Why 4-year college may not be the best fit for your child

By Susan Pohorski

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As a young person, I always assumed I would go to college. Both my parents went to private 4-year colleges and I just thought that’s what you do after high school. I didn’t really question it.

What about your child? Is your teen following the same assumption? Or is he or she questioning 4-year college? Are you questioning the 4-year option? Maybe you should.

According to the Wisconsin Information System for Education, 59.3 percent of Wisconsin high school graduates in 2014 enrolled in postsecondary education immediately after high school. Of those individuals, 64.9 percent enrolled in 4-year institutions and 32.8 percent went to 2-year institutions.

falseHowever, not all of them remained in college and completed a degree. Data published by the Chronicle of Higher Education showed only 27.4 percent of students who enroll in public, 4-year colleges graduate in 4 years and 60.4 percent graduate in six years. Students at private colleges had higher graduation rates with 47.7 percent graduating in four years and 64.2 percent graduating after six years.

At the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, for example, is a four-year, public institution. At this university, only 33 percent of full-time, first time, degree-seeking undergraduates finished in four years. Sixty-eight percent graduated after six years. What happened to the ones who didn’t graduate at all?

Why do students drop out?
A Harvard study released in 2011, Pathways to Prosperity, found three reasons for students dropping out: not prepared for the rigors of college work; inability to cope with demands of study, family and jobs; and cost.

Other students give up on their college education because they pursued the wrong career or education path and found out they didn’t really want to be a ___________________.  They often had no idea what career they wanted to pursue when they enrolled and after a year or two; they still don’t know.

A 2011 study by the Pew Research Center looked into why adults age 18-34 lack a bachelor’s degree. The report showed two-thirds halted their education to support a family, 57 percent chose to work and make money; and 48 percent felt they could not afford college.

Other research cited lack of support from parents both financial and otherwise. Parents support and encourage students through saving money for postsecondary education, taking the student on college visits, attending financial aid workshops, and assisting with forms and applications.

Some questions to ask

1.     Do you support your child’s post high school plans? Can you provide some financial support? Do you expect your financial situation will change in the next four years?

2.     Is your child ready for college academic work?

3.     Will your student have to work during their college education?

4.     Does your child have some idea what career he or she wants to pursue?

5.     Will your student be able to complete a degree in a reasonable amount of time? Or will they give up and drop out?

One student’s story
April Brandt started her education at a 4-year college, but after 3 years decided it was not for her.

“My parents played a big part in my decision to enroll in a 4-year college because it was where my dad's family all went and my mom did as well,” April explained. “They wanted me to get a 4-year degree because like so many that's what they thought was best for me and the life that they hoped I was going to live.”

However, April felt lost in the crowd at her first college. “My professors didn't know my name or really take a chance to get to know me,” she said. “I felt as if I was just a number there and not an actual person. I hated feeling like I didn't matter.”

Majoring in psychology and political science, April didn’t really have a particular career in mind.  She loved both fields and was successful in her classes.

“I knew that I wasn't truly happy because I wasn't being true to what really made me happy, which was art,” she stated.

April didn’t drop out; she transferred to a two-year technical college, calling it the best decision of her life. “My instructor knows my name, knows my story and knows me. She has more than 10 years of experience working as a graphic and web designer so she brings in real-world work experiences.”

Set your child up for success
It’s time to have a serious discussion with your teen and help them decide what is the best educational option for them. If they do not feel prepared for the rigors of 4-year college or university, don’t let them enroll without considering remedial work or other college preparation courses. (More about that in a future post.)

Perhaps their career goals can be achieved without a 4-year degree. Be willing to consider other options such as technical college or 2-year public university programs. Many well-paying careers require only an associate degree or technical diploma.

If your family is not financially able to provide enough support, don’t saddle your student with a huge burden of student loan debt or having to work too many hours, causing them to fail their classes.

As parents we want our children to succeed. Don’t set your child up for failure by sending him or her to a college that is not a good fit.

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