THINKING ABOUT COLLEGE
Although we encourage students to consider their options and ideas about post-secondary programs throughout the school year, it seems as we approach the end of the school year that the efforts intensify. Students who have not yet made decisions are feeling personal, family and peer pressures to make decisions. For those who have already decided, we are rapidly approaching the end of the secondary school year—and for seniors, they must seriously begin to think about transitions. The spring of the year seems to bring a much greater focus and emphasis on post-secondary plans!
We often hear quite a bit about the cost of college and the debt that some students undertake to support an education. While a four-year education is certainly of value, that approach is not the only option for students once a secondary career is complete. Students can look at two-year schools, specialty programs, military and public service approaches, and other direct entry into the workforce. We encourage students to explore their interests along with their goals.
Through this school year, the St. Cloud Times has undertaken a series of articles they have classified as the Spark Initiative. The series, which will be available to our secondary students in May in a “magazine” collection, has shared information about the job market, positions and careers that offer a good living but do not require four years of college, and information about training opportunities in the region.
About a year ago, I shared an article produced by a professional friend and former colleague of mine. The focus of the article was about planning for and thinking about college. The article addressed some background and options for families to consider.
The article was written by Kyle Gylland, secondary counselor in the Barnesville Public Schools, and was published (much like this column) in the Barnesville Record-Review on March 21, 2016. Because I agree with much of what Kyle wrote and because he covered the issues well, I am going to share the information in his article and then add some elements related to the ROCORI Schools.
A PARADIGM SHIFT…—Kyle Gylland
“In recent years, there has been a shift in the thinking of students and families as they plan for college. In the past, the general thought was that a four-year degree meant a better paying job, better life and so on.
“In the 1970s and prior, one could work a summer job (that paid well) and pay for most if not all of your tuition the following school year. We no longer live in that time. In the years following, the cost of college has far surpassed our ability to pay and even save for college this way. Many family incomes have not kept pace with these costs—providing the ability to save for college.
“Does that mean that students should not consider college or a four-year degree? Certain occupations will always require four-year undergraduate and sometimes graduate level work. However, some degrees will pay well and some will not.
“Because of the high costs and uncertain job market, many students are ending up with wages that make it difficult to repay their loans. Instead of a college for all mentality, the current thought is a post-high school credential for all.
“This may include apprenticeships, vocational-technical school, other short-term training and possibly a four-year degree. A growing number of these jobs pay better than certain four-year degrees without as much debt. Some students are opting to obtain a two-year degree, work, keep their debt low, and work on a four-year degree later when they are more certain about their career needs.
“Like other circumstances in life, when money is in short supply and things are expensive, we become more careful consumers. Sometimes this may require a major change in how we think about becoming educated.
“Other options to fund college are also becoming more popular. Many technical service employers are having a difficult time filling job openings. More employers are creating ‘sponsorships’ and other incentives to attract students to keep up with growing vacancies due to retirement or expansion. Benefits can include: a company vehicle, good salary, overtime, year-end bonus, tuition assistance, health and retirement planning.
“Some students are considering some form of military service to pay for college. National Guards, reserves, ROTC, and active duty are all options to receive education benefits.
“Start small and work big. Two-year college credits are sometimes less expensive than four-year credits. A student may fare better in a small college, with regard to scholarships and assistance, than a large one.
“Doing your homework, searching information on-line and talking with others can turn up many ways to save money in post-secondary planning. With some careful planning, comparison shopping, and changing how we think about post-secondary education, it may be possible to become skilled without being buried in debt.”
SOME ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS
Many of the thoughts outlined by Counselor Gylland are issues that we have explored, embraced, or are encouraging within the ROCORI School District. Our secondary building has pursued a number of initiatives and ideas to help students in regard to their thinking about post-secondary education and related costs.
Our College in the High Schools program, in which students can earn college credits while still at ROCORI High School, has been one of the most powerful elements of this thinking. Students have opportunity, through this program, to earn as much as one year of college credit while still on our campus.
We have believed that this program is more valuable to our students than the International Baccalaureate (IB) program or the Advanced Placement (AP) program. Although these are offered across the nation, IB and AP programs do not necessarily guarantee college credits with completion of the courses. Students may earn credits, but they also may not be awarded college credits. With College in the High School, successful completion of classes earns a credit that is accepted at Minnesota public colleges and universities.
The secondary site has been having meaningful and productive conversations with employers in our community to examine other ways that we can help prepare students. Coldspring, for example, has some options for students to commit to work at the company, be offered educational experiences, and return to the employer. These are wonderful opportunities for students to secure a position while also getting a good education.
We encourage students to explore all kinds of post-secondary education options. As Mr. Gylland outlined, there are some programs and positions that can be secured with a two-year degree and allow a student to work toward a four-year program. There are many types of positions that require the technical training of a two-year program but provide excellent employment opportunities. We encourage students to look at all of these options.
There are many stories and much information about the rising costs of college education and the scope of debt that many of our young adults experience. As a school district, we are also attentive to these issues and want to help our students explore options.
Our counselors are very skilled and knowledgeable. Our secondary staff has a broad range of experience, knowledge, and training to help students understand options and ideas for the future. Our school leaders continue to explore new ideas, approaches and options to help improve our programs and expand opportunities for students.
It is important for students and families to take advantage of opportunities to explore, identify and determine the direction they want to pursue. That, in reality, is what a secondary education is intended to do.