Wolverine, a Rockford, MI company that makes work clothing, commissioned a study of high school students earlier this year. The results are …. Interesting. The study of 2,000 secondary students found that one-third had no post-graduation plans.
By itself, that is astounding. In 2021, 117,000 Michigan residents graduated from high school. If the study numbers are accurate, 39,000 people didn’t know what they’d be doing after graduation.
More than half of the students who had no plans said they didn’t know what their options were. According to the poll analysis, that could indicate that high school students are not receiving adequate information regarding vocational and skilled trades opportunities post-graduation. One-third of respondents said they were pressured to pursue traditional, four-year post-secondary educations, rather than two-year or skilled trade options. Three-fourths of respondents said they thought it was important to consider alternatives to traditional four-year post-secondary programs.
The opportunity to reach these students actually opens in middle school. Community colleges should be connecting with 11-14 year olds to get them thinking about their post-high school plans. Many high school students have no post-secondary plans because they don’t have the funds to attend college. In fact, studies conducted in 2018 showed that fewer than one-third of parents knew about 529 college savings plans. Fewer still – just 18% – of children under the age of 18 at that time had a 529 account.
Simple steps could send high school students to college classrooms
That’s unfortunate because these saving plans offer both immediate tax benefits to the parents and future tax benefits to the recipients. It also suggests that colleges (including community colleges) should be making substantive contact with parents far earlier than that. Making relatively small monthly contributions for their children, ($50 per month from birth to age 18), parents could fully fund a community college education for their children using a 529 account.
Additionally, the Wolverine study offered some other important insights. Seventy percent of respondents thought it was “very important” to have a job immediately after graduating from high school. That’s not great news for colleges and universities. Studies show that high school students who do not enroll full-time in college immediately after graduation have a much higher likelihood of not completing a college degree.
More than half of high school students in the Wolverine survey (55%) believe that going to college is not necessary to have a successful career.
The Wolverine study seems to indicate that high school students want information about career and post-secondary education options, and they’re not receiving it. A simple lack of timely information may be keeping thousands of Michigan’s high school students from pursuing alternatives to four-year degrees.
It’s not enough for community college administrators to wring their hands and complain about “enrollment cliffs.” If community colleges want their classrooms filled, they need to rethink the way they recruit high school students.
Photo Credit: Howard County Library System , via Flickr