College and Career Success

Jan. 20, 2015

“The arts remain an important means to express ideas and concepts for all cultures, and no management speak or vocational skill that business likes will overcome this,” said Stefan Dercon, Chief Economist at the Department for International Development in London, in a Huffington Post article today, entitled “ The Global Search for Education: Education and Economy.” That quote was posted under a photo of what appeared to be high school students in a play. I looked at that photo, considered the quote, and quickly agreed. The arts provide students with the opportunity to create, express, gain confidence, and explore—all good skills for success in college and the workplace.

From a personal view, I think about my own kids. Two of them actively participated in musicals and plays through their middle and high school years. Those two are articulate, and comfortable and confident speaking to a group. One in particular is creative and expressive in everything from the way he dresses to his approach to solving problems. My third, who was not drawn to art, can be articulate, but it is harder for him. He can be confident in speaking, but he has to work at it. His approach to solving problems is more technical than creative. I don’t rate any of these differences as good or bad, but I want to lend credence to the idea that the arts are important to a well-rounded education.

With all the push toward STEM subjects or toward vocational training, the arts get shuffled to the background, dropped when schools are short of money, and considered unimportant electives by short-sighted high achievers (often parents). Surveys show that employers often can find people with the technical skills required, but they have a hard time finding employees who also are innovative, creative, and self-motivated. Classes in music, drama, art, and creative writing all require creativity, self-motivation, original thinking. It builds confidence to “present” your art to an audience, and it takes courage to chance that your art or performance will be deemed unsatisfactory. Constructive feedback from a teacher will help the student readjust, consider practicing more to improve, try a different approach. All important lessons to learn. All can lead toward success.

What do you think? How important are the arts to overall education? Have you steered your kids toward art, away from it, or were indifferent? Why?

Nov. 5, 2014

There was a recent article in my local newspaper titled: “Education Outpaces Opportunity.” The article stated that 47 percent of my county’s workforce has a bachelor’s degree or higher, but only 23 percent of the jobs in the area require college degrees. I’m always skeptical of statistics as they can be shaped to say a number of things, but I do believe that in smaller cities that are home to major universities, it probably isn’t unusual to have an abundance of college-educated people. How that translates to employment is probably complex.

The article, however, also said that our county had a shortage of welders, electricians, machinists, and other trades that don’t require a four-year degree. That is apparently a trend nationwide. In previous posts, I have heralded the opportunities at community colleges that offer certification in various trades at affordable costs. Choosing a two-year or less certification program through a community college offers students an economical way to become employable with a good salary in a short period of time. In addition, it provides a means to make and save money toward a four-year degree, if that is the ultimate goal.

What is the point here? In this rapidly changing world, students are bombarded with different messages: Make good grades in high school. Score high on standardized tests. Go to college. Learn a trade. Get a job. Save some money.

Which is the right path and what is the right message? There are, of course, no easy answers—and that is precisely the reason students need alternatives to the traditional path through school. It works well for some, but is disastrous for others. While standardized tests give some idea of a student’s academic knowledge, they do little to indicate if the student is willing, ready, and able to be successful in college, trade school, the workforce, the military, or just in making decisions about which path to take. Students need options, but most probably need assistance in finding those options.

This is what I think might help:
1. More access to alternatives to traditional high school.
2. Taking a year or two after high school to work and/or perform community service somewhere in the world.
3. Mandatory mentoring during those one or two years as to what the next choices are: four-year college, two-year trade/certification/degree, apprenticeships, military, or on-the-job training. More? And no, I don’t know how this mentoring would work—but I bet someone could figure it out.
4. Assistance—both financially and going through the process—to follow one of the paths.

I admit, I do not have a blueprint for any of these ideas—but from what I read and hear, they sound right. What do you think? What would help to give our individualized youths what they need to be successful in whatever path they eventually choose?

Oct. 21, 2014


In this venue and in the pages of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, I have argued and tried to show that success in college involves much more than academic skill. One person I like to quote to substantiate my argument is Dr. David Conley of the University of Oregon. Dr. Conley is a leading researcher of college readiness and has authored many papers and books on the subject. I ran across an October 2013 interview with him by Project Information Literacy of the University of Washington. The interviewer asks what it means to be college ready in today’s world.


Heartening to me, Dr. Conley said that eligibility for college and readiness for college are not the same. He explained that eligibility means that the student has taken challenging high school courses and done well, and has done well on standardized and admissions testing. Readiness, however, “implies that the student’s preparation is well aligned with the full set of knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in postsecondary education. The emphasis here is on being able to succeed, not just on being admitted.”


