College not a fit? Southland experts point to other career paths
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org June 11, 2012 11:12PM
Renee Mack (left), director of career and tech education, and Cheri Walsh (right), guidance counselor, stand by a collection of career planning material at Tinley Park High School Thursday, June 7, 2012, in Tinley Park. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
A sampling of websites to learn more about career paths not involving a traditional college experience:
Construction careers: cisco.org
Automotive careers: wyotech.edu
Pipefitter careers: pf597.org
Moraine Valley Community College: morainevalley.edu
South Suburban College: southsuburbancollege.edu
Paul Mitchell Beauty School: paulmitchell.edu
Updated: July 13, 2012 6:02AM
Nora Mila knew before she entered high school that the beaten college track was not for her.
Mila, who graduated from Sandburg High School in 2011, said it was “kind of weird” to hear about everyone else’s college plans during those waning months of high school.
“All my friends were talking about universities and two-year schools,” the Orland Park resident said. “But I knew my journey would take me on its own course.”
While her friends were buying dorm supplies, Mila was preparing to finish cosmetology training that she had begun in high school at Paul Mitchell Beauty School in Tinley Park. She finished that program in February and went right to work at Dino’s Super Clips in Worth. The salon is owned by her parents.
“It’s everything I expected it to be and more,” Mila said.
About 10 percent of high school graduates — more, depending on the school district — have no intention of going to college, no matter how many times they are warned that they won’t be successful in life if they don’t.
“Sometimes I think we’ve gone overboard with the college notion,” said Dwayne Mentgen, business/industrial technology supervisor for Bremen Community High School District 228. “We know that a significant number of students who do go on to college don’t finish and end with a pile of debt to show for that effort.”
Indeed, the American Enterprise Institute reports that nationwide, four-year colleges are graduating just 53 percent of entering students in six years. With most public universities costing upward of $15,000 per year, and private institutions often charging double that or more, it’s easy to understand why so many young adults are saddled in debt, even though nearly half don’t have a degree to show for it.
Citing a recent University of Miami study, Mentgen said career satisfaction, income and happiness are not tied to a college degree as closely as they are attached to a sense of truly knowing oneself.
In “Core Self-Evaluations and Work Success,” Timothy A. Judge wrote that success seems to come from being able to make the right decisions for yourself, derived through emotional stability, self-esteem and an internal locus of control — a belief that you determine your own destiny — whether the work involves accountancy or carpentry.
Finding the right path
“It’s a challenge,” Mentgen said. “(Guidance counselors) want kids to consider college. We want them to aim high academically, to do well on the ACT. But we also need to show them every opportunity.”
That means introducing them to trade unions, military options and community college certificate programs as well as traditional four-year colleges and universities.
About 500 students in District 228’s four schools are enrolled in the industrial technology education program that includes classes in woodworking, computer repair and auto mechanics. Just over half are female, Mentgen said.
Many of them graduate from high school and go on to challenging, successful careers, he said.
“And many are very talented,” he said, pointing out the societal value of skilled auto mechanics and nurses aides.
Mentgen’s children have chosen very different post-high school paths, with one entering college and the other choosing a trade.
“Everyone is different, and we need to recognize that,” he said.
Amanda Shemoski, a guidance counselor at Sandburg, said the school tries to get all students, as early as freshman year, to formulate a post-graduation plan. Interest inventories, career-cruising search engines and programs such as career day and lunch with a professional help students find a path that appeals to them.
One thing is certain, she said. A high school diploma is a requirement for just about any field these days.
“The job market is so competitive,” she said. “Even entry-level jobs are hard to get. If a student is considering dropping out of high school, we show them a chart of income earned over a lifetime. It is substantially more if you have a diploma.”
Rachael Pearson, a guidance counselor at Reavis High School in Burbank, strongly encourages all students to go for some sort of training after high school.
“In this economic climate, it will only help you,” she said.
Many community colleges offer affordable short-term programs where students can be certified in specific areas rather quickly, she said, citing Moraine Valley Community College’s programs in welding (8 semester hours) and phlebotomy (9 semester hours).
“The great part about this kind of training is that in many instances a student can start working within a given certificate and then can choose to go on for further training (possibly an associate in applied science degree) to ‘move up’ in their given career choice,” she said.
Patrick Rush, spokesman for South Suburban College in South Holland, said, “Really, over the past decade, more and more students have been looking to community colleges to provide short-term training programs that can often lead to careers in two years of education or less.”
Popular options include allied health programs that enable students to earn certification in magnetic resonance imaging, occupational therapy assistant, pharmacy technician, emergency medical technician/paramedic and the recently added echocardiography. Non-medical options include court reporting and paralegal training.
Rush said the community college track enables students to stay at home and continue working while taking classes. It is an economical option that is growing in popularity, he said.
Do your homework
It pays to look into career fields as early as possible. So you want to be a truck driver? Did you know one must be at least 21 to get a license to cross state lines or to carry hazardous materials?
Maybe you want to be a hairstylist but think the $18,000 to $27,000 tuition fee is too steep. Did you know you can apply for financial aid?
And lest you think opting out of college is the easy way to travel life’s road of least resistance, be warned. Many of the trades require short-term but intense schooling.
Mila said it was a rude awakening to have to learn chemistry, anatomy and electricity at Paul Mitchell.
“There was a lot of bookwork, more than I expected you’d need to be a hairdresser,” she said.
Still, she breezed through it, as is often the case when the goal is set by both the brain and the heart.