Expanding the Pathways Beyond a Narrow Set of Top Colleges
Jun 2024

Expanding the Pathways Beyond a Narrow Set of Top Colleges

For years, many parents’ core reason for sending their children to independent schools has been to help them get into one of a select set of colleges and fulfill their potential. Many independent schools have, in turn, been happy to send the message—subtly or not—that they are the right place to help accomplish these goals.

Meanwhile, as Bob Moesta and I found while doing research for Choosing College: How to Make Better Learning Decisions Throughout Your Life, many students have no underlying sense of why they’re going to college—other than it being another box to check and the next logical step on their journey. In surveys—like the widely known CIRP Freshman Survey, the Higher Education Research Institute’s annual survey of students at four-year colleges and universities—students increasingly cite “to get a good job” as one of the top reasons for going to college. Under the surface, however, students have little sense of what jobs and careers are even possible and no concrete understanding of how college might help.

This disconnect between the importance of college and a lack of understanding of how it can tangibly help is becoming more visible. As list tuition prices at colleges have soared, parents have increasingly wondered if college is the right next step. They want to see a clear return on the investment. And the campus controversies that have been making national news over the past year have thrown more heat on a smoldering fire.

These conversations and questions about the value of college are taking place in cities and suburbs across the country—from Palo Alto, California, to Lexington, Massachusetts—where children have long been expected to go to prestigious colleges. And it raises the question: What do changing perspectives about the value of college mean for independent schools? As society’s views of higher education are in flux, must independent schools adapt? And if so, how?

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