Is College Really for All?

Education that Honors Unique Gifts

I grew up with a healthy respect for the teaching profession.  My mother was a first grade teacher who later became Head of Teacher Preparation at Cal Poly Pomona.  She was brilliant. Dr. Evelyn Rossi could whittle down any abstract concept into pieces anyone could grasp. Turning the idea light bulb switch on for others was her gift. But she also understood non-traditional learners and education.  I think that today, she would be in favor of the new emphasis on apprenticeships.

In 1983 Howard Gardner wrote Multiple Intelligences to describe various ways people excel, but my mother understood this concept long before.  It turned out to be a really good thing for my brother that she did.

Should Everyone Go to College?

Though deeply devoted to education, Mom never forced my brother and me into the same mold.  My brother was a smart kid—too smart, maybe. School was boring to him, and teachers who forced him to regurgitate“useless facts” annoyed him. Yet, by age 15, his mechanical aptitude shocked us. A family friend gifted his relic 1935 Ford Model T Pickup to my brother, who dismantled the engine, repaired it, and reconstructed it–all without YouTube, manuals, or assistance. He just could figure it out based on his innate ability.

Back then, tracking students into Vocational Education or College Prep was still used, while I earned straight “A’s” in College Prep classes, I could barely put the garlic press back together (honestly, I still have trouble with that one!).  My brother and I were very different, with unique skills, talents, and interests.  Fortunately, our abilities were celebrated equally, and we were both encouraged to develop what came naturally to us. Thankfully, my brother was never shamed for not going to college, and I was never pressured to quit school to work.

Apprenticeships are a Great Way to Go!

Today in the United States, students are prepared only for college, but economist Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University says “High School to Harvard does not work for most kids. Too many never finish, but end up with huge debt to pay off after dropping out of school.”  Apprenticeships, on the other hand, are a “great way to go!” Employers pay for training, and are willing to invest to get qualified workers.  “If you can get an apprenticeship,” he ways, “Take it!”  Watch C-SPAN Video on Apprenticeships.

I am grateful that my mother had the wisdom to see my brother’s mechanical aptitude.  Today, he own his own business and repairs heavy equipment. Ironically, though I followed in my mother’s footsteps and earned a Master’s degree and am working on my Doctorate, I will never catch up to my brother’s lifetime earnings. We took different paths, but we both love what we do.

The current administration plans to add  4.5 million more middle-skill apprenticeships in the next five years.  I hope today’s Educators will prove as insightful as my mother, and will urge talented young people who love to work with their hands to pursue this promising new opportunity for high-paying employment.

Melody Rossi, Executive Director, Cloud & Fire    Melody Rossi is Executive Director of Cloud & Fire.  Email your comments to




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