Seniors need a backup



“For years, I’ve argued that high school seniors – especially in Philadelphia – should be required to pursue higher-education options. Doing so could be a component of senior projects that are already required.


The new requirement would be simple: Every single graduating senior must successfully apply to a community or four-year college, or to a trade or technical academy. In addition, each senior must complete an application for government financial aid or a scholarship of his or her choice.”


This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Seniors need a backup”.  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.


 Thanks for reading.


 –Christopher Paslay


6 thoughts on “Seniors need a backup

  1. I work at one of Pennsylvania’s public universities and I see the number of first-generation and lower-income students who unnecessarily struggle financially because they (and their parents) never bother to complete a financial aid application. It would be great to see many more of these kids get the assistance that is available for the asking.

    But I am less enthused about filling schools with students whose only reason for attending college is that their other plans fell through. Studies have demonstrated one of the key factors in student success is having clear academic and career goals. Folks in student affairs know that students without goals are the ones that are most often in trouble (lots of partying, little studying). If these students don’t succeed, they’ve gained little beyond debt that they will struggle to repay.

  2. This sounds like a wonderful idea. Wonderful, that is, until you consider the consequences.

    Want to take over your father’s business straight out of high school without wasting $50 per college application? Tough luck, we’re going to force you to waste your time and money on something that will not benefit you.

    Applied to a dozen colleges, and didn’t get into a single one? Well, since you didn’t “successfully apply to a community or four-year college, or to a trade or technical academy,” I guess you can’t get your high school diploma.

    Your proposition would create far more problems than it would solve. Thankfully, the people we’ve elected to office think about the actual consequences of nifty new mandatory government programs rather than just considering the upside, taking advice only from their yes-men.

    Oh wait.

    • Sam,

      Go back and carefully reread what I wrote in today’s Inquirer commentary, because you completely mangled what I said; it seems like a lot of folks have done that today, especially on the Inquirer’s comment board.

      For starters, if a student had the option of taking over his father’s business straight out of high school, he could certainly do so. Notice I said a college or trade school was a BACKUP PLAN if other options didn’t materialize, not a mandatory requirement.

      Second, I never said that a kid couldn’t graduate if he didn’t fill out an application for higher education. I said he would not be eligible to participate in commencement ceremonies. There is a big difference.

      Third, “successfully applying to a college or trade school” doesn’t mean getting accepted. It simply means successfully filling out the paperwork on the application and submitting it before the deadline, a skill EVERY student needs to master (whether it’s a job application, unemployment application, credit card app., voter registration, driver’s license, etc.).

      There is over $100 billion in federal aid available for students. They should take advantage of this. Also, having more than one option gives a student more choices, and takes some pressure off. And most college apps and scholarships are free, so your $50 argument doesn’t hold much water, either.

      –Christopher Paslay

      • Good Morning
        When I read the headline for your article my response was VERY NEGATIVE. I have a severely disabled son and thought, OMG ONE MORE THING to fight because he has no hope of ever going to college with an IQ of 32 but then I read your article and I thought about children in Foster Care, students who have never been encouraged to think they could ever go to college, students who could succeed but no one is there to help. THEN I really liked what you wrote and feel there is great potential there. I don’t know if I would mandate it. Give the state a chance and they could ruin a great idea by adding too many roadblocks. My son is required to take the PSSA’s it makes no sense, but I would love to see churches and retired people going into the schools and helping students fill out that form for a local college and financial aide and what a gift for them. To have someone who cared enough to help and show them that there could be other options that they hadn’t thought of before.
        Thank you for opening this door and sending this out. I think it is a great idea.

        all the best

        Susan F. Rzucidlo

  3. “In America billions of dollars are spent each year to provide an education for children and youth, frequently stressing education as a goal in itself. It was and is assumed that a good education will produce a positive and satisfying lifestyle. In general, this wisdom is still valid. However, continued education without some vision of a future career goal may lead a student to years of aimless wandering through college programs, incurring extra expense, debt and a delayed entry into the labor market. Students, families, and schools should be creating realistic career expectations based on achievement, personal choice, and future labor market demands. Consider these facts about the typical four-year college student in Pennsylvania.

    1. The most popular major for college freshmen is “UNDECLARED.”
    2. Nearly 40% of all college freshmen do not complete their first year.
    3. Less than 30% of all college freshmen earn a baccalaureate degree in four years.
    4. One out of every two college graduates cannot find work in his or her field. One out of three cannot find college-level employment.

    For this generation, the number one predictor of postsecondary success, particularly in college, is not grades, but rather having a goal or the commitment that comes from career maturity and career direction.”
    -Dr. Kenneth Gray, Pennsylvania State University

    If you do not know Dr. Gray, you need to read his books, Other Ways to Win and Getting Real: Helping Teenagers Find Their Future (2nd edition). He has loads of data to support his thesis that meaningful career development for all children is important for all children.

    Career Development does not mean forcing students to pick out a career–it is a process students are lead through so that they may make decisions based on a realistic personal assessment of likes and dislikes, as well as identifing strengths and weaknesses as they relate to labor market opportunities; making career decisions and then exploring alternatives to prepare them to pursue these interests. Albert Bandura, John Holland and Donald Super have done some great work in the area of career development too. Becoming familiar with their theories will be helpful to understanding the process.

    Do you know that PA has Career, Education and Work Standards? ( Career Development is, by law, the duty of every educator in PA K-12. I have found that CD interventions link my content area to the “real world.” Students respond in a positive way when they see relevance in the classroom.

    In summary, if students do not have a goal and do not have a solid academic foundation going to college is not going to be a positive experience. Before schools change a Graduation Project as you are suggesting they need to ask themselves if they are preparing their students for post-secondary success.

    • Sue,

      Wow–very interesting statistics. I agree with you that schools must prepare students for post-secondary success. I also agree that career goals should be based on “a realistic personal assessment of likes and dislikes”. This is why my idea serves as a backup plan–a student may realize that college or a trade school IS something they want to pursue afterall. And if every senior is required to apply as part of the graduation project, that option just might be waiting for them. If they don’t apply, they have no choice. If their career goal falls short, they are stuck.

      Graduation projects are limited. After it is completed, often times a student has nothing to show for it. The portfolio and binder go into the closet, and the “product” they designed goes into the trash. If students were required to apply for a scholarship and to a college or trade school, they just might end up with something tangible, like grant money or a ticket to higher education.

      There is nothing wrong with having options, or taking advantage of billions in government aid. And in the process, students will practice filling out applications and meeting deadlines, a skill they will need for the rest of their lives.

      –Christopher Paslay

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