As Toward College Success stresses, those skills necessary to succeed in postsecondary education also are skills needed to succeed in life. I simply call them life skills, and a young person needs to have the basics in life skills well honed when he or she leaves home after high school—for whatever is pursued. Without those skills, being admitted into college does not equal being successful in college.


Dr. Conley has construed a college readiness model that includes “12 components and 41 specific aspects that the college and career ready student needs to master to be fully ready.” They include cognitive strategies, content knowledge, learning skills and techniques, and transition knowledge and skills. Included within these are skills such as self-awareness, motivation, help-seeking, time management, and many others that are discussed in Toward College Success.


In the interview, Dr. Conley explains that testing, course selection, and grades are the components that easily convert into policy. The problem is that those components do not show the full capabilities or inadequacies of the student. Determining whether or not a student is truly “college and career ready” is more complex and much less easy to assess than a test—once again, this is a primary message in Toward College Success.


Dr. Conley also is asked about his insistence that teaching research skills is important for college success. He states that his research shows that most high school students are not assigned many research papers, and those that they are assigned are usually required to be several pages long. High school students are not learning how to investigate, analyze, hypothesize, and organize a shorter, accurate, concise well-written paper—the type of paper that is more often assigned in college. Then, unfortunately, once in college many of these students do not seek help with their writing because they do not has self-advocacy skills.


And on and on. I recommend reading the interview at and looking for more of Dr. Conley’s work on the subject of college readiness. I also recommend reading Toward College Success!


Sept. 4, 2014

There is a website on which reporters post “want ads” for information on subjects they are researching. Today I saw one of those information requests for college preparation advice for high school freshmen. The ad specifically requested “advice on how to build good habits.” I translate that to advice on how to be successful in college and life beyond high school.

How convenient then that the updated, second edition of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? has recently been released. It is, of course, full of just that kind of information. It is directed toward parents, however, because they are the ones that through guidance and the handing over of responsibilities give their teenagers those skills necessary for a successful college experience.

Although these skills have been discussed often in this forum, it is never too repetitive to make or update a list.

1. Your freshman should keep her own calendar. Include not only academic deadlines and dates, but have her note sport and extracurricular meeting dates, doctor appointments, and anything else she has going. You also should keep track of those dates because in the beginning she probably will miss a few. You can remind her, but eventually let her take over—and let her suffer the consequences of missing a deadline or an appointment.

2. In high school, many teenagers get involved in numerous activities: multiple sports, music, clubs, community service, a job. This is a good time to guide your teenager through priority management. Teenagers can become overwhelmed juggling too many activities on top of school work. Make it clear that academics come first. If school work starts to slide, then your teenager may need guidance in deciding which activities to let go. This can be hard for parents because the teenager may decide to give up something that mom or dad really want him to pursue—such as piano lessons or a particular sport that is near and dear to mom or dad’s heart. Remember that this is the teenager’s life and he needs to make the decisions.

3. If you haven’t already, this is a good time to put your teenager on a budget and teach her financial responsibility. Make a list of the items you will pay for and those for which the teenager is responsible. Do this whether the teenager’s money is an allowance, from work she does for you, or from an outside part-time job—and stick to the plan. This is a good time to show your teenager your household expenses and how you budget.

4. Provide opportunities for your teenager to improve his communication skills. During family gatherings or when friends are around, ask an adult to start conversations with your teen, asking about the teen’s activities, interests, or views. Teens need to learn to communicate face-to-face instead of relying on texting or social media outlets. Also encourage your teen to ask questions as that is a good way to start networking and building contacts.

That’s a good list to start. It will grow as your teenager ages and as you give out graduated responsibility. Keep reminding yourself that the goal is to help your teenager be ready, willing, and able for success in college and life beyond high school.

June 18, 2014

It is the day after my middle kid’s 25th birthday, and I find myself reflecting on the paths my three children have taken toward their futures—some of it success and some of it not. In the past, when I have spoken to parents about Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, I have used my three children as examples of the different paths teenagers may choose. Mine are no longer teenagers, yet their journeys toward college success and life beyond high school is still evolving.

