It’s not about the grades. Every high school graduate has the grades to enter college at some level. Though at its lowest point in a long time, 65% of high school graduates move on to college. That means more than a third of those who theoretically made the grade, didn’t even bother to go. But the news gets worse on the inside of the ivory towers. Less than a third, a little over 25%, complete a bachelors, otherwise known as a useful degree. The numbers don’t change much when terminal degrees are included.

If it was just about the grades, most people would have terminal degrees. But something else is keeping more than a third of high school graduates from entering college, and even more from completing a useful degree. If a four-year degree is the goal, then something is definitely broken. Here are a few possibilities:

The Price is Wrong

College is too expensive. There, I said it. We all know it. We all wish there was something we could do about it. General education through grade 14 should be free, as it is in some other countries. The years of specialty education should be affordable. But that is not the case. Education is no longer a service, but a business. And businesses don’t make money by giving their products away for free. Don’t expect your taxes to cover that associates degree any time soon.

But that still doesn’t mean you have to pay top dollar for a usable education. There are more scholarships than any one person can possibly know about. Like clipping coupons, you can greatly reduce the education bill with enough effort. Some people manage to make money by going to school.

If scholarships and grants do not zero your balance, financial aid services can connect you to a student loan that will probably do the trick. Unlike scholarships and grants, you have to pay back the loans. You can even get a private student loan if tuition is still out of reach. But that should only be done as a last resort.

The bottom line is that when it comes to tuition, the bottom line is still too high for a lot of high school graduates to hurdle.

Four Years of Pay Days

How long can you go without a paycheck? Some people only get paid once a month, others, once a week. Day laborers get paid every day. Now, imagine only getting paid after a four-year internship. That’s college.

There are many students that are academically capable of college. But circumstances require them to get a job fresh out of high school to survive. This is often the fate of teen mothers, or those who marry and start a family right out of high school. They do not have the luxury of waiting four years before earning a decent wage. They have to make ends meet today, and everyday thereafter. Their choice as they see it is four years till payday, or four years of pay days. That’s not much of a choice.

One Good Reason

Finally, a surprising number of smart students are unmotivated to advance. They are bored with the process, and have no interest in playing the game. In a scathing writeup on the topic, had this to say:

In the current rush to get every student on the same “proficient” page, those who could excel are bored or worse, and we are losing high-potential students from day one.

These smart but bored students simply have not been given a reason, nor opportunity to shine. They have never been shown an explicit connection between their academic achievement and their future as an aerospace engineer, or a marine biologist, or theoretical physicist. They have never been given one good reason to spend the next eight years of their life in college. That is a failure of a system that teaches to the bottom half of the class.

I started this article with the assumption that college was the answer. But perhaps college is the thing that is broken. Other paradigms are sure to emerge. That said, it is the best system we have. We have to try harder to make it work for a much larger percentage of the people.


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