Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why Not to Push Your Teen into College: Is Every Teen Ready?

For many kids, the stages of learning are defined long before the first thoughts of college enter their minds. Society dictates that graduating high school should immediately be followed by higher education, and parents often encourage this idea. However, with rising tuition prices and a plunging economy, pushing your teen to attend college may no longer be the best choice.

Rising Tuition and Economic Decline

Attending college has always been an expense for which both parents and students have had to plan. Basic tuition plus books, campus activity fees, and expenditures for room and board add up fast. With the cost of higher education at an all-time high and still going up all the time, it’s worth considering whether or not college is the next logical step for your teen.
If your teen has little idea of what he or she wants to do for a living, attending college straight out of high school makes little sense. Without a clear goal in mind, all college has to offer are liberal arts courses that may or may not help toward a particular degree or professional field. Paying for these courses can essentially amount to paying for a directionless education, one that likely won’t be of use to teens as they move on in life.

Even teens who know what type of degree they want to pursue should think about whether it’s worth the cost. Four- and six-year degrees can wind up saddling kids with large amounts of student loan debt that may remain hanging over their heads long into the future. Students who get degrees online may face additional obstacles.

While online universities are growing rapidly, many people do not consider these schools to be a legitimate way to obtain a higher education. As such, if a perspective employer sees an online school mentioned on a resume, they may be less than impressed. Even if a student receives their education from a tradition brick-and-mortar institution, having a college degree no longer guarantees people a reliable career, especially with economies all over the world in a slump. There are so many people vying for available positions that there’s a good possibility your teen may emerge from college and not be able to get a job for months or years.

Parents and teens who are unaware of or don’t fully grasp the current economic situation may fall prey to what is being referred to as the “higher education bubble.” The belief that higher education is essential to getting a good job and will lead to the best possible careers for degree-holders pushes many people to spend a great deal of money on college. When coupled with easy access to student loans and the idea that expensive schools provide better quality education, this creates a situation where young people emerge from college with thousands of dollars in debt and no reliable way to pay it back. This in turn leads to more money being spent on loan payments and less going back into the economy, further fueling an already problematic decline.

Social and Academic Pitfalls

Teens who move straight from one academic environment to another often do so with little or no “real world” experience in between. While some teens may be able to handle this without a problem, those at lower maturity levels may be at risk for both social and academic reasons.
In the past, teens were expected to do more in the way of working and helping out their families, and these responsibilities helped them to grow both mentally and emotionally. Today’s teens spend more time immersed in media than any previous generation, a condition that keeps them disconnected from reality more often than not. A college environment creates its own brand of unreality, immersing students in academic activities and social situations that don’t exist anywhere else.

As a parent, it is of paramount importance to become familiar with the situations your teen may encounter at college. For some teens, college is the first time that they’re away from home, unsupervised by parents and other authority figures. This newfound level of freedom can lead to poor choices, especially when presented with a social structure that supports and often encourages drinking, substance abuse, and sexual experimentation.

Moving directly from high school to college also keeps teens immersed in academia. Attending class and completing assignments in a timely manner teaches responsibility and time management, but how many teens really grasp these skills in a way that will be useful once they enter the workforce? And how many real life skills are kids learning during the time they spend as students? Being academically intelligent doesn’t necessarily mean that your teen will have the knowledge to take on life’s challenges or tackle everyday tasks. Some things can’t be learned at school, and your teen will have to pick up on basic life skills whether or not he or she completes a higher education.

Alternate Plans
Teens who decide not to go to college right away should have some kind of alternate plan. Working with your teen to come up with such a plan can help him or her make the most of time that would otherwise be spent in school. Many positive, enriching things may be accomplished during this time, including:

• Getting “real world” work experience and saving money towards future academic endeavors.
• Exploring career options and learning what’s really involved in different jobs.
• Checking out vocational training, internships and other hands-on learning situations.

Taking the time to do these things offers teens the chance to gain knowledge not available to them at college. Going out into the world and seeing how everything works is an invaluable experience that can help when choosing a major in the future. Teens may even find that there are job opportunities they never considered that don’t require a college degree.

Pushing teens to attend college directly after high school isn’t always in their interest. Changes in the job market and the economy make it prudent to consider alternative options. Whether your teen waits to go to school or decides to do something else entirely, challenging the ideas of traditional education may be a great benefit to his or her future.

Byline: Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.  Contact her at

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