My oldest went straight to the University of Colorado after graduating high school, struggled to choose a major, but did well and graduated four years ago. He landed a job in his field right away and was gainfully employed until this spring. As difficult as it was to lose his job, he sees it as the kick in the pants he needed. He feels he had “outgrown” his job and was ready to move on to something else—what? The same problem that plagued him in college remained—what did he want to do? He always assumed he would go to graduate school, and that is what he is planning to do. He has discovered that he can combine graduate school and the Peace Corps at Colorado State University, although he is still trying to decide which program to apply for. He now studies for the GRE and wishes he’d taken it within six months of graduation, is filling out the Peace Corps application and wishes he’d finished it two years ago, and works a part-time job. I still think he was, and is, ready, willing, and able to find his way.

The one who had a birthday yesterday took the bounce-around route through college. He finished high school a semester early, then went with his brother to Peru where they worked for a small nongovernmental organization. A great experience, but it still didn’t leave him “ready and willing” for college. Once home he insisted on going to our local community college despite me trying to discourage him to wait until he really wanted to go; I believe he went primarily because he knew that was the only way he’d get help from mom and dad with living expenses. The second semester he conceded that I was right—he wasn’t ready for college, but he was ready to travel. He put his savings together, and with our blessing, went to New Zealand for a year. He had a great adventure, learned a lot about himself, and returned broke. He took the first job that came along—selling high-end vacuum cleaners. Within two weeks, he announced that he was ready for college. Yes! He was serious about his studies, he figured out the best way for him to stay focused (attention-deficit issues), and he has done well. He will graduate in December, a semester behind schedule. He had to drop out last fall when he broke his leg after being hit by a car riding his bike home from class; he couldn’t participate in his geology field trips on crutches. He has a paid internship this summer, and hopes after graduation he will land a job doing field work. He doesn’t want to be in an office all the time. Will he be “successful?” He is easily bored. Will he eventually go to graduate school? Maybe, but not soon. Will he travel? I’m sure of it. When he returned from New Zealand, I knew he was ready, willing, and able to succeed in college. I think he’ll find his way.

My daughter, now three years past high school graduation, believes she is not ready, willing, and able to succeed in college. In her defense, she is plagued with undefined illnesses despite years of doctors and tests. She tried college for a semester, but took a medical withdraw. She tried an online class and withdrew within two weeks, again because of health constraints. She believes her health issues prevent her from working. It is a difficult situation, and one, that as a parent, is painful and heartbreaking to watch. She is an intelligent young woman paralyzed by her circumstances, unable to move forward. We latch on to the next “hope” and I pray that someday soon she will be ready, willing, and able to find her way.

The point of all this? Just to say that even after all we do to help and guide our teenagers to be ready, willing, and able to succeed beyond high school, it usually doesn’t look like what we envisioned. That is okay. If we do our best to give them the tools, the responsibilities, the freedoms, the consequences, allow them to experience failure, and the encouragement to try again, then I believe they have the best chance to find that path to success—no matter how long it takes.

April 1, 2014

A recent debate between two writer/educators caught my attention. The debate: Should schools prepare students for college or something else? My gross summary of their debate is that they both thought students should be well educated as it enhances and benefits lives, but that college doesn’t have to be the end goal. As Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? points out, being prepared for college and being prepared for success on one’s own require many of the same skills.

Many of the points that Robert Pondiscio of CitizenshipFirst makes in his post, “If Not College, Then What?” supports the premise of Toward College Success. He writes: “…I do not believe that a student has ‘failed’ if he or she doesn’t go to college. There are many ways to live a rich and fruitful life. I do think we have failed, however, if a child remains in our care for 13 years and does not leave prepared to live independently, whether or not they attend college.”


But in order to live that “rick and fruitful life,” Pondiscio states that our “big-picture goals for schooling—reading comprehension, critical thinking, problem-solving—depend on specific knowledge”—something teachers and parents need to understand. If they understand, then “a grounding in history, mathematics, science, literature, and the arts would be seen and seen correctly as the route to the outcomes we seek for all learners”—no matter what the student chooses to do after high school.


Pondiscio defines adult success partly as “the ability to care for oneself and one’s family. We fulfill our responsibilities as citizens by making our own way in the world, freely and independently.” He concludes by stating that teachers and schools must sell independence and self-sufficiency as strongly as going to college is sold.


Regardless of what a post-high school student pursues, that student will need to be mature enough to handle conflicts, resilient enough to find her way through life’s roadblocks, and adaptive enough to find the path to a fulfilling life. While Pondiscio was debating the role of schools in teaching such skills, I believe parents must be even more involved in both modeling and teaching those life skills. Such lessons should begin at home, long before a teenager nears high school graduation.


In fact, that is why Toward College Success was written—to drive home the point to parents that it takes much more than academic success to be successful in college or in any aspect of life beyond living at home with mom and dad. Yes, some of it is basic parenting, but once our kids hit the teenage years, it is critical to reinforce those life skills by gradually giving them responsibility and letting them learn from their mistakes.


