Emily McPherson: College doesn’t have to be for everyone

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America is based on the idea of equality. We as a country have fought for integration, women’s suffrage, income equality and more. But what exactly is equality? It seems that the general definition for equality, at least in America, is giving the exact same rights, opportunities and benefits to every single person. While this is true to an extent, couldn’t it also be argued that equality is not giving the same things to everyone, but giving to everyone the things that each person needs and deserves?

Education is one of those things. Our education system is and always has been based on the idea of sending students on to receive a higher education (because all people in the world are the same and therefore all need a college degree). Kids in elementary school are being trained for middle school; middle schools students are being readied for high school; high schoolers are being prepared for college.

But what if college isn’t for everyone?

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that education is a basic human right that should be provided for everyone — if they should choose to pursue it. Education is incredibly important in society, and college in particular is a great and often necessary tool to getting a good job. But somehow “tool to getting a good job” has been translated into most everyone’s heads as “the only way to get a job.” In fact, this concept has been beaten into the minds of American students, parents and educators everywhere.

However, more and more newspapers and journals are publishing studies showing that the relevance of a college degree is declining. Employers are now looking more at qualification and skill than a diploma and a degree.

As stated in an online article in The New York Times, “Plan B: Skip College,” by Jacques Steinberg, only two of the top 10 fastest-growing job categories require a college degree: accounting and post-secondary teaching. The article predicts that the number of other jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree, such as jobs in retail and nursing, will soon surpass accounting and teaching jobs.

Included in the Forbes Magazine online article, “The Best Jobs That Don’t Require a Four-Year Degree,” are 20 jobs such as dental hygienists, surveyors and insurance assistants. All of the jobs listed have an income growth of more than 100 percent — some with an income growth of more than 300 percent. Many of the jobs have a salary higher than the average salary of a high school teacher in Texas, and some jobs’ incomes are even double that amount. Of course, teachers are notoriously underpaid, but it just goes to show that one can get a job without earning a college degree that pays more than jobs that require one.

It’s no secret that college is incredibly expensive. Between insanely high tuition costs and ridiculously overpriced textbooks, students will likely have to either sacrifice the college of their choice for a more affordable college or be in insurmountable debt for many years after graduation. But with all that money spent, it’s predicted by the U.S. Department of Education that maybe no more than half of people in a four-year bachelor’s degree program will get that degree in six years or less. Furthermore, a shocking 80 percent of high school students in the bottom 25 percent of their graduating class who go to college will not get any type of degree at all.

That’s a lot of money to spend on nothing.

What our schools need to do is spend more time and effort on vocational courses rather than focusing all their energy solely on college preparation classes. The Denton school district has already done a stellar job at this by introducing the Advanced Technology Complex, where students can take classes to become licensed cosmetologists, certified nursing assistants or licensed pharmacy technicians.

However, students could also benefit from classes where they learn things such as networking skills, how to manage money and how to write a résumé and apply for jobs. These are skills that would behoove everyone regardless of whether or not they are going to college.

Schools need to stop presenting college as the one and only option for students. For many students, yes, college is exactly where they belong and where they need to go to starting achieving their career goals. But this is not true for everyone. Lots of students are great mechanics or chefs or web designers who could get a job right out of high school or should go to trade school instead of college. It’s a shame that so many people go to college just because that’s what they’re told they need to do, when instead they could be saving their money and still become just as successful.

The bottom line: College is great, but college is not necessary. I’m planning on going to college because my career goal requires a college degree, but not everyone’s does, and that’s okay.

EMILY MCPHERSON is a junior at Ryan High School and a participant in the Denton Record-Chronicle’s “Speak Out Loud” program for student journalists.

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