Frank Ruff Jr.: College questions we should ask

Frank RuffAs families consider the next step for their young people after high school, it is a good time to review the changes that have been occurring over the years. Once upon a time, college was for those who had worked hard and applied themselves in their high school work.

It is believed that there is greater prestige in graduating from the most elite colleges such as an Ivy League college, University of Virginia, William & Mary, or Virginia Tech. These schools have increased their enrollment to satisfy the desires of families and legislators that want to please their constituents. This has put increased pressure on less prestigious schools to maintain or grow their enrollment. As this has happened, sometimes colleges have admitted students that are not prepared and, therefore, remedial classes are needed. This makes it difficult for students to graduate in four years.

FINANCING

Considering the cost of a year in college, that extra year strains finances. For the colleges, that is no problem. Thanks to the federal government, student financial assistance is available without clear understanding of how it will be repaid and, recently, that it will have to be repaid. Quasi-government entities such as Sallie Mae require little of a student other than a signature. This easy money has given colleges a green light and let expenses run rampant.

WHAT ARE FAMILIES BUYING?

Once getting good grades indicated that a student had worked diligently and deserved those grades. However, for almost twenty years, there have been stories from some schools that almost every student graduates with straight ‘A’s. Twenty years ago, a Princeton official explained this away by saying “that they only accepted the brightest students, therefore, they deserved high grades”.

This process and the goal of being able to claim high graduation rates, has led to grade inflation. The result is that employers are concerned that many young people are not properly ready to enter the workforce. In some cases, they lack the knowledge expected for the job. In other cases, it is a lack of work ethic. This may explain why too many college graduates have not been able to find employment equal to their degree.

ANOTHER ALTERNATIVE

College graduates and dropouts are sometimes saddled with debt without a degree that is valuable in the job market. Meantime, many skilled professions are begging for employees. I have spent much time and energy to change this equation. My efforts have led to fast short-term training programs that guarantee useful certification in needed fields.

The ‘great recession’ hit a dozen years ago; it was inane to expect a laid-off worker to train for two years to learn new skills. I pushed for training that would take weeks rather than years. Additionally, students would be taught to the level in which they can be independently certified in the field in which they were trained.

These students, whether they be recent high school graduates or more experienced workers, are now in the workforce with little or no debt. We now have students that did dual enrollment at the community college. In one case, a student at eighteen years of age upon graduation of high school received a job offer of $60,000 to start.

COLLEGE OPTIONS

The takeaway from all this is that students and families have options. When considering options, look at the right education for you, not the most glamorous. The most important issue is finding a career that pleases you. Understand that employers want knowledgeable employees with a good work ethic. As I told a group of educators years ago, “you measure success in degrees, we in the real world measure success by your value to a business.”

Frank Ruff Jr. represents Lunenburg in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.Ruff@verizon.net.