Long before President Obama vowed last year that America will “have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world” by 2020, the premium placed on going to college was firmly embedded in the American psyche.
The case is compelling: As good jobs increasingly require more education, college is widely seen as the ticket to personal economic security and to global competitiveness. And the message has gotten through: The percentage of students who went on to college or trade school within a year of high school climbed from 47% in 1973 to 67% in 2007, Census data show.
And yet, there’s an undercurrent of concern about a group of students — sometimes called “the forgotten half,” a phrase coined 22 years ago by social scientists studying at-risk young people — who, for whatever reason, do not think college is for them. It’s expressed by soul-searching parents such as Crave, whose son doesn’t thrive in the classroom. It’s also expressed increasingly by educators, economists and policy analysts, who question whether it’s realistic and responsible to push students into college even if the odds of academic success seem low.
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