I’ve worked in education my entire career. From teaching 4th-grade through opening and running the first graduate advising center at a private higher education institution. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and everything else in between. I’ve seen parents who push their kids to their breaking point, and students who bounce around from home to home with no guidance at all.
I believe education is something we must all take part in to better ourselves every day. Whether learning is for a new job, a hobby, or staying up-to-date in current or new professions, ongoing education is one of the most critical and necessary parts of our lives.
For Young Adults
However, young people must know they have various choices after high school. They also need to know about the life-long consequences of taking out student loans.
Although the economy and career progression has changed rapidly due to technology, most schools and parents are still telling high school students the same college story.
The College Narrative
The college narrative has been embedded in our society for years. Many (not all) students still hear, “During high school you need to get top grades, take as many AP classes as possible, work as hard as you can, become a leader, join a sports team, and take part in extracurricular activities. While you’re at it, look for volunteering and potential part-time job opportunities.”
And, to make matters worse, we have a silent problem regarding mental health and well-being. Verywell mind shared some statistics from the American College Health Association (ACHA) regarding college-age students and their mental health.
They noted the suicide rate among young adults, ages 15-24, has tripled since the 1950s and suicide is currently the second most common cause of death among college students.
Why is this happening to young people?
There are many reasons why this group of young adults is facing a crisis. Parents and their children are connected in different ways today more than any other generation, while social media and technology addiction has changed the way we all interact—leading to a lack of social, emotional and communication skills. These changes have a significant impact on how humans engage (or don’t) with the real world.
Although going away to college immediately after graduation can be the best step for some high school students, for others, it’s not always the right choice. Young people may find that living with strangers far away from home can be overwhelming.
When you add in the lack of emotional and social brain development, negative influences, drinking, drugs, and trying to fit in, young people can run into some serious issues. Sprinkle in a lack of sleep with poor food choices, and you can have a recipe for disaster.
When young people live in unknown territory for the first time, many are prone to taking high risks solely to fit in with their new peers.
Social And Emotional Development
Someone once shared this phrase with me, “Within the same month, high school seniors still have to raise their hand to use the washroom. And, within the same 30 days, we ask them to make significant life decisions without any life experience and a lack of understanding financial consequences.”
There is nothing wrong with taking a gap year, attending a community college, or taking a job right out of high school. There is no need to rush youth directly onto a college campus hundreds of miles away. Higher education institutions may go through some changes, and many have even closed—but they are not all going to go away.
As parents, we want the best for our kids. However, there are many reasons why parents and high schools push kids to go to college immediately.
Here are a few:
- Parental status: Parents worry about their own image–while pushing their kids to fit into the little square boxes they’ve created for their children.
- Industry: Many parents push their kids to go into an industry where they have no drive or passion.
- Lack of information: Listening solely to high school counselors and administration without researching options on one’s own can lead to missed opportunities and experiences.
- Societal norms and expectations: Following the expected norms of a society that has changed so quickly is not necessary. It is okay and even a good thing to be different.
- The economy and gap in information: Many parents lack the knowledge of the new gig economy. Today’s economy does not align with the standard 9-5 career. Although many universities are scrambling to create degrees that futurists anticipate—this doesn’t mean there will be a job waiting for students at graduation.
Many parents and schools have forgotten to ask some of the most critical questions:
- Is my child emotionally ready to go away to school?
- Is this college the right fit?
- What does my child think?
- Does my child want to go away, and how does a particular university fit his or personality?
- Most importantly—Is my child happy?
And, above all, middle-class Americans are drowning in student debt.
According to a recent piece in The New Yorker, entitled “Student Debt Is Transforming The American Family,” from the late 1980s to the present, college tuition has increased at a rate four times that of inflation, and eight times that of household income. Estimates state that 45 million people in the United States have educational debt totaling roughly $ 1.5 trillion—more than what Americans owe on their credit cards and auto loans combined.”
Taking Note of Different Offerings
Putting the heavy burdens of student loan aside, let’s look at some other reasons young people and guardians should take note of community college:
1. Emotional age and lack of control: My colleague, Dr. Louis M. Profeta is an emergency room physician. He wrote an article entitled: “A Very Dangerous Place For A Child Is College,” via LinkedIn. If you look closely at the title, he notes the word child. At 18 years of age, a person’s brain is not fully developed. A lack of reasoning and risk-taking is at an all time high during this growth period. The article also talks about the young students he sees in his hospital and the questions college students ask him. He shares stories that will most likely leave any parent in shock.
2. Try different experiences: When a new high-school graduate is about to head out into the world, they can try different things and have many unique experiences. Since most students have no idea what they want to do for the rest of their lives (and this will most likely change as their careers grow), they can take this opportunity to try different areas of work, build out a business idea, land an internship, shadow professions, and take advantage of various opportunities that community colleges offer.
3. Save money for the future: There is nothing wrong with working and living at home while young adults figure out their paths. For the first two years, students can take advantage of community courses that typically transfer toward a four-year university degree. In a time of rapid economic and workforce changes, putting money away early is simply one of the smartest things a young person can do. Parents should not be dipping into their retirement accounts to pay for college. There are many other ways to save money so students do not begin their lives in significant debt. Some community colleges are bringing in universities right onto their own campuses. For example, Harper College in Illinois now has options for four-year degrees in partnership with full universities. Students can take courses and get a Bachelor’s degree right on their campus.
4. Transition, flexibility and career opportunities: For many young people, the transition from living at home and then suddenly being dropped off into a foreign land with an entirely new culture is just too much. There is no reason that kids need to be forced into something they are not ready for nor prepared. Also, they can go to a community college and take a two-year certification program in many different industries such as plumbing or becoming an electrician. And, there is absolutely nothing wrong these career choices. Giving youth some transition time and providing flexible options regarding work can be a great way to transition into adulthood. There is no need to rush everything the second a child graduates high school.
5. Make local connections: If young people decide that staying home is the best option at first, they can have the opportunity to make local business connections. Also, if they don’t go away to college, and decide to live and work where they grew up, they can make those critical connections earlier rather than four or six years down the line.
Higher education can be one of the most incredible experiences. Going away may be great for some kids, but not for all. As parents and teachers, it is our responsibility to let the next generation know they have choices and opportunities all around them—without any stigma or shame.