November 7 — 2:18 pm, 2018

When college isn’t the best next step

Here are four post-secondary options that our students can explore.

Melissa A. Rowe

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Last week, I was confronted with the same question multiple times:

What if I don’t want to go to college?

People are often surprised when they find out that I don’t think that every high school graduate should make college their next step. It’s a little tricky for me to explain, especially because I went directly into college after high school and then enrolled in a graduate program.

Although I feel that I made the best choice for myself, I am also super proud of my younger brother, whom we encouraged to take up a trade. He completed his course of study in 13 months and has been gainfully employed, doing work he enjoys, ever since. Here’s the real perk for him: If he wants to pursue a college degree his job will pay for it!

Given that every student comes to us with unique skill sets, home-life circumstances, and real-world needs, I’m not sure why so many adults and educators rigidly direct each student to college.

Moreover, given the financial burden that many of our students will find themselves in trying to obtain a bachelor’s degree, herding students to college makes less financial sense. In the last decade, after the great recession, public colleges and universities have been raising tuition and cutting costs to make up for the loss of funding from state budgets.

These increases saddle students and their families with debt or simply price out students from low-income households altogether. In Pennsylvania, the cost of attending a public state-system school accounts for 37 percent of black families’ median household income and 35 percent of that of Hispanic families, according to an October 2018 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute.

Depending on students’ career aspirations and academic profiles, attending college will be the most appropriate next step for some of our graduates. For others, however, let’s help them identify paths to financial stability that won’t break their spirit or the bank.

Here are four post-secondary options that our students can explore:

Year UP is a unique, yearlong program for recent high school graduates that combines hands-on skills development, courses eligible for college credit, and corporate internships to prepare students for success in professional careers and higher education. Year UP is offered in Philadelphia and 16 other cities.

Job Corps touts that it’s the largest free residential education and job training program for young adults ages 16-24. Federally funded, it offers industry-recognized certifications in more than 80 high-demand industries, including construction, accounting, hospitality, and transportation.

Orleans Tech is a nonprofit career school in Philadelphia, offering certifications and diplomas in health care and the building trades. Most of its programs take six to 13 months for completion.

District 1199c Training & Upgrading Fund helps the region’s students gain access to career pathways in health care and human services through education, training, and work-based learning. It offers a free nurse aide program for qualifying young adults (17 -24) and programs to help students become licensed practical nurses, early childhood educators, and behavioral health professionals.

I know this list of alternative post-secondary options is not exhaustive. If you know of other post-secondary programs, provide a link in the comments section.

Melissa A. Rowe, M.Ed., is the founder of Capture Greatness! –Scholarship & College Coaching. Capture Greatness! has helped local students earn more than $1.5 million in scholarships for college. Learn more at









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