A Tale of Two Seniors
First published on February 13, 2012.
I attended (my first) Parent Social event this weekend. These events are scheduled simultaneously with high school dances, so that parents can hang out together for a few hours, while our kids dance themselves into a sweaty frenzy. This Parent Social had a special twist: Parents of recent graduates were going to be discussing the postsecondary experience. Hmmm ... this sounded interesting. “The Tale of Two Seniors”—It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
The Best of Times: Our first senior of the evening attends a mainstream university in Southern Florida. There was uncertainty as to whether or not this young student would have college in the future up until middle school. During the search for postsecondary education, various options presented themselves. There was a college specifically designed for the LD/ADHD student to which the senior in question was not accepted. The student and family chose a small school offering a support program for students with learning challenges. Tutoring by degreed professionals (not peers, not grad students) is offered one-to-one and in group settings. There is a professional (not peer, not grad student) academic coach and independent living coach. There's even an optional laundry service. The family is happy with their decision and expects the student to graduate with a degree, albeit it will be a five-year plan, at best.
The Worst of Times: Our second senior planned to attend a university specializing in culinary arts. The university expressed some concerns about accommodations, but with a little back and forth, there was agreement between school and family. The student's mother was concerned about the heavy workload resulting from the schedule being divided between culinary work and academics. The practical decision was made to try on the academics in a community college setting the first year. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, in spite of some disappointing placement testing mandated by the community college. Then, halfway through the first semester, the mom was told by the student, "We need to talk." Uh oh. The student had stopped going to classes barely four weeks into the semester. All the "I'm meeting classmates to study before class" was a charade. The family is now looking into employment training services from their local vocational rehabilitation services.
Why the vast difference in these two seniors? You would think two students from the same small school would be able to achieve similar results. I didn't have a soapbox handy that evening, or I might've shared my thoughts with the packed house. First of all, this tiny little cross section of last year's graduating class just goes to prove how unique every student's needs are. Secondly, a college-like experience doesn't have to be the next stop. The eagerness of that evening's crowd was almost palpable. Everyone seemed desperate to find a straightforward solution for their children's college years. Were I on my soapbox, I would've shouted, "What happens AFTER this college experience? Is this experience worth ANY amount of money? Would that $200,000 (or more) better serve your child across his or her lifespan?"
I get the emotional attachments of the natural progression of going away to college. But studies  are indicating that even for the general population, the costs of a college education are overshadowing earning options after college. If the average college-ready student is being cautioned to think long hard about the cost of education, where does that leave the ASD population of college hopefuls? The questions that need to be considered are: What are the likely outcomes of this college education? Will I be better off and more employable? And last but by no means least, is this investment worth it?