What this high school student thinks about COLLEGE…

jdutton21.jpg Sorry for the delay everyone. Getting ready for the winter break was a very busy time, what with the holidays coming up so quickly this year, so I do apologize for taking a little while to post something new. Anyways, what I would like to start a discussion about this time is the big, looming topic that hangs over the heads of so many high school students, college.

I have found that at this point in my schooling, most of the discussions that I have with adults are about college, where I’d like to go, what students my age think about it, the increasing cost, etc. As a junior, the idea of college that once seemed so distant is becoming very real, so I usually have something to contribute to these discussions as college is something that I find myself thinking about more and more.

I would like to touch on three major things that were on my mind when I began writing this. First, the dilemma between staying in-state or going to an out of state school. Second, the role that parents play in where their child will end up, both financially and mentally. And third, the incredible amount of students who, for a variety of reasons, simply don’t consider or have the option of college.

Here is an interesting story. One day a representative from a college counseling service came to my classroom and spoke to the students about college options. One of the questions we were asked was whether or not we would considering going to school out of state. About three out of thirty-four students, including myself, raised their hands. I would confidently say that that number would hold true in most classrooms in my school. The UC, CSU, and Community College systems are simply cheaper, and easier to get into (in some cases) to the point where most students see nothing beyond it.

By saying this I don’t intend to resurrect the same discussion from my last blog. I’m simply stating what I have observed. I myself will apply to a few UC schools and I see nothing wrong with taking this route, I am just curious what you all think about this. Why do most college-bound students in Oakland Public schools prefer to stay in-state? Is it purely financial?

Now for the parents, I would love to hear feedback on this topic. If your child chose a college you didn’t feel was worth their time, how would you react? I feel like a lot of students will choose to go to a school that they know their parents will approve of even though that may not necessarily be the school that suits them best. But the fact of the matter is that, unless you are incredibly self sufficient, your parents will most likely be paying for the bulk of your college education.

So, another question for the parents, do you think it is fair to control where you child applies or where they end up going? I realize it may seem like I have some hidden hostility towards my parents about this, but in fact they are incredibly supportive of my desire to choose where I feel is right. Though obviously, a cheaper school or lots of scholarships would be nice.

Finally, I think when talking about Oakland Public Schools and college you will often run into statistics of alarming drop-out rates, and increasingly lower numbers of students going to college. I can’t give an exact percentage for Skyline’s drop-out rate, but I do know that it is decently high, around 30-40%. Often our Senior class is about half the size the Freshman class was by the end of the four years. A lot of kids have family issues that prevent college from being an option, or their grades and test scores weren’t what they needed to be, or something else entirely happened that threw them off the expected track.

Whatever the reason, all this college talk that is forced upon students from the beginning of ninth grade is only relevant to a small percentage of the graduating class. Here is more room for feedback. What causes this? Is it the environment where students live? Is it the school? What can be done to lower the drop out rates? I look forward to your responses!


  • Sue

    First, no need to apologize for your holiday time, I think everyone needs it. And I’m really impressed that you’d put time into an essay during your break.

    College – such a can-of-worms! My first attempt, off to UCD straight out of high school, lasted six months – just two quarters. Then I dropped out before I flunked out. I just wasn’t ready for that much personal responsibility at 18.

    Four years later, after I’d been living on my own for a couple of years (waiting tables, factory worker, etc. – in the 70’s and 80’s it was possible to support oneself on a minimum-wage salary), I enlisted in the Air Force so I could go back to school.

    I used to recommend the military whole-heartedly to any student who was concerned about college costs, but I can’t do that now. It’s a shame, because the military aptitude testing guided me into my career. I didn’t even know what a “computer programmer” was, and I’m still doing it 25 years later.

    Out-of-state, go for it! I got my degree from a small private college in IL. I met people from all over the country, and got to be their “hippy-chick from CA”, which wasn’t at all how I was seen back here at home. I’m sure the people I went to school with were also trying out new personas to see how they fit and how they felt.

    The most important thing I want to share from my experiences is that there are second chances. If the first year of college doesn’t work out, or the school isn’t what it was supposed to be, there are ways to make it better.

    My sister took ten years to get her bachelors (marriage, divorce, unplanned pregnancy, almost lost the baby and had to quit her job, went on welfare, baby’s father was more interested in drugs than in her and the baby, Clinton’s welfare reform almost forced her out of her engineering degree and into cosmetology school – and lots more struggles along the way!) and then got her masters degree in two. Anything is possible if you want it enough, and don’t give up.

  • John

    Jesse: Once upon a time I worked at a California State University as an International Student Adviser for intensive English language program students. I conducted seminars on “how to save time and money” pursuing your American college and university degree. I noted that too many students were intent on getting into a popular four year California college or university without proper regard for the quality of education they’d receive for their HUGE tuition payments at a ‘name brand’ (or other) four year school.

