Weighing Their Options

Students and their parents consider whether college is the right choice. Some balance the cost of college against short-term earning opportunities, while others worry about losing sight of their core values if they leave their close-knit community.

Long time friends discuss their sons’ future.

Hasan and David were friends from way back. They’d gone through elementary, junior high (as they called it back then), and senior high together, which wasn’t unusual for a small town like Esmont.

Hasan and David understand each other.

Although their families didn’t get together often and they didn’t attend the same church, Hasan and David felt they had a lot in common. Ever since they started out at the houseboat factory as young men, they’d spent their coffee break together. Most guys hung out in the workroom, but they relished the chance to get some fresh air.

Recently, they’d both been struggling with what to do with their teenage sons. “These boys…,” David had said a while back, “man, I can’t tell you how many times I have to remind Chris to pick up his room or finish his homework. ”

“Yeah, I know. In one ear and out the other, right? Austin’s the same.”

Today was like any other day. But rumors were buzzing in the factory. “Corporate restructuring” was what the employees had been told, but it meant more than that to David and Hasan.

David and Hasan commiserate during a break. [dial-up OR broadband]

Data on Educational Attainment and Income

Differences of opinion surface at the high school gym.

“Man, that’s up and down… just shoot the ball!” Austin called out to Chris. The pair had been coming into town every weekend to get in some extra practice time. Even though he’d tried out the past two years, Austin hadn’t made the junior varsity team at Esmont High. And he was determined to do something about it, even if it meant spending game time on the bench.

“So, check this out,” Austin started in as he caught the ball and moved across the court. “Coach Reinhart is taking the team to basketball camp at the university this summer.” He swiveled around and leapt up in an attempt to dunk the ball.

Chris rolled his eyes. “What for? You think you’re gonna be NBA or somethin’? You and me…pssh, we’ll be lucky if we even make team manager.”

“You got me wrong, man,” Austin said, grinning, “I just wanna catch a glimpse of some college girls! Or any girls, for that matter. They just love a man in uniform.”

Austin sees college as a necessity.

But Austin wasn’t just focused on girls. When the coach first posted a brochure of the camp in the locker room, Austin’s eyes lit up. His older cousin had told him how colleges looked at extracurriculars when awarding scholarships. And though an athletic scholarship wasn’t in the cards for Austin, he was sure he could get some funding based on other areas of his high school performance. He already had a place in student government and was head of the Homecoming committee.

As soon as Austin had brought the brochure home, though, his father voiced his concerns about the cost. “It’s free, Dad. Everybody goes if they can keep their grades up,” Austin had said. After that, Hasan was all aboard. He became proud, actually, that his son was going to spend some time at a college, living the life, seeing what it was all about.

College was one dream Hasan never allowed himself to have, and he wanted better for Austin. He took every available opportunity to talk to Austin about college, and never missed a college night or recruitment fair at the high school.

Hasan encourages David to find out more about college options. [dial-up OR broadband]

Chris wonders whether college is the right choice for him. [dial-up OR broadband]

“Come on, Christopher—I’ve got supper in the oven,” Linda called from the doorway.

Chris feels pressure to stay home for his family.

“Coming!” Chris called, taking one more shot at the basket. He turned toward Austin, “I gotta go, man. We’ve got my cousin’s kids in the car.”

“Alright, then,” Austin slapped his buddy’s hand. “Don’t forget about what I said. You’ll see. Working at the houseboat factory is no piece of cake. By the end of the summer, we’ll both be wanting to get out of there.”

Chris nodded, but he couldn’t decide whether he agreed. His family needed him in Esmont, and even if they didn’t, it’s not like they could afford to help him pay for college. His dad was making ends meet, but there wasn’t a lot to spare. And everyone in the family was trying to help his aunt Linda since she was basically raising her grandchildren. It just seemed silly to Chris to spend a bunch of money on something he hated anyway—school. Still, he knew Austin wouldn’t let up.

Chris grabbed his duffel and headed out to the car.

Linda wants the best for her family. [dial-up OR broadband]

Susan doubts the value of college planning for her middle school student.

Susan isn’t ready to think about college for her seventh grader.

