2018-03-22 / Front Page

College not for everyone; trades, ‘gap year’ trending

By Jen Murphy
Of The Enterprise staff

After crossing the stage in June, graduating seniors face a choice.

Deciding to go to college, enter the workforce, enlist in the military, or take a gap year can be a daunting task.

And as graduation rates soar above 80 percent in Michigan, here’s a choice more and more seniors face: What can I do besides go to college?

Fortunately, academic counselors are available at every school to help walk students through this process. And often the decision begins to take shape well before a diploma in placed in the hand of a graduate.

Suttons Bay school counselor Matt Peschel wants students to know college is only one possibility.

“I want kids to have a plan for their life,” Peschel said. “A gap year can be a pathway to success — usually if it has family support, and an agenda with structure. Agency is important at this time in life. Work, military, tech. training, license, certification, two-year, four-year, domestic, abroad, travel, internship, understudy, job shadow — do something that gets you information you need to make a decision if you are having trouble deciding.”

In short, Peschel highly recommends students take an honest inventory of skills, interests and abilities.

“The trades are seeing a resurgence right now as a more than viable pathway to success and a good life,” he said. “With tuition prices continuing to rise, a good job with advancement potential and insurance looks pretty good to many discerning kids and families.”

And there are tools schools give students to conduct the inventories and find the pathways Peschel describes.

Northport Public School counselor Erin Anderson said she uses the state-required “Education Development Plan” to help students determine a path, beginning in seventh grade.

“The plan allows students to explore their individual interests and hobbies to develop connections to potential career options and assess whether college is the appropriate pathway for their career aspirations,” Anderson said. “I’m not in the habit of recommending or telling students whether they should attend college. My role is to help students make an informed decision.”

Thanks to the use of tools like these and counselors who help students (and parents), once a student has completed his or her 12 years of mandatory education, there typically are not many surprises.

“The conversation starts early,” Anderson said. “We talk about what they want to study (at CTC) in 10th and 11th grade. There may be some tweaking in 12th grade.

“We look at employability and what you would need. It’s less about opinion and academic skill, and more about job outlook and skills you would need to work in a particular area.”

A critical resource available to Leelanau County students is the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District Career-Tech Center. Principal Patrick Lamb said the center “offers 24 different programs to high school juniors and seniors including allied health, manufacturing/tech academy (a pre-engineering program) and a teacher academy.” It also offers courses for students in the areas of culinary arts, manufacturing, automotive, construction and more.

First and foremost, Lamb stressed the academic rigor of the programs.

“Career and tech is very different than when I was in high school,” he said. “All classes receive academic credit. The academic rigor has gone up quite a bit.”

Of the close to 1,200 students enrolled this year, 70 percent will continue with formal post-secondary education. However, for the 30 percent of students not opting for a two or four-year college experience, classes offered can prepare them for entering the labor force immediately after graduation.

“I think what is attractive to our students is they may come here thinking or hoping to follow a specific career path,” Lamb said. “They leave here finding out they like the program they chose, or they know they absolutely don’t, and that saves them a lot of time and investment.”

Of course, another post-high school option that is gaining popularity is a “gap year.”

This option allows a student to take some time between high school graduation and their next endeavor, whatever that may be. For some, this time focuses on travel; for others, it involves working or volunteering.

For Suttons Bay senior Kenda Lovell, it will be a time to think.

“I decided to take a gap year so I could have more time to think about my career choice,” Lovell said. “My objectives are working and being stress free after those four years of stress. Anything is possible if you make it work.”

Lovell said her parents would like her to go to college after her gap year.

In the meantime, she plans to “stay home and save up as much money” as she can.

Part three of college series

The third installment in our three-part series about post-high school choices is published this week. Staff writer Jen Murphy looks at alternatives to attending college such as pursing a career in the trades, enlisting in the military or taking a gap year.

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