Category Archives: Parenting

Raising a Non-College Bound Kid in the Age of College Readiness

It was the final home swim meet at my son’s high school and they were getting ready for the senior recognition ceremony before the start of the meet. All the seniors were lined up and the coach started reading off their names and which college they were going to in the fall. Some were going to UC Davis, others to Cal Poly, one had a scholarship to Pepperdine, and several others were headed to Santa Rosa Junior College. A few were going to swim in college but most were not. Then she got to Louis. She didn’t know what to say so she just called his name. Louis filled in the missing information, “I’m going to work.” The same thing happened a couple of weeks later at the league championships. During a break in the middle of the meet all the teams represented in the league lined up their graduating seniors. They called their names, their college choice and even what they were planning to study. The coach got to Louis, called his name, and then awkward silence.

Here is a typical conversation I have heard many times this year:
Adult: What are your plans after high school? Where are you going to college?
Louis: I’m going to work.
Adult: So you aren’t going to college?
Louis: No.

Adult: {stares back not knowing what to say}

Adult: Oh, so you’re going to work for a while to save money to go to college?
Louis: Maybe. Not sure. Just going to work for now.

Adult: {stares back not knowing what to say}

After observing countless conversations like this over the past 12 months I have found it very interesting that many adults don’t know how to respond to this. One went so far as to tell him he would regret his decision. (This was in a written evaluation from a panelist for his senior project presentation.) I will admit that I have grappled with this very conversation myself. My versions go something like this:

Friend: So what’s your son doing after high school?
Me: He’s getting a J.O.B.
Friend: Working for the summer before he goes to college?
Me: No, he’s not going to college.
Friend: Oh, so he’s staying home so he can save money for college?
Me: No, he’s not going to college right away. {I throw that last part in so they stop asking questions.}
Friend: Oh, so is he going to Napa Valley College?
Me: Nope. No college. Just working.
Friend proceeds to tell me a story of someone they knew that didn’t go to college that is doing really well. I try to change the subject.

Working for an education non-profit that promotes college readiness I have grappled with the knowledge that my son is not going to college. How does that look to actively promote college readiness at work yet know that college is not right for him at this point in his life? Should I have pushed him harder in school? Is he going to end working at a gas station for the rest of his life? Will he be doomed for to a life of living paycheck to paycheck because he didn’t go to college? These are the kinds of questions that go through my head on a regular basis.

I know that college educated adults earn more money than those with only a high school diploma but how do we come to terms with the fact that there are many kids that graduate from high school that have no desire to go to college, that college may not be the right choice for them? Are we adequately preparing them for work? With the push for college readiness I worry we are losing site of career preparation for those students that don’t want to go to college right after high school.

And how do we, as an education community, celebrate those students’  achievements? For many, just graduating from high school took a lot of really hard work and they can feel secondary to their classmates when others are recognized for their college choices at school wide rallies and senior recognition events. We need to honor the success they have achieved in high school, not just the plans for the future. College is an incredible opportunity that we need to encourage and promote but I want us to remember that there are many different paths to success and happiness. We don’t all follow the same route.

Every year, in my son’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings his teachers would ask me what were my goals for him. And every year I told them the same thing. I want my son to grow up to be a caring, socially conscious, respectful, hard working individual who contributes to the betterment of society. As we approach his high school graduation this week I reflected on that list of goals I laid out when he was in elementary school and I can proudly say he is well on his way of achieving them.