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Higher Education: What’s Right for Your Child?

In recent decades, it has become a standard assumption that all U.S. students will attend a four year university and graduate with a bachelor’s degree. But this model does not fit all students and may be counterproductive for many. Statistically, people with a bachelor’s degree out-earn those without one, but in actual practice many students are graduating with degrees that don’t get them a job.

The drive to send every student to university is often propelled by school recruiters, who work hard to draw students and their tuition dollars. The College Board tracks university tuitions, which usually rise at rates greater than the rate of inflation. For example, from the school year ending in 2014 to the year ending 2015, the average tuition and fees for full-time in-state students at four-year universities increased 2.9 percent, while inflation during that period was 1.4 percent. Factors like these have led many to question the university model.

There are many other paths to career success besides a university. Your high school’s guidance counselor should be able to provide vocational testing and educational options that will be a good fit for your child’s career choice and learning style. You can also hire an independent educational consultant if you want more help for your child than the school can provide.

Technical Schools

In the past, a technical or vocational school was seen as a lesser option to university. Recently, however, communities are recognizing the benefits vocational schools offer students and employers.

Dr. Michael Armbruster, senior executive director for career and technical education at Orange County Public Schools, says that while a vocational education might once have been thought of as “hamburger” and a college education “steak,” today, technical education is now “lobster.” He says, “Both choices are of equal value depending on career goals.” Armbruster points out that students can dual enroll, for what he calls “surf and turf,” getting certifications from technical school that can be put to use in the workplace immediately while also accumulating college credit for a future degree.

When considering whether this may work for your child, the first question to ask is whether a college degree is required for the career your child wants to pursue.


Peter Thiel created a stir in higher education circles five years ago when he began advocating for students to forgo college and instead launch entrepreneurial enterprises. The Thiel Fellowship offers two-year grants to potential entrepreneurs, who then drop out of college and spend the term of their fellowship building a business.

Not every student can become a billionaire dropout like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg or Microsoft founder Bill Gates, but their examples show that entrepreneurship doesn’t require an MBA, or even a BA. Instead, the main prerequisites for entrepreneurship are innovation and resilience.

In The Washington Post November 21, 2014, Thiel wrote, “Of course, you can’t become successful just by dropping out of college. But you can’t become successful just by going to college, either, or by following any formula.” Different students and different careers can lead to different paths to success.

College used to be an either-or proposition. You either went, or you didn’t. Now students have multiple choices to make as they approach higher education and their careers— not necessarily in that order.


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