The last local high school graduation ceremony is over. The graduation decorations and invitations are now on the clearance racks at the stores. Helium balloons are slowing going flat. The graduates are writing their thank you notes.
Now is their moment — but what next?
As an elementary school counselor, it has always been part of my curriculum to open up a dialogue with students in the elementary grades regarding what they want to be when they grow up. At the top of their popularity list is always “professional athlete." The so highly publicized big-bucks sports contracts have these little people seeing dollar signs. Upon hearing this, I quickly caution them to have a backup plan.
This is the kind of dialogue K-12 school counselors are carrying on with students. Our job is to help them match up their strengths and the things they are passionate about with a career plan for after high school.
One of the electronic tools that we can use with them is called Career Cruising. It allows the student to take an assessment, which shows the careers that match up with their interests. Using this tool, they can then look at the job description, educational requirements and salary, and even read interviews with two people who have this career. It can further show them where they can get their education in this career, the job market for it and scholarship information. Sounds pretty simple!
But, at the same time school counselors are working with students on career choices, there are many pressures they face from family, friends and their community as to what they “should” choose to do. Families may have expectations that do not match with the graduate’s.
How does a student declare his or her intent to go into the military after high school rather than college, when every adult in their family is a college graduate? Or what about the high school graduate who wants to work for a year or two before they decide what their next step will be? What about the student who has no interest in going on to any type of training and just wants to go to work?
As school counselors, it is our job to help them to graduate from high school with a plan for their future. A plan that matches the student’s interest and abilities is our goal. This task is made more difficult with societal pressures which profess that only those who go to college are deemed successful.
For the baby boomer generation, a college education was the avenue to do better than their parents. But this is not true in today’s world. A college education does not guarantee that the student will do better than their parents. And should that be the goal anyway?
The financial burden of a college education is now a genuine concern as many college graduates are not entering the workforce with salaries that can support independent living along with repayment of a student loan. In addition, caution has been directed at their parents who are jeopardizing their own futures by taking out money from their retirement plans to pay for their children’s college.
Inevitably, either the student will live with their parents after college graduation in order to repay their college expenses or the parents will be living with their children since they have depleted their retirement income. Credit card companies lie in wait for these debt-laden individuals of all ages to use credit to live on.
It is important that students and parents understand that only about 27 percent of the jobs in the workforce require a college education! When we look at how many graduating high school students are leaving for college, we also need to look at data on how many will actually finish college. Now there is the caveat!
Which is more important — sending all these students to college who will not finish or only sending students to college who have the skills, abilities, determination and finances to actually graduate?
It is hard as a parent to not have any informational parent meeting to attend if your child is choosing not to go to college. There is a lot of attention paid to the college-bound students and their parents, but what about the rest of the parents and students? Do we as a community support those families? This is where our bus driver, garbage collectors, postal workers, clerks, tree trimmers, pipe fitters, truck drivers, plumbers and factory workers come from. How do we help these graduates and families?
As a community and society at large, we need to keep things real for these young people who are trying to make decisions about their future. We need to shore up their egos so that whatever they choose to do with their futures is honored and respected.
Our own egos get in the way sometimes and we may find that their decisions are hard to handle, since we may be trying to live our lives vicariously through theirs. We need to fulfill our own dreams and let them fulfill theirs.
— By Janice Beuschel, a Tribune community columnist. She can be reached through her website, www.JaniceRBeuschel.com.