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Economic Well-Being

Let’s Tell the Truth to Detroit Youth: The Case for College Now, More Than Ever

This op-ed originally appeared in The Detroit Free Press. View the original post.

Over the past few years, Detroit’s business and philanthropic communities have facilitated a resurgence of career technical education opportunities in the city. The Skillman Foundation has contributed to these efforts to expand the options for career readiness and youth employment during and after high school.

But there are two facts that we cannot overlook:

  • In general, workers without postsecondary degrees are more vulnerable to automation, recession, and inevitable economic shifts. 
  • Black workers are overrepresented in fields more vulnerable to automation as a result of lower degree attainment. 

In general, workers without postsecondary degrees are more vulnerable to automation, recession, and inevitable economic shifts.

We are seeing this play out in real time here in Detroit. Many of my colleagues and I are deeply concerned for high school seniors, who are now left scrambling to figure out what it will take to graduate and apply for college amidst changing admission deadlines and processes. I fear they could find themselves slipping away this summer, through the cracks of this chaotic crisis. These challenges are exacerbated for many Detroit students given already limited supports including absurdly high student-to-counselor ratios, insufficient professional development and training for those offering guidance to youth, and lack of a college-going culture.

At worst, many seniors could find themselves with few postsecondary options and woefully limited employment prospects as a result of this outbreak.

While higher education is not perfect with high costs and limited opportunities for certain students, a well-chosen postsecondary path remains one of the best options for economic mobility for the class of 2020. 

Many people believe that college isn’t for everyone; I agree. Vocational programs have an important place in the range of pathways we should offer youth. But there ought to be a line between providing career technical pathways and leading students away from college, or the racialized bigotry of low expectations for those who could and should be first-generation college students. How many of those pathways lead to hourly work that could be vulnerable to recession and automation? 

We cannot just prepare young people for their first job; we must prepare them to confidently choose from and succeed in a broad range of paths to meaningful, living wage work and remain resilient lifelong learners who can navigate job changes.

We cannot just prepare young people for their first job; we must prepare them to confidently choose from and succeed in a broad range of paths to meaningful, living wage work and remain resilient lifelong learners who can navigate job changes. If you’re still skeptical on the case for college, let me ask you a question that I hope will shed some perspective on the topic: “What do you want for your children?” 

It is critical that we double down on college now and, in these weeks ahead, send a clear message to Detroit students: Seniors, if you want to continue your education, press on during this uncertainty. Get your FAFSA filed and get those apps in. We will make every effort to support you to and through school. 

Have questions about FAFSA, SAT, scholarships, etc.? The Skillman Foundation and Detroit College Access Network have published an FAQ as a starting point. Find it at www.skillman.org/hsfaq.

Ashley Aidenbaum

Supports the Foundation’s Economic Well-Being impact area

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