To read Pondiscio’s post, go to:

To read the post he debates, go to:

Feb. 5, 2014

With the debate ongoing as to whether or not a college education is worth the expense, there appears to be a predominant opinion that students should major in engineering, business, science, or technology fields as opposed to any liberal arts field. The theory is that a liberal arts major is not marketable and offers little in return for the investment, regardless of whether or not the student is successful in his coursework.

A recently published report, “How Liberal Arts and Science Majors Fare in Employment: A Report on Earnings and Long-Term Career Path,” by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, discredits the notion that a liberal arts degree is worthless. The report includes data on “earnings, employment rates, graduate school earnings bumps, and commonly chosen professions” that shows such a degree is actually a good investment.

Authors Debra Humphreys and Patrick Kelly point out that we need workers in social science, public service, and teaching fields that, although they do not pay as well as engineering positions, they do pay decent, living wages.

The report states: “There is a much larger case—beyond the purely vocational or economic case—to be made for study in the humanities and social sciences, of course. These fields build the capacity to understand our collective histories, ideals, aspirations, and social systems. They are indispensable to the vitality of our democracy and to the future of global understanding, engagement, and community.”

In addition, the authors make the case that employers are looking for more than just a degree in a certain field. They are looking for individuals who are innovative, who engage in cultural diversity, and who can adapt and integrate across several fields and tasks. Liberal arts majors usually take a more varied and broad course load than those majoring in specific hard sciences or technology fields.

Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? states that many employers are looking only for the degree itself as an indication of basic skill and maturity. “Even students majoring in areas such as the social sciences or humanities, which many consider employment wastelands, actually tend to do quite well in the labor market. For example, as reported in The College Majors Handbook: The Actual Jobs, Earnings, and Trends for Graduates of 60 College Majors, social science majors with a bachelor’s degree registered a labor force participation rate of 84.1 percent, and those in the humanities registered a rate of 77.5 percent. In humanities, students earning a master’s degree increased that rate significantly to 83.3 percent.”

And not only that, not every college student wants to become an engineer or business executive; rather, she wants to further her education and pursue her particular dream. The student who is motivated by his studies and determined to move forward with his life, is the student who is ultimately successful regardless of his college major.

To read more about the study, go to

Jan. 22, 2014

It is always encouraging to read about “experts” that confirm many of the points that are addressed in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? Such was the case when I read a recent article by Forbes Contributor, Kathy Caprino, in which she interviewed “leadership expert” and author, Tim Elmore, about seven parenting practices that are harmful to our children’s chance to grow into mature, resilient, confident young adults. Elmore is the author of 25 books, included one titled: “Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenges of Becoming Authentic Adults.”

I would combine two or three in his list to: We often don’t allow our kids to make mistakes or fail, nor do we acknowledge that sometimes they are simply mediocre at some sport or task. I’ve written in the past about the dangers of rescuing kids from every mistake or failure. It is inevitable that they will make mistakes and/or fail in many encounters in life. Our job as parents is to help them realize a mistake or failure is not the end of the world, help them learn and grow from the experience, and help them pick up and move on. This skill of moving through mistakes is crucial to success in college—otherwise a student becomes paralyzed with fear when confronted with his or her first difficult class.

Likewise, it is important that kids learn that they can’t be the best at everything. When my kids were playing recreational soccer, I was always annoyed with parents that wanted to buy trophies for every kid at the end of the season—aren’t treats at the end of the game enough? Trophies every time for everyone sets kids up to believe that they always will be rewarded regardless of their skill, and sets them up for devastation when they finally figure out that they really aren’t the best soccer player or guitarist or whatever. Elmore says it also can lead to young people who exaggerate or cannot face “difficult reality.”

Elmore also points out that parents sometimes mistake intelligence and giftedness for maturity. Just because a teenager makes straight As or is a gifted musician does not mean she is ready for independence. Being able to manage time and priorities, peaceably manage conflicts, knowing when and how to get help, or communicating clearly and effectively are not skills automatically attached to intelligence. They have to be taught and learned, and they are essential to college and career success.

Elmore’s other points include being a good example and sharing our past errors with our kids. He recommends “coaching instead of coddling—and caring enough to train them, not merely treating them to a good life.”

In other words, guide your child/teenager to be ready, willing, and able to succeed in college and beyond.