Susan enjoyed getting together for lunch with Mary Jane. They rarely got enough time to eat out with kids involved in sports. Both mothers spent more time in the car than they did at home! And when time and money were tight, eating out was not an option. So the monthly lunch at the local buffet was a treat.

Mary Jane and Susan both had kids attending Esmont Middle School. In the past year, they’d seen each other a few times aside from their monthly get-together, but Mary Jane took a more active role in school activities than Susan. She’d tried not to push her on it—not everyone enjoys setting up school dances or concessions at basketball games, but Mary Jane couldn’t believe it when Susan said she’d never attended Parent-Teacher Conferences. She decided then and there to make it a personal goal to get her friend more involved. So when the College Fair came up in the lunch conversation, Mary Jane took the opportunity to speak her mind.

Mary Jane advises Susan on college preparation. [dial-up OR broadband]

Susan wondered whether she was just giving in to Mary Jane’s advice. True, she already had a daughter in college, but Susan was determined to let her kids be kids as long as they needed to. Her family had practically forced her out of the house at 17 to find a job. And even after that, she was expected to use part of her pay check for family expenses. When she finally met her husband at age 20, she was grateful to have extra income to lessen her load.

College fair brochure

As the two women walked out of the restaurant, they watched a car full of young adults speed past in a pickup. Have your fun now, kids, Susan thought, because tomorrow you’ll be grown.

An interaction at church raises concerns for Mary Jane and her college-age daughter.

“Kelsey… Morgan…we gotta scoot. Come on! We’ll be late for Sunday School!” Mary Jane called down the hall to her daughter’s room.

Kelsey and her freshman roommate Morgan home for the weekend. When Mary Jane first met Morgan, she thought now, she’s a sweet girl, but not like most of Kelsey’s friends. It was true. Kelsey’d had the same group of friends since childhood, for the most part, so they all took after each other in their dress, the way they talked, even the food they liked. Morgan…she was different. As soon as the girls arrived home Friday night, Mary Jane offered them some leftovers from dinner. “Sure Mom,” Kelsey had said. “But Morgan’s a vegetarian. She doesn’t eat anything that has a face.”

“Can she eat chocolate?” Mary Jane asked, a little confused. The girls just giggled, then ran into the kitchen, ready to devour the cake on the kitchen counter.

Distance is a challenge for Kelsey and her mom.

Mary Jane sighed as she watched the girls inhale four pieces of her famous chocolate cake. The past few weeks had been hard for Mary Jane. She had felt distant from Kelsey since she went to college. Sure, they talked on the phone every day, but it wasn’t the same. She wasn’t prepared to miss her daughter so much! Of course, she was thrilled when Kelsey told her, a few weeks back, that she wanted to come home for church.

Linda reveals her opinions. [dial-up OR broadband]

Mary Jane reflects. [dial-up OR broadband]

Kelsey missed home too—more than she admitted. It was hard leaving her family and she was sometimes lonely. Her younger sister and she had shared a room for years and her aunts, uncles, and grandparents never missed Sunday supper. Eating at the campus food court after church didn’t give her the same warm feeling.

At the same time, Kelsey felt so alive at her small college. There was activity everywhere, tons of new people to meet, great shops and restaurants in her town (even though she couldn’t afford many of them), and, most of all, so many inspiring classes to choose from. She’d always been interested in medicine and wanted to be a nurse, but she never realized how much there was to it! Here she was, five weeks into her Introduction to Psychology as a Natural Science course, and she’d already learned more about the brain than she ever imagined.

Kelsey and Morgan were becoming close, too. They weren’t in the same major, but they spent every waking minute together outside of class. At first, Kelsey was a little scared about having a roommate she didn’t know, but Morgan was easy to get along with—even if she was pretty opinionated. And she loved having Morgan visit for a weekend in her hometown.

Morgan analyzes the congregation at Kelsey’s church. [dial-up OR broadband]

Kelsey meant what she said. Her church and her community were important to her. Yet she wondered if there was any truth to Morgan’s prediction. As they walked back to their seats, Kelsey was suddenly aware of how homogeneous the congregation really was.

Check out these sites to gain a better understanding of topics related to postsecondary options for today’s student.

Peggy Shearer, Principal of Wayne County High School in Monticello, KY provides insight into the challenges of first-generation college-bound students and their families.

See Critical Perspective from Peggy Shearer.