WASHINGTON – Dale Stephens, 20, dropped out of Hedrix College in Conway, Ark., before completing his second semester.
“It wasn’t that big a deal,” Stephens said, adding that his parents, a public school teacher and an engineer, trusted him with his decision.
“They believed in me enough to let me make my own decisions and said, ‘Hey, you know, it’s your life. The worst thing that could possibly happen is you might go back to school.’”
Stephens reflects a pattern of young adults who are looking to prepare themselves for the workforce without the cost of a four-year college degree.
“We are sending more people to college than can handle the work, or in many cases I suspect, want to go,” Robert Samuelson, a columnist for the Washington Post, said at the University of Maryland Dec. 10.
“I wrote a piece for the Post advocating, not college for call, but college for more,” Kirwan said, acknowledging back-and-forth columns by the two in the Washington Post.
Kirwan said more people need to earn two-year degrees, if not four-year degrees.
Monica Gray, director of programs at the College Success Foundation in the District of Columbia, said the value of sending undecided students to college benefits everyone.
“The value is that it opens up career opportunities that would be closed to them without a bachelor’s degree,” Gray said. “It dramatically increases the career options that they have.”
Students on foundation scholarships often study outside the District, but Gray said the program benefits the capital.
“It has, we believe, a great value for the city,” Gray said. “Most of our young people are interested in coming back to D.C. and becoming productive members of society.”
The foundation helps high school students research and apply to colleges that are the right fit for them, and it works with middle schools to foster a pro-college attitude among the most at-risk demographic: young male minorities.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, of 2011 high school graduates, 68.3 percent were enrolled in college. That includes 67.5 percent of black students, 66.6 percent of Hispanic students, 67.7 percent of white students and 86.7 percent of Asian students.
That overall enrollment number is lower than in 2009, when a record 70.1 percent of that year’s high school graduates went to college.
Women enrolled at much higher rates in 2011 – 72.3 percent, compared to 64.6 percent for men.
“One of main goals of the program is to make sure that young men successfully make the transition from middle school to high school, and then high school to completion,” Gray said.
Along the way, these students are encouraged to sign up for a college-prep curriculum.
Gray said DC College Success Foundation has about 800 students enrolled in 200 colleges across the country. This year, the first 30 of its scholarship students graduated from college.
Brian Rosenbaum is a community engagement coordinator in Los Angeles for College Summit, a program that helps more than 30,000 students nationwide to decide what level of higher education works for them. Rosenbaum said 986 of the 1,474 high school students in Southern California who went through the College Summit program in 2011 have enrolled in college. Graduation rates were not available.
Citing a 2010 Georgetown University study, Rosenbaum said 61 percent of all jobs in California are going to require some postsecondary education by 2018. In 2011, the number of adults over age 25 with a bachelor’s degree or higher in the United States reached a record 30.4 percent. In 2008, 27.7 percent of the country over age 25 had bachelor’s degrees.
Rosenbaum said College Summit provides advice to schools that do not have the manpower to guide all of their students through the selection process.
“At our schools, especially in California, we have class sizes that are 300, 400, 500, up to 700 students,” Rosenbaum said.
With crowded schools, Rosenbaum said individual attention with college counselors is limited.
“That means an hour meeting during the entire year,” he said.
After dropping out of college, Stephens started uncollege.com, a website that guides young adults who are on the fence about the traditional college experience.
Work experience, Stephens said, applies to everyone – from those who go to college, to those who go to two-year schools for job-specific training. He said young adults should take advantage of opportunities, including internships and apprenticeships.
Stephens said young adults who are indecisive should take a gap year to better understand where their passions lie.
“The first thing is to take a step back, and take a step out of the system,” Stephens said. “Spend a year volunteering on organic farms, spend a year doing manual work, go to South America – do something that’s completely different from the rat race track.”
Stephens said high school graduates who are unsure about spending four years in college shouldn’t feel pressured into going.
“I think one of the biggest challenges is that you go through your life with this script of what we need to be successful, and most of the time we haven’t written that script ourselves – someone else has,” Stephens said.
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