Last year, the New York State Education department revealed that only 41 percent of graduating high school students are ready for college or career. With high acceptance standards at most colleges, are fewer students pursuing higher education?
“We need to be asking if the students are prepared to live a productive life after high school, not necessarily if they are prepared for college,” says Tammy Aubrey, ninth grade guidance counselor at Greece Athena High School in Rochester, N.Y. “Years ago, we didn’t expect every student to attend college. However, the statistics show the more education you have, the more likely you will earn a high income.”
Through innovative programming that includes a combination of required courses, specialty programs, seminars, and college and career fairs, the counselors work with students beginning in the freshman year. School Counselor Teresa Bussey believes that the process “may feel overwhelming, but there are lots of options out there.”
While traditional college remains the most popular choice for Athena students, more and more are choosing military service, technical school or workforce development training.
Former private high school student Mike J. Louis pursued the path of workforce development. Post graduation in 1997, Louis enrolled in community college while juggling several part-time jobs in retail including cart return at a major wholesale company.
“My focus in school wasn’t there,” he says. “I knew I liked retail so I started asking my employers questions, like ‘What did I have to do to go full time and become a manager?’” Louis proved himself to be focused and results oriented. “It wasn’t who you know, it was just asking the right questions and timing,” he says.
As part of the management-training program offered by his employer, he traveled to stores in several states and worked alongside veteran managers. 10 years later, Louis is a regional manager after working his way up through several smaller managerial roles. “Don’t focus on the biggest paycheck right away,” he advises teens. “Find a company that will support your talents and encourages you to grow with them.”
While some students opt for careers in their current jobs, others are choosing technical or vocational school. Students complete these programs in two years or less, earning an associate degree or industry certification.
“With today’s evolving technologies, certification is the new educational currency,” says Tracy Terrell, Vice President of MediaTech Institute in Houston, Texas (www.mediatech.edu). “Documentation of skills as opposed to mastering a lengthy curriculum is certainly crucial to a career in the entertainment industry.” Students at MediaTech become certified in media technologies, allowing then to work as producers, sound engineers or screenwriters. Nearly half of MediaTech students enter the school with no prior post-secondary coursework. In less than a year, MediaTech prepares them to find jobs in the digital world of music and film production. “Employers may ask if a candidate has a degree or not, but their real concern is that the candidate have solid training in the latest technologies available,” says Terrell.
Technical school is an excellent career choice for those seeking technology-based careers, such as in computer sciences, or skilled trades such as automotive and cosmetology careers.
“The key to success is that the students have to be invested in what they want to do in life,” says Aubrey. If a student feels they are still wrestling with the idea of the future, the counselors offer hope. “Life just happens,” says Bussey. “It will take you where you need to be, and sometimes that’s not until after you graduate.”
Teen Board Sound Off
Q: Are you looking at college alternatives? Did you attend a technical high school?
“I considered getting my nail certification so I could work while earning degrees in management and hospitality. I thought it was a fast way to get a job and money for school instead of waiting four years to get a job.” —Rochelle Weir, freshman at Palm Beach State College, Boca Raton, Fla.
“I am at a technical school now as a photography major and I’ve really learned a lot. However, I plan to transfer to a four-year school after I graduate.” —Damarcus Ikard, West High School graduate, Knoxville Tenn.
“I currently attend the Middlesex Academy for Allied Health and Biomedical Sciences. For the past four years, the Academy has trained my class, preparing us for work in the medical field. It has been a great experience, providing us with knowledge we just could not have obtained from a regular high school.” —Morissa Schwartz, senior at The Middlesex Academy for Allied Health and Biomedical Sciences, Colonia, N.J.
“I plan on attending a university, because I dream of pursuing a journalism major, which requires a 4-year degree. Besides, I’ve heard college is an experience that goes by fast and doesn’t last too long, so I want to take the college experience and make it into something that will stay with me my whole life.” —Arianne Wunder, senior at Howard High School, Howard, S.D.