If your teen graduated this month without a plan for college, and you’re probably feeling EXCEPTIONAL pressure, especially on Facebook. (you know, where “everyone’s” kids are all starting at fussy universities this fall). I want to tell you something that’s really important but rarely talked about.
Getting into college isn’t nearly as hard as getting out.
That’s worth saying again: Getting into college isn’t nearly as hard as getting out (with a degree). Trust me, getting out is the better goal, but soon the buzz will die down, and you won’t hear about the struggles some teens are having, the financial challenges the parents are facing, or the worst possible scenario, their teen dropping out.
In other words, it’s intimidating when “everyone” around you starts college, but that’s only because there is a pervasive myth that tells parents “get your kid into college, and all is well in the world. Your job is done!”
Not so fast. That’s bunk.
Simply, there is a huge journey between high school graduation and college graduation. It’s filled with pitfalls, redirection, and a lot of debt. Unless your teen is very motivated, he likely wouldn’t have been successful today had you pushed him forward. That doesn’t mean he won’t be up for it next semester, next year, in 3 years, or in 5. But every college graduate will tell you that it was their internal motivation that drove them to complete their degree, not the internal motivation of their parents! I realize all of this is very uncomfortable to talk about, but I hope you’ll explore with me how we can make your situation work out for the best. (Did she just suggest I back off? Maybe a little.)
Everyone is not a college graduate
The National Center for Education Statistics keeps track of all education data on all people (not a small sample of people, all people – this is the real deal!) I like using data when I’m wrestling a problem because my emotional side and my logical side are sometimes at odds with each other! Data helps me reel in some of my emotions, and look at a problem logically. I’ve turned to the latest Educational Attainment Data (2017) and the latest College Enrollment of High School Graduates (2017) to discuss the challenge of “getting out” of college. Why? Because many parents may interpret their teen’s lack of motivation today as their own failure. (let’s face it, as homeschoolers, a lot of people are watching our kids and how they turn out – I get that, it’s a real pressure.)
Their data reflects young adults aged 25-29. I want to walk you through a set of information that I hope you won’t skim past:
- The percentage who graduated high school or GED: 92%
- This is important to note because if your teen didn’t graduate high school, they would truly be in the minority of their peers. In 2015, the graduation rate was only 88%, so as you can see, it’s trending up! As a high school graduate, they are eligible to apply for college, apprenticeship, military, or begin work. This accomplishment may not be your endgame, but it is still significant for their success as an adult moving forward. Count this as a win.
- The percentage who earned a bachelor’s degree: 35%
- I bet you thought it was higher. 35% is up from last year! Last year, it was only 28%. So, roughly a third have earned a bachelor’s degree. This is certainly not the majority by a long shot. In fact, bachelor’s degree holders represent a minority in the United States. (Master’s degree holders are in an elite club – only 9% of Americans have one!)
- The percentage of high school students that graduated high school and went directly to college: 69.9%
- Yep! You read that right, 70% of high school graduates headed directly to college, but only 35% of those between the ages of 25 and 29 hold a bachelor’s degree. Let’s build a diagram of how that looks using real students.
Now, I know you still want your teen to land in the green “35 graduate college” box, but before we go there, I want to share a bit more data and then we’ll build a real plan.
False starts are expensive
Student loan borrowing data tells us that 94% of those that enter college borrowed money. The general allowances and caps on government borrowing tell us that a student at year 2 in college has borrowed about $12,000. (I’m being super generalized at this point, and I’m not counting any money the parents borrowed).
So, while your teen hasn’t started college yet, at least they aren’t among the 33 that started, borrowed, and then dropped out. That group will have a $125 per month payment for 10 years to repay their loan. Those students are facing the same uncertainty as the group that didn’t start college – but the difference is that they are doing so with a debt burden on their shoulders.
From statistics and data, we know that student loan debt can be crushing, especially when the student expected to land a high paying job after college graduation, and instead finds themselves without their degree and a monthly debt to repay.
Tip #1 If your teen isn’t the driving force behind going away to college, stay home, pay cash, and don’t leave a paper trail.
Sometimes teens need a push. Mine have too. But remember, internal motivation is what drives a teen to complete their degree, so the ultimate win is getting them fired up about building their own plan. If your teen isn’t the driving force, their potential for finishing a degree away from home is very low. It is my recommendation that you should still push (a little) but do so in a way that doesn’t create a long-term debt or leave a trail.
A paper trail is a college transcript with 1-2 semesters of mediocre grades followed by a series of “W” and “F” grades. That is the #1 most common way students leave college when they drop out. You can avoid this by keeping their work off of a transcript (for now).
