I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was a beautiful late fall/early winter afternoon in Phoenix, Arizona, and I was an impressionable fifth grader excited about the upcoming Christmas Break. Right before lunch, our teacher made an impassioned speech that has stuck with me 30 years later. Our teacher wasn’t encouraging us to be safe over the holidays, give back to the community, or to not ruin the spirit of Santa for our younger siblings. Rather, she wanted us to promise her that we would pursue a gift that would impact us for the rest of our lives; the gift of a college diploma.

I found it odd that our teacher would encourage everyone to go to college; I mean – I could count five people off the top of my head that were having a difficult time passing the fifth grade. Why would a teacher give an impassioned speech and blanket all of her students with this message if it was clear that some students may not be best suited for the rigors of college life? Wouldn’t a better message be: “Find what your natural abilities are, and identify the career paths that are best suited with these skills. Some of you may need to go to college, and others will take another path to obtain the necessary credentials”? I ended up challenging my teacher regarding the notion that everybody should go to college and the downside to that, including but not limited to: rise of college tuition, the devaluation of the bachelor’s degree, and the money wasted if a student doesn’t complete their degree. My teacher understood where I was coming from, however she felt that everybody needed to earn a college degree in order to be successful.

The message in high school wasn’t much different. The campus was littered with university sweatshirts, recruiters from universities were on campus everyday, and the pressure to perform well on standardized tests and get good grades was palpable. There was little discussion of military or vocational options, and anyone that wasn’t ambitious enough to attend a four-year institution was red flagged and sent to the guidance counselor to discuss their goals. I never understood why a four year degree was pushed as the best or even only way to make a living. Today I draw upon my experience and continuously coach my six children how to navigate the elementary, high school and college systems. First we put a tremendous amount of focus on one’s effort. How someone earns their grade carries much more weight than the grade earned. My wife and I do this because we believe that success lies in one’s effort and work ethic much more than the diploma that is earned. What good is it to hold a four year degree if you don’t have the work ethic or morals to keep the job? My two older daughters take great pride in their grades, and understand that their grades and assignments carry great weight in how they are perceived in their school community and beyond. They continuously put forth effort to earn the best grade possible and set themselves up to be contributing members of our society. My son on the other hand has more intelligence in his pinky finger than I have in my entire being. He continuously earns A’s and B’s – and finds himself grounded at the end of almost every term because he has no excuse earning a B in any of his classes. He is lazy, unorganized, and unmotivated, and this is a cause of great concern for me and my wife. We have given him the ultimatum that he receives all A’s by the end of sixth grade or serious consequences will be handed out. Of course he sees this as unfair because we don’t punish for B’s with anyone else, but we explain to him that he has a tremendous gift and he must learn to use it or it will go to waste. Our three other children have witnessed our response to grades and our expectations of the education process, and they are already fine tuning their own processes to set them up for success.

The other thing we stress to our children in regards to their schooling is that it is their education and future; not ours. My wife and I are busting our chops trying to get six kids through private education, and we have set the expectation that post-high school is their responsibility and not ours. We continuously sit down with our three older children and tell them that we are not paying for anything post-secondary education, and the actions they are taking today will have a direct influence on what that will look like for them. We have gone through all of their options and reiterate it constantly. They can take a gap year and work before going to college, attend a local community college and then move to a four-year college, go to a trade school, or go out of state. We constantly talk about scholarships, and the importance of paying for college by that method so no loans are taken out. We have gone as far as saying that if they don’t qualify for enough scholarships to fully fund their education they are either going to the wrong place or should consider another option to provide for their future. We have discussed what college programs have the most return on their investment, and what programs to avoid. Our children also know that we will support them with the upmost love, respect, and they are free to live at home during their college years to reduce room and board costs. This process has worked seemingly well for our oldest daughter who has been accepted to a college in Kansas and wants to be an architect. She is half-way funded through scholarships and is currently applying for more and has an opportunity to earn a full ride in the spring. I have no doubt that her hard work will lead to a full ride and a tremendous college experience, and this example will trickle down to the remaining five children.

Too often our children are told they must go to college in order to be successful. This one-stop option is a complete disservice to our children and our society as a whole because young adults who should not be attending college are. Rather, our children need to be presented all of the options they have before them, how each option will impact them, and coached on how to set themselves up for success. Our children need this and deserve this.

The featured image at the beginning of this post is from JESHOOTS-com of PixaBay.