Do You Really Need That HS Diploma?
Now this article in today's Times got my attention, Can't Complete High School? Go Right to College. Of course it strikes straight at any high school teacher, like myself, who is often asked by kids "Why do I need this?" Good question, why should you learn how to work out a net-ionic equation, write a compound's formula correctly, understand the quantum leaps of electrons, and a long list of things that, on the whole, you're not going to remember much about by the end of this summer (for many of them it'll be the end of the mid-term or final) and which, on the whole, doesn't necessarily do much in any concrete way for the quality of your life - why is it important?
I'm maybe focusing a bit much on my specific area of concern, so why is the HS diploma that important? Clearly a there are colleges out there that are coming to the conclusion that it's not that important and are letting in students who don't have one. So maybe we should do away with high school all together -- ok, maybe that's something of a stretch. The question is, should students without HS diplomas be allowed to enter college? My answer to this is an emphatic no.
I suspect that I come by my perspective from a slightly different view than most teachers. Having done 22 years in the Navy, and of that a thankfully short tour as a recruiter, I know that from the military's point-of-view that what you learn in high school isn't what's important, what was important was that you made it through the high school and walked out with a diploma. From the military's perspective high school was more a right of passage than it was a place where it was expected that specific knowledge was imbued. With the military the question was more along the lines of did you have the self-discipline and the drive to get yourself through HS. This was an important question because if you couldn't hack the requirements of HS it was reasonable to expect that you weren't going to be able to hack the far more arduous and at times critical requirements of the service. The fact was that the military had a lot of experience with non-high school grads and they were a proven liability - they didn't finish training in higher numbers than their graduate equivalents, they were far more often discipline problems than their high school grad counterparts, and therefore they were a bad investment of time, resources, and money.
Here, with the colleges that accept non-high school grads, I think we have a far more pernicious problem. The fact is that the difficulties associated with non-grads are little different for colleges than they are for the military. When a college lets in a non-HS grad he or she is then entitled to financial aid, aid that's essentially a bet on the student that he or she will make it through to a degree. But the fact is that the student in question is high risk to begin with, and from that perspective is a bad bet. Maybe in more flush times taking such a bet wouldn't be much of a problem, but in today's environment of stingy financial aid non-HS grads are taking money away from students who in fact are a better and more reasonable bet, i.e. the ones with HS diplomas or, the next best thing, GEDs. And let there be no mistake about it, getting a GED, which for most colleges is accepted as a HS diploma equivalent, is not that hard to do.
However I look at accepting students into college without HS diplomas I see it as wrong. While I question that high school should be looked at as not much more than an obstacle course that students make their way through, I don't question the numbers that show that kids who make it through to a HS diploma do perform better in college and in the "real" world, and, therefore, are far more deserving of the money available to help students through college.