“College isn’t for everybody.” This quote has become chic in educator circles. After years of trying to push everybody toward college degrees, people are now coming to the conclusion that maybe everyone doesn’t need to go to college. This is the right conclusion to reach. College degrees are not necessary for many jobs and there is a market for high-skilled non-college educated labor. We all know that blue-collar factory jobs are disappearing, which drove many educators to push students to go to college. However, many people have gone to college and still find themselves unemployed or underemployed, in addition to being in thousands of dollars of debt. To me, the potential of college is still the most attractive education option but I can understand why some would choose to go another route. But while college might not be for everyone, that’s not for educators to decide. We, as teachers and educators, need to realize that we don’t get to choose which students will and will not go to college. We need to treat and educate every student as if they will be going to a four-year university. But why? If we
know everyone won’t go to college, why do we need to act like they will?
They may change their mind in the future
People change as they get older. Their sensibilities adjust, their situations shift and they revise their life goals. Just because college isn’t for a student at the age of 17, that doesn’t mean it won’t be for them at 25 or 32. A lot of people decide to go back to college later in life, which is why every student needs to be prepared to go to college when they leave high school. It’s our job to prepare them for a life of choice.
When you track students, teachers tend to write them off
There is nothing objectively wrong with students not going to college. However, the danger is when teachers start to guess or assume which students will or will not go to college. If you have ever been in a school that tracks students based on ability, then you notice that sometimes teachers tend to write off some students. The same thing could happen if we allow teachers to start embracing the mantra of “college isn’t for everybody." It's very easy to not put the extra work into educating difficult students when you think they won't ever need the education you are trying to give them.
College funding might change
Part of the “college isn’t for everybody” argument is the financial downside of higher education. This can and may very well be fixed. For example: Student loan debt is a huge disincentive for college right now. But several national and local politicians are pledging to make college free. Several states have offered mass loan forgiveness. You just never know what programs or future opportunities will remove the financial barrier. You would hate to be the guy who mentally checked out of school sophomore year just because you knew your parents couldn’t pay for college—and I would hate to be the teacher that let him.
I want my students to go to college. I realize that some of them may not. However, if I am going to truly do right by them, I need to treat all of them as if they are on their way to a four-year university.
Andrew Pillow is a fifth grade social studies teacher at KIPP Indianapolis, a charter school where he has taught since 2011. He is also a former Teach Plus Policy Fellow and he has taught technology and social issues.