The Daily Star
---- — “What are you going to do?”
That’s the question that hundreds of local teens are going to be asked, time and time again, as they don their caps and gowns this weekend and prepare to leave high school behind.
For many graduates, there will be an easy answer: “I’m going to college.”
And that answer will be satisfactory to most who inquire. Because going to college is what today’s high school graduates are supposed to be doing. Conversations about improving education often focus on “college readiness,” a benchmark that is defined by a host of statistics.
There are statistics, too, to explain why this is such a focus. College graduates are more likely to reap higher earnings throughout their lifetime. It’s been shown, too, that college can help people to elevate their social status.
“What are you going to do?”
A few generations ago, “Get a job” would have been a common — and satisfactory — answer for many students, when a college degree was a less common prerequisite for entry-level positions.
Today, our industrial economy has been eclipsed by a growing service sector. And we have struggled as a society to afford the same dignity to a fast-food worker or a grocery store clerk that we once did to an assembly line worker or laborer. It has been difficult to engender the same pride in workmanship for service work, which is inherently ephemeral.
Too often ignored is the fact that, even in a service-based economy, workers still have the opportunity to advance their careers. A good work ethic and a positive attitude are often rewarded with opportunities. And these opportunities can arise anywhere, even behind the checkout counter at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s.
Occupations such as plumbing, carpentry and landscaping remain as vital as ever to our economy, and offer people a means to earn, as used to be said, “an honest living.” We are lucky to have programs offered by the local Boards of Cooperative Educational Services to give students a means to gain training in these fields. But do we afford them the respect they deserve?
There are a lot of really terrific reasons to go to college. For some, it is an obvious first step toward pursuing a higher degree. For others, it is a proving ground — an opportunity to delve more deeply into areas of interest to seek out a career path.
It can also be an opportunity to broaden one’s mind, to exercise critical thinking skills and become exposed to thought-provoking ideas. But today, these opportunities come with a hefty price tag attached.
“What are you going to do?” is a valid question for any high school graduate. But we must also be asking, “Why?” And if the answers are “College,” followed by a shrug, it’s worth examining that choice.