By Yvonne Sam
The widely-held belief, within the Black community, is that: “You have to go to college or university to be successful”. The reality however, is the debt that comes with such a venture, leaves graduates in financial shackles, for, in some instances, the rest of their lives.
This type of education that supposedly gives Black students a better chance in life, has proven to keep generational wealth and home ownership far from the grasps of the Black community. We cannot persist in portraying education as the epitome of success.
The end result is that our graduates end up with a rude awakening, and find themselves in the same positions as people, without college degrees. Additionally, not only do we push the narrative that college is the end-all, be-all, we also unintentionally, put down our youth, who are not ready for college.
It is not that youth, who choose not to attend college are lacking in intelligence and ability, but instead, that some people find it better to start their careers straight out of the gate. As a consequence, our immediate focus should be on providing and promoting alternatives to college, while helping our students graduate, without suffocating debt amounts.
We should not force anyone into that route, but we also should not guilt kids with low odds of college success — to keep trudging through academic coursework, and, even when they graduate high school with seventh-grade skills, we encourage them to enroll in college, starting with several semesters of “developmental” education.
There is something sinister about the claim that a degree-less graduate has no chance of getting employed, at nothing more than a minimum wage job at a fast food restaurant, in their future.
What if encouraging students to take a shot at the college track — despite very long odds of crossing its finish line — does them more harm than good? Are our own hyper-credentialed life experiences and ideologies blinding us to alternative pathways to the middle class?
While we most certainly need to encourage and promote higher learning in the Black community, we must stop telling children that it is the only route to go. There are other alternatives that can also lead to success, and ones that do not incur a bulk load of student debt, that need to be paid before they even get their first jobs. The world often forgets that intelligence is not strictly confined to academia, but that everyone excels in their own way.
We have actually lost focus of teaching our youth the value of trades. Vocational classes — like cosmetology, wood shop, auto mechanics, home economics, etc. — have all been relegated to non-importance.
The Toronto-based Brookfield Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship states that there are hundreds of recession- and pandemic-resistant jobs that pay well, compared to the average salary of college graduates.
It is also imperative that we instill the spirit of entrepreneurship in our communities, and it begins with our youth. Taking into full account the racist practices, embedded in our current school systems, we have no choice but to teach our students how to survive, without college. Our trade school graduates, and entrepreneurs are the key to breaking financial generational barriers in the Black community.
It is a shame, if not a crime, that even when students graduate high school with seventh-grade skills, we encourage them to enroll in college, starting with several semesters of “developmental” education.
The time has come to relinquish the idea that everyone has to go to college and start offering alternative routes to those, who are not interested in pursuing higher education.
Flip the script around, shortages in skilled labour abound.
Aleuta continua…..the struggle continues.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is the Chair of the Rights and Freedom Committee at the Black Community Resource Centre. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.