Sunday, April 29, 2007

All Kids Go to College

I was reading an interview that Melinda Gates did with a journalist, Robert Siegel about education. Here's part of what she said (this is not out of context, it's a separate question from other questions she was asked):

"I just want to ask you about a statement on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Web site that I read, which is that, "All students in the United States can and must graduate from high school, and they must leave with the skills necessary for college, work, and citizenship.
" I think everyone would agree that they better leave with the skills for citizenship because everyone can vote at age 18, and we urge them to. College. Can we reasonably expect 100 percent of high school students to become college students?
Yes, I think we can. And, in fact, I'm here today in the Chicago school district visiting with students...huge number of Latinos and African-American populations, and guess what? I'm in schools where 95 to 98 percent of these kids are going on to college, and it's because they started freshman year with teachers who believe in them and said, 'These kids can do it.' And maybe they are not coming in with the right reading or math skills, but we are going to bring them up, and we are going to have high expectations of them. And guess what? Those kids are succeeding, and those kids are getting into college."

This got me to thinking because on Friday's Weekday on KUOW, they had women in the trades on (there was a trades fair going on downtown that day). One woman was a welder, one was an electrician and I believe the other one was in construction. Two of them had college degrees but really wanted to and ended up enjoying their work tremendously. There is a looming shortage of workers in the trades (men, not just women; most are in their late '50s according to these women on the show). They work for about $22-30 per hour. But shop and other vocational ed classes have gotten phased out and many kids don't even know about these types of jobs.

- I agree with Ms. Gates on the college ready, work and citizenship fronts (but, as I have said previously, I really believe the citizenship one is vital and yet gets virtually no press or emphasis even though we are in a war, are having the Bill of Rights challenged on every front and have failing voting rates). However, the reality is not every student is going to college. No way. It may be a great sound bite but college is not for all kids and college is not affordable for all kids. If we make kids feel that they are failures for NOT going to college, we send them out into the world feeling defeated. At 18.
-She also says that with the kids in Chicago they started in freshman year. Really. Okay, great if that's how it worked out. I have a hard time believing that you can turn around that many kids in 4 years. I'm with Mike Riley over in Bellevue. You start in kindergarten just talking about college and how important it is. Kids need to believe (or at least be thinking in these terms) by middle school that they need to plan for college AND that there is a full support system to help them.

So here's a couple of questions:
-Should the goal be college-ready or everyone in the pool to college (and can you imagine the systemic changes that would have to occur for this to be a reality)?
-Why, if you can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone who's remodeling their house in some way (meaning we need all those people who have expertise in all kinds of skills), do we not talk to kids about their options? Frankly, some college or a college degree can only help a person with any job especially if they want to run a business. I have been an at-home mom for years and just recently explained to my son that my degree helps me be a better parent because I can teach him more, advocate for him better and be able to help him make choices about his life. But I don't believe every kid will choose college and shouldn't we be giving kids options?


Anonymous said...

I think people are suspicious of "vocational" education (i.e. preparing for something other than college).

1) historically it has been abused, to offers some group of children (learning disabled, racial minorities, women) a substandard education.
2) it seems to limit options -- if you haven't been on the college track, it's hard to get back on. I'm not sure why being on the college track doesn't limit the option to be a carpenter, but we're assuming that you can pick up those skills quickly. We certainly believe that about being a SAHM.
3) Our world is rapidly changing. What _I_ imagine a college education to be is the education to educate yourself, to do whatever you need to do. (It's not necessarily, but it's the idea I subscribe to). Training for carpentry might become outdated quickly. And, if that's the case, you need to be taught to learn and re-teach yourself in the current skill, not an end goal vocation.

n-ssp (I'm Not a Seattle School Parent).

Anonymous said...

To add another layer to it - there is not enough space at our colleges and universities to accomodate all high school graduates, should they all choose to attend. At last year's King Co SOAR summit (an event attended by hundreds of district personnel and youth program reps from throughout the county), the keynote speaker pointed out the irony of this - we push all kids to go to college and talk about how critically important it is, but then are unable to provide either the space or financial assistance that many of them will need to get there.

Personally, my parents didn't push me or my brother to go to college when we graduated from high school in the 1990s. I now have a master's degree; my brother has a technical certification that took him a year to get. Here's the rub, in my experience - if it's all about financial security, then technical training/skills (usually via a 2 yr degree or certificate program) can do as much as advanced liberal arts degrees, without the tremendous student loan debt. My brother's skills are much more in demand than mine, and his earnings are higher.

