Letter: College isn’t the only option | AspenTimes.com

Letter: College isn’t the only option

First, I would like to commend Kathy Klug and the many people who have worked so hard to make the Western Slope College Fair a tremendous success. It is a great resource for the students of our community. However, I was deeply concerned to see the comment by Kelly Doherty, the director of the Western Slope College and Career Outreach program, “Our position is that 100 percent of our kids should be going to college.” While “our kids” was defined as being the students who attend the college fair, it is still disconcerting.

Our kids need options. Our communities need skilled workers, in addition to teachers, doctors, accountants, architects and lawyers. Vocational training, apprenticeships as well as “gap year” and public service opportunities should be presented to the high school students of our communities. A direct linear path of high school to college is not in the best interests of many of the students and families of our communities.

The average class of 2016 graduate will have $37,172 in student loan debt (a figure that is expected to increase by at least 4 percent per year), and that does not include debts incurred by parents to pay for college or funds diverted away from other investments, including retirement savings. At public universities, only 19 percent of students graduate in four years.

U.S. Department of Education statistics are sobering. Overall only 60 percent of first-time, full-time students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution in the fall of 2008 received a degree at that institution by 2014. But more alarming is the divergence in the graduation rates based on the admissions selectivity of the institution. At four-year institutions with open admissions policies only 36 percent of students completed a bachelor’s degree within six years. In contrast, at four-year institutions where the acceptance rate was less than 25 percent of applicants, 89 percent of the students received degrees within six years.

While it may be true that, “An average college graduate in their highest 10 years of earning will earn $1 million more than a high school graduate,” which Klug calls “the million dollar difference.” The stark reality is that many students who attend a four-year college will never graduate and will never receive a degree, but will instead be burdened with substantial student loans, family debt, and many years of lost earning opportunities while attending college.

Doherty refers to Thomas Jefferson while stating that it is “in everyone’s best interest to have an educated electorate.” It is noteworthy that of the seven founding fathers, only four completed college, The other three were self-educated yet made substantial contributions to our country without college degrees: George Washington, Ben Franklin and Alexander Hamilton.

For some students, attending college will be a greatly rewarding experience, but for many others it can be an extremely costly mistake. As a community, we need to present a full range of post-high school options for our students and present these other options as equally viable and admirable choices.

Denise Shea Malcolm