College Is Not for the Supermajority

American media and political leaders give the impression that if high schools would just provide guidance and academic courses, all students could complete college entrance requirements, go to college, and graduate. This is a good example of the media and politicians being completely disingenuous. It is time for the media and politicians to do their homework and tell the truth.

First, the national rate for high school students completing a four-year college degree is about thirty percent. Thus, the concept of college for all is clearly erroneous. College is meant exclusively for the academically elite. This concept that everyone is capable of high academic achievement is inaccurate. It is also harmful. The supermajority of high schools students can never graduate from college. School systems that claim that they can achieve this miracle of college for all are lying. It is impossible. By definition, half of the students are below average in intelligence and are not candidates for college. College is by definition exclusively for high academic achieving youngsters. Schools that promise this so-called “college for all” are making promises that they cannot keep.

Second, there is a legitimate educational problem where Black and Hispanic students are under represented in college graduation rates. San Diego is the home to a program that is addressing that very issue. The program is titled AVID and it targets bright disadvantaged students and provides help in preparing these students for college. This is a sound educational approach based on research. It does not, however, pretend that it or any other educational innovation, can magically prepare all students to succeed in college.

Third, this “college for all” concept is very different from AVID. The entire goal of college for everyone is inappropriate. Only twenty-three percent of the jobs in America require a college degree. When you spend time in high school trying to prepare kids for college, who will never go, they don’t receive a career technical education. This means they leave high school without the job skills and attitudes necessary to go to work. This lack of an appropriate high school education harms students in the short-term and potentially for the rest of their lives. The negative consequences of this inadequate education are gangs, drugs, prostitution, crime, and ultimately, incarceration. This inappropriate education costs millions of people to live unnecessarily in desperation.

Fourth, charter schools have no magic in preparing youth for college. They claim that somehow because they don’t have to contend with a teacher’s union that they can provide some educational magic. It makes no sense that being able to fire a teacher more easily makes for better education. These schools do not have the support for young teachers and the threat of firing them does not make them better teachers. Some charters have high test scores, but upon examination, the students had the same high scores before they came to the school. It is a matter of parental self-selecting a group of children. There is no educational benefit to students. Charter schools have no magic that public schools do not also have. Some charter schools just collect high achieving kids and then report their high test scores as if they had done something special. They haven’t done anything special that will lead to college preparation. This is a case of the media and politicians not reading the research.

Fifth, some people may interpret the “some college” needed for employment to mean community college. This concept is based on bad research where employed survey respondents specified that was their background. This response doesn’t mean that there was any benefit derived from their time at the community college. The reality is that the community colleges don’t want average or low achieving students. They use placement tests to screen potential students to avoid wasting their time. The community colleges have a role and that is to help some students transfer to a four year college and to provide a higher level of career technical education. The reality is that career academies with 900 hours of career technical education specific instruction can prepare youth for just about all entry-level occupations. An enormous reality must be faced when thinking about postsecondary education. The lower achieving kids in high school are treated like second-class people and they hate it. This treatment makes them very wary of any postsecondary institution.

The unintended consequences of well-meaning elitist educational programs cannot be overstated. The media and politicians need to be responsible in their pontifications about these kinds of educational programs so that they can give good information to students and parents. I suggest visiting career academies such as the Construction Academy at Kearny High School in San Diego to view good career technical education. Also, take a look at the research on the California Partnership Academies run by the state. There are real and very negative consequences to high school students who are pushed into unrealistic college prep curricula. We must all be responsible and do our homework to avoid contributing to the problem.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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