Maybe that's part of the question to ask when it comes to pushing all kids to go to college - to what end? What is it we imagine would be accomplished?

Anonymous said...

I graduated in 1983, and as a female, from a lower middle income family, I was neither encouraged or discouraged from going to college. It was my choice, and I chose not to go. I went to a 2 month travel and tourism class, where I received a certificate, and quickly got a job as a travel agent (they were in demand then, before the internet). I started out at a fairly low salary, but over the years, I grew to supervise, then manage. As a manager at one of the largest travel agencies in the world, I earned the same amount of money my husband earned in high tech, with a masters degree. Trades can be fruitful, if you pick one thats in demand, and you like what your doing. I love being a travel agent, and all of the travel perks that go with it. We have travelled all over the world for a fraction of the retail cost.

classof75 said...

Neither I nor my husband have a college degree, we have sent one to college and one on the way.

I strongly urge districts to support students to continue their education after graduation.
Whether they choose vocational education or college after high school- they need to be at the same level in order to be able to earn a livable wage.

I spend 2000 hours or over a year attending school full time to get licensed in cosmotology.

A student starting now- will earn minimum wage if lucky. Those wages also do not increase. You can earn tips, and a following, but many hairstylists do not, and work very hard for roughly the same income that they earned 20 years ago.

My husband is a specialist machinist at Boeing. What he does is so detailed that he is the head of his dept. recently they have assigned him a trainee, as soon he will be retiring. His trainee has a college degree. As do most of the new hires.
While this job just as many other jobs ( head of admissions at MIT for example), does not need a college degree to do the work- you will need a degree to get the job.

We should be ashamed of ourselves if we are not concerned enough about students to insure that they will be prepared to take on higher education. Maybe not immediately after high school, but I expect that most people earning a living wage in 10 years- who are under the age of 30, will have a college degree.

Incidentally- while my husband is highly esteemed at his company- after allowing for cost of living, he earns the same that he did 30 years ago.
Without a college degree, and without working for yourself, your income tops out rather quickly.

Anonymous said...

We should encourage our children to pursue higher education, however, we should respect when and if they choose not to. I don't think all kids are cut out for college, and there are trades that suit some people. Also, many kids, who elect not to pursue a degree right after high school, go back to school in a few years, after they sew some oats. We can't be communist about what every childs future holds. As long as we are human, we will be individual, and what works for one, may not work for another.

classof75 said...

Of course we can't force children to go to college or trade school.
However- do we tolerate a different level of health for kids from working class backgrounds than we do for kids of the elite?

Academic health is a basic level of education that will permit students to attend college- to work- to participate in this society.
While every student doesn't need/want to take 5 AP classes, we still shouldn't lower the expectations of what we require for high school graduation, just because we expect them to end up working one or two jobs at a time
( Melissa, I don't speak Spanish, so I am not able to talk to workers in my neighborhood doing construction, but what I hear from workers who previously worked construction is that it is not something that you can do for very long- very very physical- can be very dangerous, and as evidenced by the numbers of immigrant workers as compared to native speakers, it doesn't pay that well, and the way the jobs are structured- hiring one team for each skill set, instead of one team to build, repetitive injuries are common & may result in having to leave the field altogether.

I realize that many workers do eventually go back to school, generally to community college- few are able to make the transition to a 4 year school, despite repetitive attempts including myself.

Do we really want to add to the disparity in living standards by advocating for tracks of high school diplomas?

Anonymous said...

Until college becomes legally mandatory, you have no argument. It is an option. It is one option that a young person has. Everyone will not take this option, and people like you should not impose your strong handed beliefs on them. Impose them on your children. Should we make college available to every student. An emphatic YES!!!! But, we can not force or coerce kids into going.

Anonymous said...

And, "we don't expect them to work one or two jobs at a time" Excuse me, but we don't expect that of them. They set their own expectations. We don't live in a big brother society yet. Do we???

Anonymous said...

You say..."what I hear from workers who previously worked construction is that it is not something that you can do for very long- very very physical- can be very dangerous, and as evidenced by the numbers of immigrant workers as compared to native speakers, it doesn't pay that well, and the way the jobs are structured- hiring one team for each skill set, instead of one team to build, repetitive injuries are common & may result in having to leave the field altogether."

It is there choice to do construction. Not yours or mine. Someone has to do it, right. And, if it is something that they want to do, it is their choice. We can offer education, but ultimately that is all we can do is offer. And by the way, graduation requirements are the same for every student, it is the colleges who expects higher level HS classes. We have recruiters that come to HS and advertise and recruit, councelors to explain the college process to kids, financial aid etc etc etc etc. What more should we do??

