College: the primary indicator of achievement. The top qualification for a successful career. The stepping stone toward a stronger future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about two out of three recent high school graduates attended four-year universities in 2016, and for a good reason: over a third of jobs require a post-secondary education.
“I want to be an archaeologist,” junior Tyler Doby said. “You need to go to college to be an archaeologist so you can learn the skills and get the degree.”
Statistics stating that a third of jobs requiring a post-secondary education may be accurate, but they avoid pointing out a key detail: two-thirds of jobs do not. A June 2015 Business Insider article compiles the 10 highest-paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. The average wages of the top jobs on the list, mining construction and equities trading, surpass $90,000 per year. College: the primary indicator of achievement. But is it really?
“I think it’s perceived that going to a four-year university is the best way to find a job and success,” junior Ella Pallfy said. “I feel like well-earning jobs that don’t require a college degree are under-represented, so we sometimes act like they don’t exist.”
Another under-represented option is trade school. Most trade-schools take around two years to complete and involve highly specialized programs tailored to specific careers. A few of the highest-paying jobs that require a trade school degree include margin department supervising and air traffic controlling, both of which pay over $120,000 annually.
District 214’s college readiness program includes trade school in its list of post-high-school possibilities, but according to social sciences teacher Michael Dimatteo, this is not a common practice in high school settings.
“I’ve taught at seven schools, and very few of them have these kinds of programs,” Dimatteo said. “Not everyone is bound for [a four-year university], and forcing them to go anyways is why the college dropout rate is so high.”
Dropping out of college is often seen as a failure regardless of career goals, learning styles or personality traits. Choosing not to attend a four-year university often carries a similar stigma. The Google search “community college stigma” includes articles from Forbes, Huffington Post and the American Sociology Association with personal anecdotes describing the feelings of inadequacy that came about from attending community college.
Community colleges offer the same gen education courses that are required to receive a degree from a traditional four-year university. According to Dimatteo, students who want to attend a four-year university should consider taking their gen ed courses at community college as the most significant difference is the pricing.
“Going to [a four-year university] just to go to one is a waste of time,” Dimatteo said. “So many people are going into it undecided or pursuing degrees that aren’t going to transfer into money in the real world.”
Perhaps this is a problem of the American education system. After all, it has been considered as the traditional pathway in America for centuries.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, eight of the 10 countries with the highest human development indexes in the world have 18 years or less of expected schooling. According to Pallfy, who has participated in a German exchange program, some of these countries also treat the schooling process very differently than America.
“German high-school students don’t take as many classes as we do, and they get out of class way earlier in the day,” Pallfy said. “They have lower stress and spend a lot less time on school, yet they still have amazing development and productivity. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s just something to think about.”
The lack of support for alternative options in America may be a result of a lack of education and representation surrounding the topic. Many students and parents across the nation are unaware of the validity of trade school, community college or seeking a job with just a high school diploma, especially when the idea of attending a four-year university is often represented as the best option in the media.
“I think that [attending a four-year university] is pushed a lot because everyone wants to help us get an education,” Doby said. “It’s good because they’re trying to help us, but sometimes it’s bad because it makes us not want to go down a different path.”
By informing high school students and their parents about other post-secondary pathways and the reliable careers that become available through these options, perhaps the pressure to attend a four-year university would lessen. No post-secondary option is right for everyone, but high schoolers deserve an option that is not currently available to all: the option to make an educated decision.
“There are so many alternatives that kids don’t even know about,” Dimatteo said. “The idea that you have to go straight from high school to a four-year university is a whole load of baloney.”