Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success


Postsecondary Success Notes | The problem with ‘college is not for everyone’


Summer is finally here, and the graduation season hubbub has died down. Recent graduates might be shifting from the excitement of their well-deserved celebrations to focusing on the path ahead – a job or internship, more school, travel, or reflection time to figure out next steps.

It’s this time that the question about college looms more than ever: “Was it worth it?”

There is more and more evidence that education after high school does mean opportunity – for individuals, communities, and the economy.

But our talk of opportunity conflicts with the reality that the chance to get that certificate or degree still depends on your income, race, gender, and zip code – things that shouldn’t matter, but still do.
Students face many barriers getting to and through college, and one of the hardest to overcome is the belief that they don’t belong in college. This is fed by potentially well-intentioned people who say, “College is not for everyone.” I have two thoughts on that:

  • We’re talking past each other. We all agree that not everyone needs a four-year degree. But I think we also agree that a high school diploma alone is not enough in today’s economy (and data supports this).
  • That phrase is too often used by people for whom college was always an option and directed at people who don’t think college is an option. A recent op-ed reminded me of that.

We need to address these barriers so that every student can take the path that’s right for them.

Patrick Methvin