ADULT EDUCATION. The best kind of college classes that are cheap and don’t leave a trail are called “Adult Education” or “Continuing Education” and found at your local community college. While some of these courses can lead to a license, certification, or credential – that’s not really the point. The point is for them to get into a classroom where they’ll learn something they’re interested in. Adult Education courses aren’t graded, and they aren’t part of a financial aid program. Failure in these courses is inconsequential, there are no grades and no debt. You simply drop the class. Future college applications that ask for “all transcripts and grades” does not include Adult Education.
As an example, my local community college offers EMT training as part if a degree program and through the Adult Education program. Through the degree program, the student must apply, take a placement exam, take pre-EMT courses, earn credits, and earn grades. A permanent record is created, and the student can use financial aid to pay for the courses. Through our Adult Education program, a student simply enrolls directly in the EMT course, pays $180 and attends. Whether the student passes or fails, no grade is recorded. (no college credit is earned)
Lastly, Adult Education programs exist to meet the needs of adults – so you’ll see a robust blend of personal enrichment (cooking, Spanish, fitness) as well as career growth and development programs (Excel, PhotoShop, Real Estate, Cosmetology, Photography, etc.) that allow a life-work balance. Adult Ed classes usually just meet one or two nights a week or on weekends, allowing plenty of time for full-time employment.
Tip #2 Your teen should start full-time employment immediately, and do it at a company that offers tuition benefits.
Full-time work is not a punishment, it’s what adults do! There is a LOT to be gained from immediate full-time employment. For some teens, they just need a break from school, so working gives them an opportunity to mature, develop autonomy, and learn about being an adult. In addition, when a teen works for a company with tuition benefits, they’re tapping into a resource that could pay for their entire degree. Often an employer that pays tuition expects passing grades. For the teen that is a good employee and tries hard at work, this outside pressure (from the “real world”) may be enough of an encouragement to work that much harder in school.
I’ve written 2 posts you’ll want to check out if this is the path you’re considering. I’ve listed 100 employers that should make up your teen’s list of potential employers.
Tip #3 Revisit Homeschooling for College Credit suggestions
You may not realize this, but the credit earning strategies we explore here are applicable to high school graduates too! If you’ve been a member here for a while, it’s possible that your teen already has some college credit – maybe it was a dual enrollment course, a few CLEP exams, or a Straighterline class. No matter what they did, if they have even 1 college credit, they’re not behind! Here is the traditional credit progress schedule:
High School: 0 college credits
Freshman in college: completes 0-30 college credits (10 classes)
Sophomore in college: completes 31-60 college credits (10 classes)
Junior in college: completes 61-90 college credits (10 classes)
Senior in college: completes 91-120 college credits (10 classes)
For those students who aren’t on the competitive admissions track to a prestigious college, or who aren’t pursuing a hands-on trade, it’s easy enough for your student to work full time (see tip #2) and earn credit at home using one of the vendors talked about here. Read through the tabs above, but I’ll give my personal recommendation for Straighterline BECAUSE they have partnership agreements with colleges that are guaranteed to accept credit, you don’t have to disclose passes/failures, they can be done 100% at home, you can do all general education courses (AA degree) through them, and they frequently have coupons. (see tip #1). Furthermore, working on one class at a time, a full time working teen can still complete 1-2 classes per month. At that rate, your teen is not merely doing, but they are beating the traditional pace of college.
Credit earned non-traditionally through Straighterline, Sophia, CLEP, DSST, ALEKS, Study.com, and others are all valid for 20 years.
College credit earned this way does NOT leave a paper trail. This kind of credit consists of pass/fail scores. Failed exams/classes don’t appear on an ACE transcript.
Tip #4 Make an action plan
Now I’m the one that’s uncomfortable because this tip can cross a little into the “parenting” category, and I’m NOT in the business of telling people how to parent! Still, making an action plan is a good way to set financial expectations and live at home boundaries for your teen as they navigate into adulthood. Our second son just graduated high school and is earning his degree as a distance learner, so even though he’s “in college” we still have a very clear action plan for him that covers the next 2 years. Since we expect our children to eventually move out, our action plan always has that in mind.
Action plans include specific tasks either agreed upon by the family or dictated by the parent. Action plans should have clear and reasonable schedules and goals for everyone. Examples may look something like this:
You have _______ months of working full time before you have to either enroll full time at college, enlist in the military, join the Peace Corps, leave on a mission, start the apprenticeship program, or move into your own apartment.
While you’re working full time and still living at home, our financial expectation of you is __________________.
We will pay for classes at ____________ as long as you _____________.
In _____ months, we’ll revisit your goals and decide what to do at that point.