    As I see it, the best course of action for most high school graduates is to: complete your (first two) freshman and sophomore years at a community college because: (a) it is much less expensive than attending a four year college or university; (b) class sizes are smaller, affording you more quality time with your instructor; (c) the same College Accreditation Board mandated General Education requirements needed to complete your first two (freshman and sophomore) college years are offered at all 108 plus California community colleges; (d) if you’re a good student and competing for grades at a community college you will likely do much better than competing with top (high school grad) freshmen and sophomores at a four year (name brand) college or university. This will result in your achieving a higher GPA during your first two years of college, and an overall higher GPA upon completion of your four year degree, making you better GPA qualified for applying to graduate schools; (e) it is easier (providing you’ve taken the proper community college transfer courses) to enroll in your first choice California public (i.e., U.C. school) as a (third year) junior than as a (first year) freshman; (f) by completing your first two college years at a community college, instead of a four year college or university, you will save a lot of money (especially if you stay/live at home). The money you save can be applied to your final two (junior & senior) years, and then graduate school if that’s your objective. It will also lighten your student loan burden enabling you to keep more of what you earn in your first (etc.) job; (G) as in “G wiz or Golly Gosh! If you want to impress your friends AND give your parents something to brag about, enroll at say Columbia Community College in Tuolumne County. If anyone asks where you’ve been accepted, tell them you’re “going back east to Columbia.” Just don’t tell them HOW FAR back east or which Columbia you’ll be attending. They’ll think you’re a frigging genius and you’ll save a ton of bucks and most likely get a better quality first two year (freshman & sophomore) education than you would at a four year brand name school. And when you finally end up with your four year college or university diploma from Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, or San Francisco State, etc. it will contain NO MENTION of your having completed your first two years at a California Community College. It’ll be our little secret, I promise!

    In conclusion I’d recommend that you review some of Marty Nemko’s articles on ‘Education and Training’ [ http://www.martynemko.com/articles#education-amp-training ] One of my favorite: ‘College: America’s Most Over Rated Product (abridged)’

  • Sue

    I grew up in Sonora, Tuolumne’s county seat, so it’s a wonderful surprise to see Columbia College getting a mention here. One more plug for it – it’s so close to Yosemite, and it’s a *gorgeous* campus (Skyline h.s. has a beautiful campus, but CCC makes Skyline look like what it is, urban) – okay, that’s two plugs.

  • JC

    I also grew up in Sonora and Columbia College is a good junior college, although the Bay Area junior colleges have a larger range of courses. John’s suggestion about junior colleges is a good one – I’ve also heard Marty Nemko talk about this and I’d certainly consider his arguments.

    I went straight to a private four-year college in California and I think it was the best choice for me. I did get a full scholarship and couldn’t have done gone there if I hadn’t had it. I would have probably gone to Columbia or Modesto JC without scholarships.

    Part of going to college is being part of the college community – going to lectures, cultural events, etc. This is much more developed at a four-year college (this clearly depends on the college and where you are located!).

    I was not ready to go far from home and only considered colleges in Northern California. I think this is really up to you – if you feel like you want to go out of state – go ahead!

    Also, my parents always talked about my going to college even though neither of them had a college degree – so they always pushed me in that direction.
    There were a lot of kids in my high school who never intended to go to college and just wanted to get through high school – most of them didn’t drop out, though.

    Good luck!

  • Timmy


    Thank you for the topic. I am not sure what I can contribute, but I am sure that I would like to hear much more from the students. How can that happen?


  • Judy

    Your blog posting was both interesting and relevant to my own experience as a Bay Area public high school teacher. My students participate in a special three year program, where we inundate them with college information. Most of the teachers within the program, including myself, are CAL grads and fight to instill a college-going culture within our students. Although we provide this information, invite college counselors, teach the students how to complete relevant forms and take them on college tours, they fight us or simply give up when the time comes to apply to a four year institution. Only the very motivated student, who always wanted to attend a UC or CSU, completes the application process and attends the institution. The rest of our students attend a JC or work in one of the retail stores in the area after graduation. I don’t know what it is and it breaks my heart, especially when I compare it to my own public high school experience where 90% of our Senior class attended a four year college, both in-state and out-of-state. I am not going to comment about the obvious issues of class and socioeconomic factors, however, I do know that my students have the ability and information to attend a four year college, but seem to fight the idea of applying and attending a school. I wonder if culture, self-esteem or self-image play a more significant role than SES?

  • http://freecollegeblog.com/2007/12/30/in-state-out-of-state/ InStatePublic

    For me, I feel like I got a great deal out of my in-state public university. The tuition was rock bottom and the quality of my education had more to do with the books I took home to study and the time I spent 1 on 1 with my professors than it did with the label on the diploma. I might not be able to get some Wall Street job like an ivy-league graduate, but I’m also not forced to work a high-stress job to pay back massive debts.