Sounds like you made your choice to not go to college, right. And, whether you like the outcome or wish you did it differently is a personal matter. You were able to make your choice.

Beth Bakeman said...

Could all the different "Anonymous" posters please either create a username (that doesn't have to match your real name, like classof75) or sign your posts at the end (like n-ssp).

It is difficult to follow a conversation when everybody has the same name.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I didn't say don't make college available to all kids and I did say every child should leave high school college-ready. I also did say that I agree with Mike Riley over at Bellevue District that adults should be talking to kids (informally) as early as kindergarten so that kids have it in their heads that "hey, I'm going to college someday".

I just want to say that the people who blog on this page are not attempting to strong-arm our beliefs on anyone. We post items and ideas we think will spark conversation and thoughts for our school district and its betterment.

classof75 said...

Melissa what I am reacting to- is the districts pressure to have more voctech type classes required for graduation- but not have say- a language requirement
When high school principals are ( example at Garfield) told they have to cut college prep classes and add more career based classes- even though the demand is the other way around- that isn't right.

I feel very conflicted because I know that not everyone needs to attend college to be educated and informed.

But I also realize that many of the jobs that pay a living wage, require a degree to apply, even if you don't need it to actually do the work.
I like programs like the Maritime training at Ballard and GTA at Garfield. I would like to see more programs of that quality in the district- but when academic rigor is lacking in some academic classes, I worry that the career based classes, won't be actually at industry standard.

I have been an advisor in the Seattle community college system, which offers vocational training as well as college transfer classes.

It was well known in the computer industry however, that several of the computer training tracks, did not meet industry standards as they were very outdated. Students who graduated with a one or two year program, were quite upset, understandably so, when they found out that the reason why those classes were taught, was because that was what the teachers training was. Not because it was in demand.

I fear something like that happening, if we add too many vocational programs too fast.

Roy Smith said...

Melissa, you seem to be implying that our goal as a society should be for all children to go to college.

My question is, what purpose does this serve?

The majority of jobs that are out there do not require a college education to do or to do well. In a number of white collar fields, a college degree is a de facto entrance requirement, but this has more to do with the sheer number of college grads that are out there, not with the requirements of the jobs themselves. Meanwhile, we as a society have so devalued skilled labor (as opposed to "knowledge workers") that many trades are either suffering from labor shortages now or can see shortages coming because the average age of their workforce is so high. These trades are important (at least, if you want to maintain an economy that actually can produce things other than paper documents) and require dedication and skill, but never have and never will require a college education to perform.

The post-industrial economy is a dangerous lie. Eventually the Chinese will decide they want something more substantial than the paper they take in return for the manufactured goods they export to us, and then we will have to figure out how to make things for ourselves again. And when that happens, all of the office workers in the world won't be of much use.

The other downside of ever increasing numbers of children attending college is that it becomes easier and easier for high schools to not live up to their responsibility for producing graduates who are ready for adulthood. Many people increasingly view college not as "higher education" but as a four year extension of high school. I do a fair bit of work at the UW and it used to shock me how consistently contractors and staff at the university would refer to students as "kids". Most university students are, after all, legally adults, so that appellation seems a bit inappropriate; maybe we should start referring to university professors as mere teachers, as well? Should we encourage the view that adulthood doesn't really begin until the age of 22 or 23?

Beth Bakeman said...

I like Melissa's suggestion of a goal of "college-ready" for everyone. That is absolutely not the same thing as saying everyone should go to college and should go immediately after high school.

Instead, if we set up high school graduation requirements to align with state university entrance requirements (as more than 15 states already do and others are considering), then we would avoid the reality students face in Washington of deciding late in high school that they want to go to college but not being able to do so without spending additional time and money (classes at community college, etc.).

If everyone graduates from high school ready to enter college, then each person can choose their own best "next step," which could be college, vocational school, job, military, etc. As it stands now, we allow a door to be closed for kids because as a sophmore or junior in high school they think they don't want to go to college.

Roy Smith said...

If everybody is "college ready" at the conclusion of high school, and you combine that with making college available in financial terms for anybody who wants it, then you have one of two choices:

A) Expand the university system to the point where most everybody goes to college; this would aggravate the problems we already have in skilled labor that I alluded to earlier.

B) Find some other way to ration access to college. The logical solution would be for colleges to raise their entrance requirements, and then we are right back where we started.

If everyone graduates from high school ready to enter college, then each person can choose their own best "next step," which could be college, vocational school, job, military, etc. As it stands now, we allow a door to be closed for kids because as a sophmore or junior in high school they think they don't want to go to college.

