When College is a Bad Idea

Is it worth it to go to college? For students who will graduate the answer is generally yes. College graduates earn significantly more on average than students who do not have a college degree. During the recession, the gap between the earnings of students with a four college degree and those without continues to grow.

While college benefits many, it is not the answer for every 18 year old high school graduate. Some students are better off delaying college entrance or not going to college at all. Understanding statistical trends is helpful. however the decision whether or not to go to college needs to be based on more personal and individual considerations.

College is a Bad Idea If…
The Student Is Unlikely to Graduate

Students who have “some” college but do not graduate often gain little advantage over students who only have a high school degree. Many parents are shocked to find out that less than 50% of students finish college in four years, and even after six years only about 60% earn their degrees. Many students start college, spent money for a few years, but don’t end up with a degree to show for it. Whether the problem is a lack of motivation, inadequate financial resources, or lack of academic preparation, starting but not graduating from college is a real problem. Students who graduate with four-year degrees are likely to have higher earning potential. College typically reaps financial benefits for students who complete their degrees. Those who start college but don’t graduate can be left with the financial burden of student loan debt and no increase in their earning potential.

College is a Bad Idea If…
If the Student Needs A Lot of Remediation

One of the key reasons students do not finish college is that they enter unprepared to be successful in college. Statistically, we know that students who are not college ready in core subjects such as math, reading, and writing are less likely to earn a four-year degree. While many colleges, particularly two-year colleges, offer remedial courses, students who start on this track may struggle. The tuition cost is the same as other college courses, but students’ remedial work is not awarded credits that help a student graduate. Students taking multiple remedial courses may run up against total credit limits on their financial aid.

Before students jump into multiple remedial courses, they must understand why they are not college ready. Was their K-12 education simply inadequate or is there an undiagnosed learning disability? Does the student have the necessary time management and study skills to be successful? Placing into remedial courses doesn’t mean a student should give up on their college dreams. But, it suggests the need for careful advising and a clear understanding of how their current level of readiness may influence their chance of earning a college degree. It may make more sense to start out on a part-time basis instead of jumping into a full-time degree.

College is a Bad Idea if…
The Student Prefers a Trade

Most students who want to earn a good standard of living will find that some post-secondary education helps their earning potential. It is important to understand though that not all post-secondary education is a four year college program. There are good careers that do not require a four year college degree.  Some students are well advised to look at trade school or apprenticeships. Other students will do very well with two year degree programs offered through community and technical colleges. High school students should be encouraged to research and understand what careers demand. Some careers that did not require a four-year degree a generation now do.

College is a Bad Idea if…
The Student Isn’t Emotionally Mature Enough

Homeschoolers know that education isn’t one size fits all. There are many options out there, and we don’t have to be on a strict timetable. There is quite a lot of variation in the way young people mature. Some teens are ready for college earlier than others. Some young people benefit greatly from a gap year or gap years or time spent in the work world. Success in college demands several kinds of maturity. Students need some degree of academic motivation to stay on task with academic responsibilities with less supervision than in high school. No one makes students go to class or do their homework in college. Students who live and socialize on campus must also be prepared to make mature choices about complicated issues such as dating and substance use.

College is a Bad Idea if…
The Only Options Involve an Unreasonable Debt Burden

Families need to take time to really understand the financial commitment of college. Sometimes students get caught up in the excitement and make an unwise decision. They may take on huge student loans to attend a “dream school” that does not offer a good package of financial or merit aid. College costs vary dramatically based on an individual’s circumstances and the school choices available. Taking time before senior year to plan will help maximize the choices available to individual student and make sure they understand what they are getting into.

Even with limited financial resources most students can find an affordable college option, but they need to go in with their eyes wide open with a full understanding of the financial implications of their choices. Students facing high college costs have various options to reduce their financial burden. Cost reduction options include CLEP testing, military service programs such as ROTC, community college, and work college programs that offer students the opportunity to engage in campus service in exchange for free or reduced tuition.

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