Bring up the topic of college in some classrooms, and you’ll be met with a litany of reasons why it’s not worth it:
“I can make more money working at the plant after high school.”
“Steve Jobs never finished college.”
“Tuition is too high.”
Tapping into a student’s intrinsic motivation to attend college is not easy, but it’s a valuable conversation worth having throughout the school year. Dedicate time for a discussion early in the semester to gauge the following from your students:
- What is their opinion of attending college? Is a college education valuable? Why or why not?
- What do they think are obstacles to attending? Can they think of any immediate solutions to these obstacles?
- What is a potential benefit of graduating from college?
Use their answers to continue a dialogue throughout the semester. Seize the occasional opening during class to reiterate a specific point or to make an illustration about education after high school. If time permits, block off fifteen- or twenty-minute sessions specifically dedicated to further discussion and selected reading.
Here are a few positive factors to show your students:
One Million Dollars
Multiple studies show that the difference in lifetime earnings between someone with a high school diploma and someone with a four-year college degree roughly adds up to one million dollars. So yes, Andrew can start on the factory floor right after high school making more money than any of his classmates who left for college. But in five years, Kevin will be at the factory, too, and his college degree will most likely put him at a higher starting salary and even make him a candidate to be Andrew’s boss, because Kevin’s degree demonstrates that he has a variety of critical skills.
Employment and Wages
Getting a foot in the door of some careers is more and more determined by education. By 2020, 65% of jobs will require some postsecondary education. 19 million jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree.
From the perspective of wages, those without a college education have seen their earnings consistently fall. College-educated workers, on the other hand, have maintained steady earnings. A dollar buys less today than it did in the 1970s, and the purchasing power for both necessities and luxuries is much weaker in those workers who do not advance beyond a high school education.
Networking is the number-one way to unlock opportunities in fields students might not have considered before. It also povides the opportunity to find out about careers that aren’t posted on job search websites. College is rich in networking advantages: professors, academic advisers, the career center, clubs, and classmates all offer a potential connection to an interesting or unusual field of work.
Attending college is more than selecting a major and taking required courses. There is also the opportunity to discover and explore a variety of topics and pursuits. A finance major can perform in a play or take a theater class as an elective. A studio arts major can put in a few hours a week writing for the school newspaper or DJing a three-hour block on the university radio. These experiences may not seem to offer much at face value, but they allow students to discover other interests that they don’t have available in high school and may not have time to explore after college.
Not to mention the diversity of backgrounds, economic statuses, races, religious beliefs, and languages to be found at a university. When such a group of people come together in a classroom or organization, they fuel the critical conversations that can result in future business owners, policy advocates, and world leaders.
People benefit when they can refine their beliefs and articulate why an issue is important. Opportunities for this type of dialogue are boundless on a college campus. Engaging in these conversations also helps students discover what career would be most meaningful for them.
Students who quickly dismiss college as an option likely haven’t considered these potential benefits. It’s worth it to find ways to bring up these topics in an ongoing way in your classroom.
How do you motivate your students to apply to college? What methods have worked best with your students?