Our blended family includes six boys ranging from 13-28. Each of them is completely different. One is an engineer who attended a selective four year school, got through in four years, and was hired. The way we (two traditionally-educated parents with advanced degrees) thought things were done. But, the next child opted for work. The next child opted for military service and is now entering a 2-year technical program for air traffic dispatch (an interest he discovered in the military). The next child is finishing 3 years at the local CC and transferring to a 4-year school for HR (a passion he found through his internships). The fifth child is a budding classical musician and growing his resume (at 14) to set himself up for a scholarship (hopefully) to a conservatory. Our youngest (13) has already earned $3000 of scholarship money towards an anticipated enrollment in a hospitality program for culinary arts. Even as I write this, I am astounded by the available options, their choices, and how different this is from what I believed higher education looked like when I first became a parent.
As I watch my friends either start their college searches or drop off their children at both public and private universities, I can’t help but wonder what this ritual will look like in 10 years. I don’t think traditional institutions of higher ed are going away; I am sure that babies being born today will still have that option. But I am excited by the newer options—the growth of quality technical and career training, the growth of certifications, MOOCs, gap years, online learning, and reducing high school seat time for more hands-on internships. Part of my excitement for the future is because I, as a parent and an educator, have evolved my thinking. I no longer believe that high school to 4-year school is THE ideal educational path. So my husband and I have adjusted our parenting to be much more active and broad-ranging in helping our younger children to discover and explore their passions both in school and in our community. We want them to know that the world of learning doesn’t start and stop at school and that there are many ways to turn your passions into your work.
Personalized learning is the answer. Let’s make sure we are doing everything—in school and out—to make sure our students have the opportunities to explore, try-on, ditch and explore again. And then, let’s help them to find the right option for their ongoing education. It’s personal. And the path they choose can truly be their own.