Should ‘college for all’ be the goal?

Should ‘college for all’ be the goal?

Increasing numbers of school districts are making
college-prep courses the norm for all students as a
way to ensure graduates will be ready to enter state

P O I N T / C O U N T E R P O I N T

It’s important for students to make their own decisions. But oftentimes, in ninth or
10th grade, students don’t know what they want. And if they haven’t taken classes
to meet CSU or UC requirements by their senior year, they have no choice about going
to college. Requiring all students to pass the classes necessary for admission to the state university system gives students a choice when they graduate.

Eleven years ago, the San Jose School District aligned graduation requirements to closely follow A-G requirements so that students would be able to apply to a four-year college if they passed their classes with a C or higher. Under these requirements, all students need to take four years of English and three years of math (Algebra 1 and 2, plus geometry) with an optional fourth year of calculus. It encourages student success. It levels the playing field. It makes college accessible to everybody.

Our school has a population that is 60 percent Latino and Spanish-speaking students.
Many of these students might not take rigorous classes if it wasn’t a requirement. Many
are first-generation immigrant students who don’t have a role model or other family members that went off to college. They don’t necessarily have any idea about how to apply to colleges. Requiring students to pass classes necessary for UC or CSU admission avoids letting these students slip through the cracks. It gives students a choice about
their future.

The job market is more competitive than ever before. People with a master’s degree are applying for jobs that require a bachelor’s degree. My students entering this job market need to know early on about this reality. Continuing their education post-high school enhances their qualifications for any job opportunity. Some say that making students meet A-G requirements for high school graduation can increase the dropout rate. I truly believe that if held accountable, all students are capable of meeting these requirements. We need to have high expectations of students. Some of my students are very surprised, because they didn’t realize they were capable of passing challenging classes. Seeing that success is a beautiful thing.

The reality is that not all students who take these classes will be able to go to college. Students can pass these classes with a D, which allows them to graduate high school, without being eligible for college. So when you look at it closely, it’s not actually “college for all.” But it is college for many by giving students the opportunity to ultimately make their own choice in their senior year to continue on to college, even those who once thought it
was beyond their reach.

The last time your “check engine” light came on, did you worry about your mechanic’s college degree? And when the pipe burst beneath your kitchen, did you check your plumber’s high school GPA? Of course not. Most folks hire people who perform these
services through word of mouth and past positive experience. Honestly, I don’t need Jared, a former student who installed my automatic garage door, to have passed physics.
I need him to arrive on time and do a good job for a good price. I don’t need Jason, my mechanic, to be able to analyze Julius Caesar. I need him to make sure my daughter’s car will get her from home to college and home again. I need honesty and competence
in the fields Jason and Jared have chosen.

I believe the “college for all” approach is misguided. European countries offer students, based on academic performance and career choices, opportunities for either vocational education or a university education. This allows each student an appropriate path to achieve his or her own educational goals. Students and their parents should determine which curriculum will meet their own needs.

Remember, we are here to meet our students’ needs; it’s not the other way around.
My school, located in a farming community, has an agriculture program, a HOSA
(Health Occupation Students of America) chapter for students going into nursing or dental
assisting, and a culinary arts academy where students learn all aspects of restaurant work. Students from these programs go directly into the job market with skills our talented teachers have taught them. This system works because it values the client — our student. We also have a strong AP curriculum that prepares students for the rigor of university study life.

Just as high schools form partnerships with nearby universities to increase university acceptance, school districts that offer students a focus on vocational training can offer apprenticeships or school-to-work programs that connect future mechanics with
certified mechanics at the local garage. And just as our college bound students benefit from SAT prep classes and university field trips, our vocational students can spend class time shadowing an air-conditioning repairman or an electrician.

The focus on a college-bound curriculum is a shortsighted, one-size-fits-all approach to education. It devalues career choices that are perfectly valid choices and are necessary for those of us without the time, talent or physical ability to do them.

If high school is the final free education we give to the people who become our next generation — the leaders of our townships and the coaches of the Little League team — it behooves us to make our students the best they can be. Offering a curriculum that values their diverse talents and abilities will help them fulfill their goals.