Come April, high school seniors will be rushing to their mailboxes with one burning question - thick or thin? A college welcome packet, or a skimpy rejection letter?
But there are critics who say the emphasis on "college for everybody" should prompt more-fundamental questions. Families and guidance counselors should ask if a given teenager is really ready for the academic challenge, if college will be worth the investment.
It's true that a four-year college degree generally pays off in higher earnings. The problem is, almost half the students who start four-year colleges don't finish.
In the March issue of Phi Delta Kappan, David Bosel, a research analyst with the National Library of Education, explores several decades of research on this issue. He finds that if a student goes to a four-year school but leaves after a year, his or her earnings will be lower than or equal to those of a student who gets the same number of credits at a two-year college (and the debt will be higher).
Community colleges don't give short shrift, either, when it comes to "cognitive gains," Mr. Bosel notes. (See page 17 for more on community colleges.)
In "Success Without College" (Broadway Books), just released in paperback this week, Linda Lee shares her struggle to let go of the idea that her son could only succeed by going to college. She talks with people from all walks of life to shed light on alternatives for students who aren't prepared enough for college, or simply aren't interested.
They may be ready after working, joining the military, or traveling. But even if they never get that degree, she shows, they don't have to be a tech prodigy like Bill Gates to be satisfied and successful.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor