Originally published on RealClear Education – June 14, 2019
A college education still holds its worth for certain fields, but for students interested in skilled trades or professions that require some additional education or training—but not a four-year degree—it’s not always a necessary next step. That’s why today’s educators need to inform students about college as well as alternative career pathways.
This starts with simply asking students about their interests. If they are anything like me, they might be interested in art, for example. Interests like art usually aren’t incorporated into core classes like science, math, or English, and are only explored in elective classes or extracurricular activities that are frequently viewed as secondary.
Failing to see how such interests translate into real-world careers could be why so many students get to college and either change their major a handful of times or wind up realizing that they don’t need a college degree after all—sometimes after spending years of their lives and tens of thousands of dollars on tuition. For others, they may tough it out and end up in a job they dread going to every day.
Art is an area of study that’s always been viewed with skepticism when it comes to career planning. Many a first-year college student has been told “no you will not” after telling their parents they want to major in an art-related field. But there’s no reason you can’t do what you love while also getting paid, as long as you have a good plan in place.
I received my undergraduate degree in graphic design and was very fortunate to not only find commercial success but also an enjoyment in my daily work. A lot has changed since then, and now, thanks to modern technology, today’s students with similar artistic talents and interests can get a serious head start on their career if given the opportunity to do so in high school.
That said, educators need to think not just about what they are teaching students, but how they are teaching them. Every student learns differently, and it’s time we think outside of the brick-and-mortar box. We need to offer students an approach to learning that truly fosters their interests and provides them with relevant skills.
This is especially true in an online learning environment. Many individuals in design fields work remotely. About one in five graphic designers are self-employed, usually as freelancers who work independently and outside of a typical office setting.
People who work remotely must hold themselves accountable, stay on-task, and solve problems without the physical presence of a supervisor. They must also navigate the many nuances of web-based teams and projects. These career-ready skills are similarly required of students in a virtual classroom, where they are taught how to work well independently and collaboratively with their peers. So, whether they wind up freelancing or working for an employer, students that learn in an online environment—especially those in graphic design—are gaining the technical and career-ready skills they need to succeed in the modern workforce.
High schoolers don’t have to know what career they want to pursue, and educators shouldn’t be pushing them exclusively toward college to figure it out. Instead, educators should be helping students learn how their interests can lead to career-ready skills; informing them of their many career options; and telling them the post-secondary education and/or experience that each requires. Only by doing so will we effectively guide students down the most affordable, profitable, and enjoyable career path.
Jolene Masek teaches graphic design at the Destinations Career Academy of Colorado, powered by K12.