Forced to Apply to College? Some Students Could Be


Written by Alyssa Battistoni, Campus Progress

Should high school students have to apply to college to graduate? That’s the question behind a proposal going before Washington, DC city officials that would require all public school students to take the SAT and apply to at least one university, trade or vocational school, or other postsecondary institution in order to graduate.

It’s a bold proposal and one that has sparked some controversy.

Barmak Nassirian, the associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officer, told the Washington Post that the rote application requirement would have little effect without addressing the quality of students’ actual high school education.

He asked, to the Post: “What good does it do for them to require students to ritualistically apply to college?”

But former Campus Progress editor Kay Steiger argues that while it might not do any good, it probably won’t do any harm either. She writes: “The worst case scenario is they get rejected from the school and life continues as it otherwise might. Best case scenario, a student who otherwise never thought he or she would be able to go to college actually does.”

While perhaps a little too dismissive of the potentially negative effects—it’s possible that telling kids they have to apply to college without helping them along the way could make students feel inadequate if they are rejected—Steiger’s core point is an important one. For students who want to go to college but think it’s out of reach, the provision could open doors. If students are accepted, they can make use of Washington, DC’s Tuition Assistance Grant Program, which offers up to $10,000 for students to attend public universities anywhere in the country.

And those opportunities matter, perhaps more than ever. The gap between workers with and without college degrees is widening and has been particularly exacerbated by the economic downturn. Today, 8.7 percent of people with high school diplomas are unemployed, compared with only 4.1 percent of people with college degrees. And while it’s possible to get a job with just a GED, many professions that don’t require a bachelor’s—like nursing, computer support, and mechanics—do require some kind of postsecondary training.

The inevitable hand-wringing over paternalism seems a bit silly given the current state of affairs, in which teens’ lives are strictly structured and monitored up until the point when they turn 18, at which time they’re often cut loose altogether. Moreover, plenty of kids apply to college not because they’ve carefully considered the costs and benefits, but because their families and friends expect them to.

While this can be a source of pressure and stress, it keeps students from closing doors simply because they don’t feel like going through the sometimes-grueling application process or can’t imagine life after high school. Creating an institutionalized version of that social pressure might not work, but it could help expand opportunities for low-income students simply by showing them those opportunities exist.

While many high-achieving private and charter schools already have similar requirements, other governments are starting to explore similar programs. Oregon recently passed a similar bill requiring students to apply to college in order to graduate high school.

But it’s important that these programs don’t just allow lawmakers to adopt a “tough love” stance on education while doing little to actually expand opportunities for low-income students or those who wouldn’t succeed in traditional educational settings.

Postsecondary application mandates need to be paired with resources to support students in preparing for standardized tests and applying to schools: The college application process can be a daunting one, and even the savviest students often need help.

Applying to college can also be costly. Hopefully, DC officials have a plan for helping students with the fees they’re likely to incur. DC City Council Chair Kwame Brown has said the provision will require high schools to offer a seminar on applying to postsecondary institutions, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s a whiff of the last-minute-cram-session solution to this proposal—to make it more than just empty rhetoric, school systems need to start preparing students for higher education long before they hit senior year. In the meantime, though, it’s worth seeing what happens when school systems try to promote the concept that education doesn’t end with a diploma.

This post was originally published by Campus Progress.


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Photo from CarbonNYC via flickr


Aubrey Z.
Aubrey Zich6 years ago

This is ridiculous. It seems like a way to generate numbers and push kids into molds-- much like standardized tests, only at the families of the students' expense. If they plan to enact this, the schools better cover the cost of the SAT and the college application fees. But how could they-- the governemt is constantly cutting school budgets.

Stanley Balgobin
Stanley R6 years ago

Stark reality, a college degree or even a Masters degree does not guarantee you employment. What it does guarantee is a heap load of debt, you have to pay off, that never leaves your credit report. Higher degrees is just big business today, the Chinese are filling up our Universities to win the future. America is focused on War and the War on terror and the war on drugs, and war on the 99%. Education in the US has all but been abandoned by the politicians. Only private Corporate owned schools for the millionaires survive. The whole system is rotten to the core and the American taxpayers are footing the bill.

Hilary E.
Hilary E6 years ago

I ended up choosing not to go, even though I was accepted to a couple schools. This is a ridiculous rule...there will be a lot of students getting a GED simply on principle.

Andrew Carvin
Andrew Carvin6 years ago

Anything that can be bought at your local store can now be bought online cheaper, with a wider selection, and often with free shipping. Rental places where “ownership” is temporary are also being eliminated by streaming content that has a per use or subscription fee that is often cheaper than at a physical location. Even free services that employ people are being eliminated by those same free services being available online.