If all of the barriers (financial and academic) are eliminated, what proportion of students will pass on the opportunity to earn a college degree in favor of a trade, blue collar work, or the military? A minority will do this, granted. Realistically, though, the primary reason people don't go to college is because they lack the opportunity, not because "they want to pursue other options". (This might change if we as a society didn't look down on laborers of all types, skilled and unskilled, but we can't change that by fiddling with the school system.) Furthermore, nobody gets a university degree with the goal of becoming a blue collar worker, and we actually do need blue collar workers.

Once upon a time (i.e., our grandparents' generation) it was perfectly possible to stop schooling at 8th grade and make one's way in life with a reasonable chance at economic success. Over time, high school became more or less required in order to avoid being permanently stuck on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. It seems to me that by promoting "college preparedness for everyone" we are raising the minimum amount of schooling that society requires, and, whether or not this is the intended result, we will create an environment in which failure to graduate college will preordain people to economic failure and in which adulthood doesn't really begin until age 23. We need to beware the law of unintended consequences.

I am very much in favor of raising standards for high schools for all students; however, I think that the rationalization for raising standards should be to make students more prepared for life and for citizenship, not to "make everybody ready for college". A very strong case can be made that our standards for high school should be higher, given the increasing complexity of our world and society, but it does not follow that making college graduation the default outcome for most of the population will do us any good at all. I would maintain that this this outcome will actually make us worse off collectively, and at the cost of immense investments of money and effort.

Anonymous said...

What kind of college degree?

Hard skills that come from many 4 year analytical degrees and many non 4 year degrees? Skills which will help you compete, or,

the Leave it to Beaver mentality that any college degree = a 'better' job = NOT with your hands = in a bureaucracy = be loyal = 30 years and gold watch?

a few years back, there was a study floating around that of the top 146 colleges and universities in the U.S., 90% of their students came from the top half of family income. These students can afford to major in anything, since when they graduate, even if their friends and family can't get them a job, they won't be stuck working 40+ hours of changing work hours in retail for not too much money while they look for that 'professional' job.

IF they are stuck, the affluent kids will have the 3 year old paid off Camry, and someone picking up the health insurance, and someone with the down payment for a place to live, so that their non professional job doesn't turn into a 3 decade non-middle class job trap with a 3 decade student loan ball and chain.

The economy is going towards skills, and, unknown to too many of the affluent who ... don't read the paper? The economy has been going this way since the 70's.

I love shakespeare, but, skills mean I've got choices other than hoping the guy/gal next to me gets the axe, or, pretending that if I work hard I'll get my gold watch.

To realize their potential, to have a shot at competing, all kids need a LOT more skills out of high school than what too few are getting, and, they need access to more training / education after high school.

Unfortuneatly, as long as this decades old debate - to be a college grad or not to be a college grad - is grounded in the perceptions of 1955 or 1965, we're not going to do a very good job of aligning our education with our local, national and global needs.

6 billion people need housing, food, clothes, transportation ...

and we need a lot of hard skills in our societies to figure out how to provide these needs.

anonymous for now.

Anonymous said...

My parents both went to college on the GI Bill in 1946 and graduated in 1950, along with many other servicemen and women who never would have got past high school. That marked a tremendous change in the number and socioeconomic background of people who gained a college education. It boosted the economy for a long time afterwards, despite the views of those who thought the traditional percentage of college students was plenty, or was socially preferable.

Education is an advantage. No matter what people do for work and careers, a good education is an advantage to one's own understanding every day. I've met well educated tradesmen and that's neither odd nor wrong for those individuals, especially if they progress to running their own small businesses. It's better for society, too.

Earlier, much before the GI Bill generation, there was a time when only a smaller percentage of people graduated from high school. Our great grandparents must have heard the same arguments against expanding that percentage. Where would we all be now if that status quo had prevailed then, and continued to prevail until the present day?

Given the alternative, with more Chinese biotechnology campuses and so on going up every year, we shouldn't be afraid of having to build more college classrooms. 100% college education for Americans? It might be absolutely necessary someday, to match 15% college education for 1/6 of China.

Anonymous said...

It isn't realistic (or desirable) for everyone to go to college, or even for everyone to be "college-ready". As Roy points out, there isn't the capacity anyway. High schools need to prepare students for a very wide range of flexible options. Students and families will take advantage of them according to their own priorities, values, and abilities.

And yes, who wouldn't love to find a contractor that could make a schedule, show up on time, and do what he said he would do? I'd pay a premium for that!