Recently, Harvard’s Graduate School of Education released a report that examined this idea of pushing all students towards four-year colleges. The concern was that those students not going to college (for whatever reasons) are being ill-prepared for the future. The research shows that an increasing number of jobs require more than just a high school diploma. In 1973, people who only had a high school diploma held seven out of ten jobs. In 2007, that number was only four out of ten. Additionally, people with post-secondary education and training are more likely to find a job, be paid more, and be active and involved in the community. However, many of these jobs don’t necessarily require Bachelor’s degrees, but Associates degrees or post-secondary training. By focusing students on four-year institutions, we are disregarding those who might not fit this path, but instead could go on to other post-secondary education or training.
The fear among many is that this will lead to more tracking – especially for low-income, minority, and special education students – where less will be expected of them and they will be forced into easier classes and programs which lessen their opportunities. This is a major concern. However, it could also open up all new doors for this same population. Providing students with more exposure to a wider range of careers would allow them to more accurately select fields that they would be interested in, instead of based on what they hear or see on TV, what they thinks makes good money, or what sounds cool. My husband came from a blue-collar family, and went to business school because, in his mind, business people made money, and he never wanted to be financially strapped like his family was growing up. However, the reality of the business world and his current career make him regretful he didn’t consider his options more carefully. Students of low-socioeconomic status may have little exposure to different careers, and opportunities to explore such careers might allow them to find what they might be interested in, and possibly motivate them to work towards higher education after graduation if they find a field they are passionate about.
This report also has implications for improving the post-secondary outcomes of students with disabilities. For those students with special needs who might not be able to handle a four-year college, but want post-secondary training to get a good job, being able to explore their choices and having career counselors who are skilled in all different post-secondary options would help them pursue and prepare for the path that fits them best. One eighth grader I worked with had significant reading difficulties (he read at a second grade level), but he loved working on cars. Luckily, the local high school had a special automotive program where he could take classes his junior and senior year in automotive technology, get an internship over the summer at a car dealership, and even get help find sponsorship for advanced technical preparation schooling. Knowing this, we were able to lay out a plan where he could get all of the pre-requisite classes completed and be on track for the program. While the typical college route wasn’t right for him, we were able to help him onto a path where he can continue his education and build a solid career.
Providing more opportunities and exploration of post-secondary options can only improve the outcomes for students with disabilities. While we want every student to aim high, we also want them to do what they love and be successful. This doesn’t always have to come with a four-year degree. We cannot let our fears keep us from doing what is best for all students and for our country as a whole.