Progress is wonderful because it allows people to better afford what was once expensive, improves quality of life, increases access to products, increases efficiency, is better for the environment, and cuts down on resource consumption. With such benefits we should be seeking ways of speeding up progress instead of prolonging the inevitable demise of jobs that will be eliminated anyway.

We need to get over this baby like attachment to “get a job,” because “get a job” is no longer realistic with a shrinking Job Pyramid.

Andrew Carvin
Andrew Carvin6 years ago

This is why education is considered a gateway criterion in order to meet the requirements of applying for a job, but does not actually increase your chances of getting a job. Any response to unemployment must address the Job Pyramid in addition to education in order to make true progress. Without that you will end up with lots of Masters level educated people working at low pay low requirement jobs.

The future is high unemployment with a shrinking Job Pyramid.

The Job Pyramid growth period of human history is over, and it will do nothing but shrink from now on. We need to contend with the reality that less jobs are needed to get work units done than in the past, and plan appropriately.

Saying "get a job" is just ignorant of the fact that that is NOT possible for everyone anymore with a shrinking Job Pyramid.

The jobs no longer exist because they have been eliminated by progress.

Do you remember arcades? In the past if you wanted to play video games you had to go to an arcade, and even after the advent of home gaming consoles arcades continued to be a thriving industry due to their high quality entertainment.

As non-arcade gaming became more advanced arcades became less and less relevant. Arcades are rare these days, and all the jobs that existed to support them are either dwindling, or no longer exist. Far less jobs are required to support non-arcade gaming than arcades, and thus via progress alone we have a loss of jobs in this example.

Anything that can

Andrew Carvin
Andrew Carvin6 years ago

Job Pyramid
Any given population’s job pool is pyramid shaped with a lot of low paying low requirement jobs at the bottom, few high paying high requirement jobs at the top, and jobs of varying pay and requirements between the two extremes.

What constitutes the range of jobs on a Job Pyramid depends on the needs and means of the population in question. Moving from one Job Pyramid to another only changes the range of jobs in the Job Pyramid, and does not guarantee a chance at getting any particular job because all jobs on a Job Pyramid are being competed for 100% due to the Job Pyramid automatically adjusting for any given population.

For example, Funkytown may need a brain surgeon, but does not have the means to employ one. Meanwhile, Derpburg has the means to employ a brain surgeon, but does not need one. Lastly, New Jack City has the need/means to employ a brain surgeon, and thus is the only one of the three that has brain surgeon on it’s Job Pyramid.

A population’s Job Pyramid range may not be very big starting at the bottom with fast food employee, and ending at the top with manager of a convenience store. If you were to move from this Job Pyramid to one that began at the bottom with fast food employee, and ended with brain surgeon at the top you would have a larger range of jobs, but you would have no guaranteed chance of getting any of the jobs.

This is why education is considered a gateway criterion in order to meet the requirements of apply

Lisa W.
Lisa W6 years ago

I live in a rural and relatively depressed area. When I ended up as a single mom and needed help in the form of food stamps, I was strongly encouraged to go back to school for a degree. At the time it sounded like a great idea. I had no debt at that time. Now I have a degree (criminology), student loan debt, and find there are no jobs available to me. I regret my decision to go to college. I had to pay tuition that paid into programs I had no access to, since I was attending a satellite school. Now I've got a minimum wage job, and after my student loan payment I'm in worse shape than I was before, because the state doesn't consider those payments when determining your food stamp eligibility. I'm encouraging my kids to go a tech school. Screw college unless you've got a job waiting for you when you graduate.

Linda Rae Savage
Linda Savage6 years ago

No way. No one should be Forced to apply to college. that is very strange. some people just have too much time on their hands, making up these weird rules.

Christine Stewart

That is terrible to force someone to apply to college. It is hard enough to get classes for the kids who WANT to be there- I have heard many times from my younger friends that the class was so full, that they were lucky to get in, then multiple students drop out because it's too hard or they didn't really want that class- think of the kids who wanted that class but couldn't get it because some slacker was taking up space! Bring back trade schools- learn a skill and earn a living as a plumber or mechanic- they make more money than some college grads anyway!

Fiona S.

I think it's stupid. Not everyone wants to go to college or is cut out to do so. While I think it's probably best for people to engage in SOME vocational training after school (whether it's college or another pathway), it hardly seems necessary for everyone to do so.

If a person deserves to graduate, they deserve to graduate, end of story.