Are We Steering Young People Towards College Without a Navigation System?

By Felicia Williams

In 2011, the Common Core Standards were introduced and implemented by school districts across the United States. To date, there are 43 states that have voluntarily adopted and are working to implement the standards. One of the reasons that these Standards were designed was to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to take introductory college courses for credit at two- or four-year institutions, instead of the approximately 35% of high school graduates who must take noncredit remedial courses when they enroll. These Standards were also created to ensure that young people are ready to enter the workforce ready to compete in the 21st Century.

In essence, the primary focus for this implementation was to ensure that students leave High School “College and Career Ready.” This means that our young people should be prepared for post-secondary options that will enable them to compete not only for college and 21st jobs, but the global economy as well. While the Common Core focuses on rigorous academic standards and skills that will be required for high-skilled jobs, there is no emphasis on how to discover what jobs young people are best suited for, direction on how they can successfully attain those jobs, or whether or not those jobs would be fulfilling for them.

In school buildings across the U.S., students are being steered toward college because K-12 education focuses on a college-going culture. Many school districts have even begun the college conversation as early as Kindergarten with the hope that exposing young children to college will increase the likelihood that they will attend. In reality, the number of young people attending a college or university as a post-secondary option now is the lowest it has been since the 70’s. Interestingly enough, quite a few people believe that the number of people with a degree is much higher than it is.

According to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 33 percent of U.S. adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher. So, where does that leave the other approximately 70 percent? College is pushed so young people can make more money and have better opportunities. While it’s true statistically that a post-secondary degree increases earning potential over a person’s work life, the rise in college tuition, cuts to federal aid, and fear of burdensome student loans leave many opting out.

Ultimately, the goal for all young people post-high school is to be gainfully employed. However, if obtaining a college degree is truly about job opportunities, then why is the primary focus education versus careers? And how do we assist the nearly 70 percent who will choose not to enroll in higher education? We provide a navigation system for all young people.

So, what does a navigation system look like? How do we ensure that young people are making informed decisions before graduating and are prepared for life after high school? The solution is simple. Equip them with the tools they need to create a path that is aligned with their interests, skills and abilities.

The first step would be to begin with a career assessment. A career assessment is a tool that is used to help identify a person’s skills, interests and abilities. Once a young person has their results, they can use them to begin creating their plan.

The next step would be aligning their high school coursework and program selection with their career interests. There are many college prep, career/technical education, and career academy programs directly aligned with a young person’s interests that will prepare him/her for life after high school, no matter which route they decide to take.

Finally, young people should locate Service Learning opportunities within their career interests. Service Learning, once dubbed Community Service, combines what students learn in the classroom with need in the community. For example, if a young person is interested in becoming a veterinarian, they would take high school courses related to their interest and they could possibly do their service learning at an animal clinic. This preparation at the high school level is in direct alignment with a college major and other post-secondary options as well.

Though the task may seem daunting, assisting young people with making informed decisions about their future is not difficult when they are equipped with the tools they need to be steered in a clear direction.

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