What Happens Next?

Across the nation, there are 15.1 million high school students attending 21,446 high schools. About 3.3 million are seniors, set to enter their next phase of life, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. About 2.2 million students enter college immediately after high school graduation. For them, their next chapter of life is already decided, college awaits and the challenges defined, but for too many — at least 1.1 million — there is a question: What happens next?

In Georgia, there were, according to the Georgia Department of Education, 117,617 high school seniors. Houston County is home to 1,875 of them; Peach County had 224 seniors and Bibb County 1,380.

graduationMany of the newly minted graduates were awakened the morning after the graduation festivities to see a world that hadn’t changed much. Their high school careers were over — and the world had moved on.

Some will be shocked that the world doesn’t revolve around them anymore. People are not handing out good paying jobs to teens with just a high school diploma, but no real job skills. Soon mom and dad will be wondering, out loud, when their man-child is going to get off the couch and out of their refrigerator. What to do?

Why College?

Pretty simple, really. Follow the money. A high school dropout can expect to earn $20,592 annually, a high school graduate, $26,802. If a person earns an associate’s degree the pay jumps to $31,750, and here’s the kicker, a Bachelor’s Degree bumps the annual expected earnings up to $49,696 — $29,104 more than a dropout and $22,894 more than the high school graduate. If a person goes on to receive a graduate or professional degree, the pay jumps to $61,443.

According to the Center for Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, over a lifetime, those with a Bachelor’s Degree, will earn $964,000 more than a high school graduate and $1.3 million more than a high school dropout. What could a person do with an extra $1.3 million?
Basically, the Georgetown study explained that those who don’t earn a high school diploma could expect to earn about $11.70 per hour. A high school diploma bumps that figure up to $15.67 an hour. Do the math; neither of those hourly wages can pay the bills.

The Rope-A-Dope

The trick is to finish college without a lot of debt. How do you do that? First, don’t fall for the rope-a-dope. Many colleges, in fact all, are businesses. The business is attracting and retaining paying students in whatever forms that takes. The pay could come from student loans, Pell Grants, scholarships, etc. In the end, someone is paying the bill.

On the financial aid papers parents end up signing, it is too easy to miss that some of the money included are not grants, like Pell, but loans. If it says, “loan” that’s what it is. Stop, do not pass go, and start asking questions. These “loans” are federally guaranteed, but they carry high interest rates and, in most cases, cannot be refinanced.
All colleges are not created equal. Without mentioning any names, many so-called “colleges” are just for-profit fronts designed to rip unsuspecting students off, drain their Pell money and leave them high and dry and in debt. Virginia College closed, abruptly, leaving its students with no backup plan and few options.

There is no reason to take the for-profit option when Central Georgia Technical College has more resources and options and more and trusted counselors who can guide a student through the maze of higher education financing. Middle Georgia State University is one of the most affordable universities in the state that also offers a full slate of academic choices from teaching to nursing to information technology to the fine arts on its five campuses.
There are options out there for everyone, but those high school graduates who wake up after graduation wondering, “what happens next?” have to make choices. They can strut around like chickens, eating whatever is on the ground or they can decide to put in the time and effort to learn to fly high like eagles and decide what they want from the menu at the Georgian Room on Sea Island, but that will take a moment of self reflection and the realization that they are in a hole. Hopefully they will have the courage to realize that and stop digging.


Written by Charles E. Richardson