This week’s Courier Herald column:
There’s a question we really have to stop asking our high
school students. “Where are you going to
college?” isn’t a good way to start a conversation with someone a generation or
three younger than you.
Seniors that just graduated are mostly glad that the
question has an answer, even if the answer isn’t college. Rising seniors and juniors by now know that
every random conversation with an adult will usually involve this
It’s small talk for us.
For them, it sets presumptive expectations and, perhaps even worse, signals
a level of importance on a single life decision that causes unnecessary
Sure, post high-school plans are important ones. No single
decision, however, will chart the course of any individual’s life. When every adult that a high school student
meets asks the same question, the answer is perceived to be of the utmost
consequence. The reality is that
students frequently transfer colleges, start and stop study, and/or pursue
graduate study or other job training that will ultimately determine career
In today’s job climate where an individual is expected to
have multiple careers during their lifetime, the thought that a single decision
made during high school will determine success or failure in life is
folly. It’s also becoming less clear
that college is the best path to success for many students.
To take advantage of some of those opportunities, the
questions need to be asked (preferably by the parents of the student) a bit
earlier. Georgia is quite generous in
both funding and quantity of options for high school students to sample both
college and technical paths during high school.
High school students can participate in joint enrollment
programs to sample college courses and even complete associate degrees while
still in high school. Because the
college courses are funded by HOPE, it allows completion of college credits at
a significant cost reduction than most students will face once enrolled in
college full time.
There are also options for students who want to pursue
technical and trade paths. Unlike many
college majors, these paths often lead directly to employment with career-level
wages right out of high school.
One of the more intriguing alternatives to traditional
college is through the Georgia Consortium for Advanced Technical Training, or GA
CATT. The program was launched in Coweta
County with high school students sponsored by employers for apprenticeship
programs and course work at West Georgia Technical College. Four Georgia Technical Colleges are now
The first students began classes three years ago, and
completed their high school diplomas this year.
They were paid $8.00 per hour as sophomores for their time working as apprentices,
rising to $12.00 per hour their senior year.
A couple of them are spending the summer in Germany with their
employers, getting paid to study abroad.
As someone who recently sat through a presentation of a Georgia university’s
study abroad programs (and related costs), the fact that a student can get paid
to spend a summer in Europe is quite an attractive inducement.
Those that completed all of the program requirements will
sit for a German Manufacturers’ Certificate exam in August. This certificate by the German Chamber of
Commerce is a credential that can be used across manufacturing industries
worldwide. Georgia’s is the only program
where the German Chamber participates at the high school level.
These students get paid in high school for real career
experience while earning their certificate.
That credential makes them immediately employable and desired by
employers at a time when most of their peers will just be enrolling in college.
So let’s quit asking high school students where they’re
going to college. They don’t want to
talk about it, but they also need to be thinking more broadly about their
future and the various paths they can take to get there.