To read Caprino’s article, go to:

Dec. 4, 2013

Although Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? is about preparing your teenager for a successful college experience, one of the significant points in the book is that going to college right after high school is not the right path for every student.  That point becomes clearer to me every time I read or hear a story like the one that was aired on NPR last week. The story, by Rob Manning, told about an internship program in Oregon that recruits and trains teenagers straight out of high school to be machinists, welders, and painters.

Oregon students find out about the industrial internship program in shop class—a class that is not offered in all high schools due to budget cuts. But Centennial High School in Gresham, Oregon—just east of Portland—does offer shop classes through its “Metals Manufacturing Program of Study.”  And according to teacher Mark Watt, “students line up to get in.”

Watts went on to say: “I’ve never heard a kid ever say to me, I love coming to school because I can’t wait to come to English. Now, that’s not a slam on English or math because it’s important, but this is the carrot.”

And the carrot has a great reward for students who simply don’t want more studying right after high school, but a job with real earning potential. The internship gives them the training while they are in high school, with the likelihood of a good paying job right after graduation. The NPR story highlighted a few students who were working in the shipyards of North Portland—jobs they secured after completing industrial internships that they heard about in shop class at Centennial. One 18-year-old Centennial graduate came back to promote the internship program to current shop class students. He told them he was making $800 a week in the shipyards.

The story did point out that the industrial internship program needs more manufacturers to participate, but the fact that such a program exists is a great boon to Oregon teens. Students need options because one size does not fit all. College isn’t the right step for some students, and those students need and deserve opportunities for jobs that offer living wages and productive lifestyles. I highly commend Centennial High School for offering such an option to its students. Most schools are so focused on college readiness and are so hindered by budget cuts that they eliminate programs and classes that can lead to worthy vocations.

In fact, I think that while our country is striving for national academic standards through Common Core, it also needs to emphasize and offer skills that give a student immediate opportunity for vocational work. I believe a system that allowed students to choose between a college or vocational track would be valuable. Choosing the vocational track would still include basics in English, math, and science—not necessarily to what is needed for college-level work, but enough that if the vocational student decided years later that he or she wanted to go to college, they could pick up what they needed in a community college and go from there.

Another significant point made in Toward College Success is that parents should help their student toward success in whatever path the student chooses. It may be your dream that your teenager go straight to college, but if that isn’t what he wants, it truly is a waste of time and money. If a vocational path is more attractive to your teen, help her find ways to achieve that.

To listen to or read the transcript of the NPR story, go to:

Nov. 22, 2013

With Thanksgiving just next week, I thought it would be a good time to talk about giving back—in the form of community service—and the benefits it bestows on students. Most high school students know that college applications have a place to list volunteer efforts, and that if that spot is left blank, it is glaring indeed.

Volunteering, however, benefits students in many other ways. For example, through lending a hand, students may discover an interest that could lead to a college major or career path. A student who reads to first graders may decide he’d like to become a teacher. Volunteering at a homeless shelter may spark an interest in social work. Guiding seniors through confusing technology might spur an interest in software engineering. In addition, meeting people in charge of the organization or school where he volunteers, gives the student the opportunity to network—meeting people that may open doors for him later.

Other benefits of volunteering with an organization or group is that the student will learn from leaders, grow her team working or leadership skills, and be mentored in effective work practices. For those teenagers with little work experience, volunteering gains them skills that are needed in the job market and builds their resumes. Employers and colleges give high credit for volunteerism—in fact, as high school seniors know, colleges want to see community service on a student’s application. Volunteering indicates a young person has branched out, is moving beyond self, and is willing to work—all helpful traits in college, the workplace, and the world.

A twist on volunteering benefits is that it appears to be good for a student’s health. Research from Hannah Schreier of New York University, Kimberly Schonert-Reichl of the University of British Columbia, and Edith Chen of Northwestern found that teenagers who volunteered over the course of a school semester finished that semester healthier than their classmates who did not perform community service. The volunteering students had “lower body mass indexes, better cholesterol levels, fewer inflammatory markers, and were less negative, more altruistic, and empathetic than their peers.”

The earlier students embrace volunteering, the more “experience” they will have to include on their resume and the more it becomes part of “just what you do.” To find opportunities to volunteer, students can look to school-sponsored events, school-club projects, places of worship, city or county websites, and non-profit organizations. Volunteering is an opportunity for a student to give back to the community. Hopefully his service will gain him perspective on his own circumstances in relation to others, and leave him feeling fulfilled and gratified at his service efforts, and grow his skills that will lead to success in college and beyond.

To read more about the health benefits of volunteering, go to: