It rankles me every time. One of my top students will say, “I’m going to use the A+ program and then I will transfer to a four-year university.” This can work for certain students but I firmly believe for several reasons that starting out at the university is best for some students wanting a bachelor's degree.
First, the ones A+ works for:
1. A student who wants a two-year degree that is offered at a college that accepts A+.
2. A student who has no support at home and has to use their two free years to get a full-time job and pursue the rest of their degree at night.
3. A student who has no interest whatsoever in a bachelor’s degree and wants to get training for a good-paying job.
4. A student who mustered a 2.0 in high school.
I'm not against the A+ program. There are many students that it helps. Many.
But there is this idea of “free college” that permeates my high school and causes Top 15 students to go to a two-year tech school for their basics and then switch for their bachelor’s. I think this is a bad idea for several reasons.
First of all, most of the students in my rural district qualify for the Pell Grant, an income-based grant for college. In other words, free college money. At this point, it is a little over $5000 a year. Students who use A+ program FIRST have to use their Pell Grant. I found that out last year when helping a student try to fund an A+ college education, that you must fill out a FAFSA, the federal financial aid form for the A+ program and guess what? They use your Pell Grant money first before A+ will kick in. That means many students can choose an affordable university, use their Pell Grant, work part-time, beat the bushes for scholarships, take out a small loan if needed and come out even at a university.
Secondly, students who choose the Gen-Ed program at tech school and then switch to a four-year college miss out on the dorm experience, the friendship-building years that take place at the university level. These years are important to students who need to leave home, need to find out more about who they are, and stretch their wings in a somewhat sheltered environment. Dorm life offers experiences not available anywhere except maybe a summer camp. When else in your life is a 2 a.m. pizza and pillow fight with 20 people normal? Where else do you bond over shared deadlines of tests or papers? Dorm life also offers a step from home without the adult stresses of those bills, security, etc. Students who transfer after two years have to try and make friends when many groups are already established. They will either have to drive from home or live in an apartment with high school friends or on their own. Students who don’t get the dorm experience have to go from teen to adult with no buffer zone.
Thirdly, universities offer opportunities for personal and future career enrichment. Students can get in on the ground floor freshman year in student-run professional organizations, make friends and become leaders their junior and senior years. Students can take part in university-sponsored travel during holidays or summers to expand their horizons and help their resume’s. By attending a four-year university students are making lifetime contacts in their areas with other students. Alumni will go back to their university to hire many times.
Of course, it can be done. I believe for many students it is not the optimal choice and they need to think through their goals, their finances, and their family support. The life lessons learned at a university are innumerable and invaluable.
Kim Blevins is a teacher-consultant with the Greater Kansas City Writing Project.
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