Fortunately, there are still some great vocational training programs that can connect young adults with a paycheck if they put in the effort. Miranda discusses several of those options.

What new adults cannot do, however, is give up on additional education. We just don’t live in that society anymore. Auto mechanics, chefs, HVAC techs, electricians, hair stylists and truck drivers all make higher wages than folks without vocational training, and to be quite honest, many make better salaries than four-year college grads. It’s definitely worth considering.

And for kids with significant learning problems, there’s Vocational Rehabilitation, a state program that helps folks with all kinds of disabilities get training and gainful employment. It’s been a lifesaver in many cases I’ve seen.

Miranda: While lots of former high school seniors will continue at four-year colleges, many will choose different yet equal paths.

For a long time, a college degree guaranteed a secure job and a promising future. But times have changed, and many college grads are starting to see that pursuing a degree without thinking through a future will have costly consequences. Not all degrees or majors are created equal, and an AA or two-year certification in a competitive job field could be the path to a promising career.

In addition to the fields Wes mentioned, vocational careers include carpentry, two-year nursing programs (you can get an RN that way), emergency medical sciences (paramedic/EMT) and several other allied health fields. Being in school for a shorter time means you’ll incur less debt, too. Serving our country in the military is also a great option, as is seeking real world job experience while exploring careers and saving up for your education.

Wes is right. Without additional education of some kind, teens and young adults aren’t preparing themselves for the future in the best way possible.

Whatever path you take, it’s important to have a general plan and a couple of long- and short-term goals. This is the framework that guides our big decisions in life. Use your plan as a road map, but don’t be afraid to try a few different directions. Then you can use your goals to check your progress. We should always be asking ourselves, “Where do I want to be in five years? Ten years? Is this what I need to do to get me there?”

If down the road you are happy with your life and your success, it won’t matter what path you took to get there, as long as you are making smart, planned decisions now.


Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

A four year degree is not quite enough. Having two or three sources of income is not a bad idea. Why?

Here are at least 6 reasons to keep in mind: 1. Mergers 2. Hostile Takeovers 3. Leveraged Buyouts 4. Free Trade Agreements 5. Reagan/Bush Savings and Loan home loan scandal which killed the economy and cost the USA millions of jobs. 6. Bush/Cheney Home Loan scandal killed the economy and cost the USA millions of jobs

All of above ultimately translated into millions upon millions upon millions of USA job losses. Big time layoffs were the end result. These jobs go abroad with tax codes that prevent taxation on profits made abroad from USA big name corporations.

There was a time when becoming employed by corporate America came with long term employment, fine wages and dependable retirement benefits. Those days are gone.

Go after that college degree. After a 4 year degree consider a Vocational-Technical Institute to enhance your opportunities as a skilled technician in some field.This will make any college grad more marketable and perhaps open doors to self employment.

Or if one has the dollars becoming a career student is as respectable as any other full time "job".

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