by Michael Regnier
Assuming you don’t pile up mountains of debt that constrain your career options (and that outcome is avoidable) or go to a school where just fogging a mirror is good enough to get a diploma, there are not a lot of downsides to going to college.
True enough. But as Glenn Reynolds points out, this “kind of assumes away the problem” since a low-debt, useful degree is precisely what too many college students are failing to obtain.
One would think that the chorus of concern about college value and consumer expectations would be unsettling to a movement that sets the audacious goal of college-readiness for many thousands of students from low-income families. Yet, except when it comes to for-profit colleges, I don’t hear much about this in education reform circles.
That’s not to say that “just go to college” is the operative slogan. More than ever, college prep schools and programs are monitoring college completion and building supports for college-enrolled alumni. They’re also on guard against pre-college mistakes such as failing to apply for financial aid, or choosing less-rigorous colleges than students are qualified for.
But those are still strategies to maximize college investment. They aren’t about mitigating risk, to educate and protect the investors. At minimum, first-generation college applicants from low-income families need to understand some basic truths:
– A college that is poorly regarded will never tell you that.
– The more expensive college is not always better, let alone the better value.
– At a large state college, you may have to plan fastidiously to graduate on time (i.e. on budget).
– Your choice of major matters a lot to your future earnings.
– A student loan feels like free money, but it will follow you until you pay it, or you die.
And most importantly:
I know there are schools, teachers, and counselors who add these messages to the college-prep conversation. Last week I sat in on a college-bound class at Renaissance Charter HS for Innovation, a four-year course where high school students—including those with a range of disabilities—explore a wide range of postsecondary options and analyze the tradeoffs.
As teacher Art Samuels told me, making college seem an immediate possibility (that requires immediate hard work) is vital throughout high school. But he also wants to prevent the poor financial choices he’s seen graduating seniors make at other charter schools. This is less of worry for students entering top-tier schools, which can often afford to give scholarships, than for those heading to commuter colleges, where a slight upgrade in reputation is not worth a six-figure debt.
The more a school invests in college-bound culture, the more of this kind of sophistication we need in the oldest grades. Yes, it’s wonderful to help students “climb the mountain to college.” We can’t let them tumble down the other side.