November 18 2013

FLOTUS to Students: All Kids to College

Patrice J. Lee

It appears that First Lady Michelle Obama has a new pet project – one that’s commendable but still questionable. She joins her embattled husband in an effort to get the U.S. to claim the top spot for having the highest percentage of college graduates by 2020.

Getting our nation’s youth to and through college is a well-meaning undertaking. But so was ObamaCare.

This next statement is going to be shocking but is in no way meant to be mean-spirited: Not every kid should go to college.

Don’t tell that to FLOTUS, POTUS or the army of educators of think college is the only path to success for each young person. Here’s more:

Mrs. Obama spoke to students Tuesday at Bell Multicultural High School just a few miles from the White House. Officials say the event is part of what will be a broader focus for the first lady on getting students _ especially those in underserved communities _ on track to attend college.

The first lady told students that meeting the 2020 goal is important, but their personal success is just as significant.

"No matter what the president does, no matter what your teachers and principals do, or whatever is going on in your home or neighborhood, the person with the biggest impact on your education is you," Mrs. Obama said. "It's going to take young people like all of you across the country stepping up and taking control of your education."

"Some of my teachers straight up told me that I was setting my sights too high. They told me I was never going to get into a school like Princeton," Mrs. Obama said to a hushed crowd of 10th graders. "It was clear to me that nobody was going to take my hand and lead me to where I needed to go; instead it was going to be up to me to reach my goals."

Officials said Mrs. Obama is coordinating with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who has been overseeing the president's efforts to boost the nation's college graduation rate. The president has cited statistics showing that the U.S. ranks 12th globally in the proportion of people who hold college degrees.

I commend Mrs. Obama’s candor about the odds she faced (including her educators) and her emphasis on the role personal responsibility plays in each young person’s succeeding in school and life. That’s a good slap in the face to the cry babies still waiting for their fifty acres and mule and who blame everyone else for their personal failings.

However, I disagree with goal. We all want the U.S. to be number one in every way, but are we putting our younger generations on a path for failure in setting the unrealistic expectation that every kid should go to college?

We’ve had two decades now of the every-kid-to-college agenda. It sounds inspiring and feels good but has generated less than stellar results, driven up education costs, and set many students on a trajectory for a mediocre future at best and failure at worse. Why? Because it overrides individuality to shoehorn every child into the same mold with the expectation that the results will all be same and they are not.

Two years ago, Harvard released a study that faults our national education system for placing all students on the same pathway to success and for putting too much emphasis on getting a four-year degree without regard to individual abilities and interests. Instead they argued for a broader range of high-quality pathways for young adults that includes more emphasis on career counseling and high-quality career education, as well as apprenticeship programs and community colleges.

Last year, a Forbes contributor identified reasons a college degree is not the best predictor of success for the future:

I’ve often thought that, especially in the US, we over-rely on time spent in school as a measure of intelligence…and of fitness for a job. Now, don’t get me wrong: some careers certainly require a rigorous course of study, generally best done in a collegiate and/or post-collegiate environment.

 

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