The Family Project: College, vo-tech?
Q. My 16 year-old high school junior just told us that he doesn’t to go to college. He is so bright, and his grades are excellent, but he wants to go to a vocational-technical school instead. I feel that he will not be working to his abilities or reaching his full potential in a trade. How can we convince him that he needs to go to college?
Panelist Mike Daniels started by cautioning the parents against saying “You can’t” to their son. “The minute you start to do this, teenagers have to push back. What’s the point of creating that conflict, especially now?” He said the parents should celebrate their child’s ability to figure it out and make an adult decision, but also be aware that “at 16 his ideology will be very different than at 17. It’s not important to have a definitive answer at this age.”
Noting that college is not for everyone, panelist Joanne Nigito Raftas, said, “I would really talk to the parents about the fact that college isn’t the only way to go here.” Panelist Regina Naradlo noted in an email, “There is a skilled labor shortage reaching a crisis stage. For every one skilled worker that enters the workforce, five retire. There are rising rates of open jobs for carpenters, electricians, plumbers, masons, welders, machinists, and many other specialties that go unfilled. Some of these jobs can have a starting salary of $60,000.” In comparison to college, she added, “the job outlook after graduation varies based on degree attainment. In addition, the average college loan debt is approximately $35,000.”
Raftas explained. “We are not going to help you [the parents] convince this child. The conversation I would have with the parents is that they are not giving their child respect, no respect in what the child wants. It’s about what they want, and in the relationship, they are setting themselves up for a very hard road.”
There’s an important point to consider, according to panelist Denise Continenza. “Now you don’t have to graduate from high school and go away for four years to a brick and mortar college campus. You can go into a trade, and then two years later say, ‘I think I want a degree so I might move up in this company.’ If they want that degree, they can do it online, on weekends ... so many different options.”
“While neither of these options are necessarily a better choice than the other,” Naradko said, “it’s important to look at the career goals and big picture of each individual. My suggestion is to look at both options moving forward and consider pros and cons. Perhaps a visit to some trade-technical schools to learn more about programs, job placement, salary, and opportunities for advancement, while also visiting some traditional four- year schools looking at the same criteria can help to make an informed choice.”
This week’s team of parenting experts and guest panelists are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo; Joanne Nigito-Raftas, Registered Play Therapist; Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS; Julie B. Davitt, Nutrition Education Adviser, Penn State Extension Nutrition Links, and Regina Naradko, School Counselor, Lehigh Career & Technical Institute
Have a question? Email: projectchildlv.org. The Family Project weekly column is a collaborative effort between the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.