College isn’t for everybody.
It’s a belief that emerged in the last half century that still nettles many, but area educators want to change that.
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said success is not dependent on a college degree.
“I’d like to believe it’s been subconscious, but the message we’ve told kids for at least 50 years is that you’re somehow less than, you’re somehow broken, if you don’t get a traditional four-year college degree,” Schofield said. “That’s just really an unfortunate message.”
Wanda Creel, Gainesville City Schools’ superintendent, said she too believes a traditional college degree is not necessarily the right prescription for every student.
By the year 2020, only about 30 percent of jobs will require a four-year degree, according to a Career and Technical Education study. Schofield said many students preparing to graduate from high school today may have a talent or interest in a field that falls within the other 70 percent.
“I think it’s finding the niche that each of our students have, and working to identify the method that’s going to help them be the most successful,” Creel said. “’One size fits all’ doesn’t work.”
Area school systems are working to adjust how they educate for the future. Schofield said it’s a change that has to happen before a student enters high school.
He said the kindergarten through 12th grade education today is a “farm system” for liberal arts colleges.
“I think we really need to back it up and start asking, ‘What are some of the other models around the world doing?’” he said.
Schofield said he’s interested in giving young people hands-on experience in potential careers, like the European apprenticeship education model. Creel also said interests and skills have to be catered to and developed at a younger age.
The issue goes deeper than the question of whether to pursue a four-year college after graduation, Schofield said. Instead, students ought to be prepared in advance to decide the right pathway.
“I believe that there are multiple ways students can be educated and credentialed,” Creel said. “A technical college can provide a two-year degree that is very targeted and focused on what that student is interested in. There are programs within our high schools that are working to provide credentialed students skills when they leave high school.”
In Hall County, some students have the option to seek full-time or part time education through Lanier Charter Career Academy. The school’s principal, Cindy Blakley, said deciding what to do after high school should depend on what the student wants to do.
“I do think that, when we think college, we typically think about the four-year liberal arts college,” Blakley said. “While I definitely don’t think that’s for everybody, I think it is helpful for everybody to have some edge when they are competing for jobs by having some additional schooling.”
Blakley said everything from a certificate program at a technical college to a master’s degree can help make a student or adult more employable.
Creel said Gainesville schools recently added college and career readiness director Misty Freeman, who will add special emphasis to the pathways provided from the state level.
Blakley said the academy serves as a school of choice, primarily for high school students, giving them a chance to investigate careers and decide what to do after they receive their diplomas.
While the area schools do what they can to provide options, both Schofield and Creel said the “no college” stigma won’t change until parents do. Creel said the problem still lies in the mindset of older adults, while Schofield said people need to rethink what it means to be educated.
“There are all kinds of ways to be smart,” he said. “I would argue that a master mechanic that can fix an automobile in the year 2014 has a genius that a lot of us may not. I think we need to develop a whole new appreciation for what it means to be smart.”
In many instances today, individuals with high-need two-year degrees are outearning those with master’s degrees in social sciences, Schofield said. That means there are options for a student to make a living as an adult, regardless of their wealth or standardized test scores.
“It’s not about how smart you are,” Creel said. “It’s not about finances. It’s about what’s the right vehicle to get you to the place you want to be.”