High School College Acceptance Rates are Deceiving

Seemingly weird words coming from a K-12 counselor. I kept milling over a title for this blog – literally for about 20 minutes – trying to stay away from words like “unimportant” or “skewed data”. When a high school advertises that they have a high college acceptance rate, it doesn’t tell the whole story – or any story at all other than every single one of our students filed out at least one college application and was accepted into at least one college.

Last month, Chalkbeat’s Scott Warren and Sylvia Rousseau published an article about a star, stand-out, student from the Bronx, NY, whom the spotlight found because of his K – 12 academic excellence and status as a first generation college student.  New Detroit Teacher, we (as educators) often miss a major part of preparing our kids for life after K-12. While speaking at a number of events for Generation Citizen (a non profit that connects students with local political and community leaders) and attending The State of the Union as Michelle Obama’s honored guest, this young man was struggling through his first year of college, in serious jeopardy of failing out.  What was it like for this student, this teenager, to be in the spotlight, recognized for “making it”, but deep down knowing that he was not adjusting to college, and failing most of his classes? Reading this article, and posing this question lead me to want to write this post in response, or in addition. I write this piece for you New Detroit Teacher, about why a High School’s college acceptance rate means nothing to me.

I recognize that I am in a very emotional space when it comes to this topic. I think that we fail students, tremendously when it comes to preparing them for life after primary ed, and I include myself in this we. For this writing I’m going to skip over the academic unpreparedness that I have seen in a number of students, that I believe has to do with too harsh a focus on testing and steering education away from teaching students how to learn vs. stuff to know…I want to focus on the lack of social and emotional preparedness post K-12.

For me, the statistic that a school has close to 100% college acceptance rate is insignificant in the “long game”. The long game, should a student choose to go to college, is graduation FROM that college. More so career acquisition and satisfaction in that career,  post graduation. Better stats to focus on – How many of your students, K-12, graduate from a 2 year, 4 year, or graduate degree program? How many of your students, K-12, reported feeling prepared for the transition into higher education? How many of your students report satisfaction in their field?

New Detroit Teacher, we fail to assist students in identifying their holistic strengths – personal, academic, verbal, social, etc. What are you great at? Can I tell you what I see? How do you see yourself working as an adult?  How can we get you involved in something now to test that out? How can we integrate this into the classroom and your learning initiatives? (I know, this is sounding very IEP, I can’t help it – every kid should have one)

We could do more to prepare our students for failure, and how to problem solve on their own. Trust me, I love the hand hold – if there is anything I love more than doing something for one of my students, I don’t know what it is. But sometimes this becomes a detriment. When I take over and do something for you – it can subconsciously relay to you that you need me to do it, or that you are not capable of doing it yourself. Failure is a part of life, the word may cause a shudder through your body, but we need to get more comfortable with it – seeing it more as a learning opportunity. This didn’t work! I’ll try it a different way! Specifically for post primary education bound students – Where can you reach out for help? Who is your support system? How can we help strengthen these relationships to better ensure you get what you need through this transition? How can we follow up with you post high school graduation?

Here’s the one that makes me pretty unpopular – we put far too much emphasis on college and higher education for every single student. College isn’t a good fit for every single student, or is too big of a first step out of K -12. Instilling the notion that college is everything, and without a degree you are not successful or are less successful is a recipe for unnecessary heartbreak for students who “don’t make it”. Sure, an odd comment coming from someone who has a graduate degree. Sure, there are certain career paths that require an advanced degree. I believe that if we could devote more time and resources early on to figuring out where our students passion lies and who they are, we could help provide incredibly individualized options for post K-12 education. I 100% believe that college (and the varieties of) should be an option for every student – and that it should be discussed as such; ONE of many options.

With the increasing costs of higher education, I’m thinking that n the coming years we are going to see more and more students opting for career’s that have specific training and/or certification – computer coding, drafting and design, social media management.

My heart broke for this student from the Bronx; we can do more New Detroit Teacher. How did an excelling student get into this position? I didn’t name him specifically, because I think he is every student that feels defeated and lost because the high school to college path wasn’t what they expected. He is every kid that gets dropped off in a (sometimes) foreign city in August with text books and a campus map. He’s every kid that “makes it out”. He’s all of your kids, your brand new seniors, New Detroit Teacher. How can we better prepare our future leaders for what I call “the 13th step”?