In Vermont, it’s well known that our high school graduation rate is one of the highest in the country, while we rank toward the bottom among states in sending graduating seniors to higher education. Roughly 40 percent of high school graduates in Vermont do not go on to post-secondary education.
Part of the reason is money: A college-education is expensive and Vermont ranks among the least generous of states to subsidize those expenses for in-state students.
Part of the reason is that a college education via classroom study is just not a good fit for many students; so other alternatives for training post-high school need to be found.
And part of the reason is lack of preparation: Studies have show that students whose parents did not go on to higher education are less likely to start thinking about what it takes to get into college soon enough. School officials say it’s not too early for parents to start that conversation with their children in middle school — that’s ages 13-14.
Think about that, and raise your hand if you started talking to your children about post high school education just after they had graduated from elementary school.
Seems way too young, right? It’s not. The idea is to plant the seed that learning is a life-long endeavor and that graduating from high school is just the first step in that process. You don’t have to confront your child with high bars to hurdle five years hence, but encouraging them to think about what they like to do, what they’re good at is a start. Later, in high school, you might talk about the cost of living, and what it takes to live on their own.
Sure, these can be hard conversations. Parents are shy to talk about their own circumstances and children are reluctant to hear it.
So here’s the punch line: “Hey, kid, did you know if you go on to college you’ll make $500,000 more in your lifetime than if you don’t? And probably more.
“Yep,” you continue without missing a beat, “says in a recent study that those students who successfully get a degree in higher education will make 36 percent more in their annual income versus those with high school degrees. That’s the difference between earning $40,000 vs. $25,400 per year; or $60,000 vs. $39,000. Just think what you could do with an extra $21,000 every year!
“That makes graduating from high school and going on to higher education worth pursuing, don’t you think?”
Then you might wander into a conversation about how much it cost to live these days, just to dispel the notion that $25,000 (or roughly $12 an hour) is enough to live on. You might mention a recent study that estimated a typical family of four needs an annual household income of $130,357 to live the American Dream — you know, a house, two cars, two kids who go to college, a decent job, summer vacation… that sort of thing.
And even if you’re frugal, $75,000 per household is the bare minimum to live that dream and $100,000 is closer to reality.
“So, junior, you might want to think about how you’re going earn at least half of that $100,000 that you and a partner will need to live a reasonably comfortable life.”
In most families with college-bound students, these conversations happen by osmosis. It’s expected that college is in their future and their efforts are geared in that direction from an early age. But that’s not the case in all households, so the earlier this conversation can sink in, the better off the student will be.
What’s also apparent, today, is that this country’s economy is not generating laborer positions that earn a middle class income, without some form of higher education or training.
That’s not to say there aren’t reasonably good choices short of a four-year Ivy League college degree: the military offers a career and excellent training in trades; adult education programs and trade schools can be viable options, as is attending two-year or four-year programs at Vermont Technical College, which focuses on hands-on training in a specific careers (with a job placement rate of 95 percent in many fields).
What parents may not know is that these options are also still available for students who graduated this spring with prospects that aren’t as lucrative as they might have imagined. The message to those students is: “It’s not too late, even for this fall.”
Unlike applying to a four-year liberal arts college, the admission rates are high at VTC, and at some CCV campuses, and applications are easily accomplished. Outside aid might be tight, but simple math (see above) proves the case that getting some higher-education training is the best investment any student will ever make.
The bottom line is the easiest part of this conversation between parent and student: It’s never too late to pursue further education in today’s economy, and it’s rarely too early to be thinking about it.
Angelo S. Lynn