When we think about successfully educating a student, our society has a certain set of expectations for what that looks like. Traditionally, we aspire to see our children earn a high school diploma so they can continue their education at the college or university level. This process works for many students. However, we cannot settle for a one-size-fits-all approach to education when there are many more options available in today's system.

In previous articles, I addressed issues surrounding financial barriers to students and alternative pathways to education such as career technical schools and community colleges. Removing barriers and finding new pathways into steady jobs are crucial to a student-centered education structure. We must also work to address misconceptions, negative stereotypes and outdated stigmas that prevent students from pursuing opportunities outside the norm. Discrediting the effectiveness of nontraditional pathways often leads to devaluing those who choose to pursue them. In my view, we need to celebrate the students who are willing to step out and try something different, not criticize them for their personal choices.

For the parents investing into their child's future, it may be difficult to change our expectations. Teachers, parents and guidance counselors might have dreams for a student to attend college and find success that way. With the number of years we spend developing children academically, we naturally want the best for their future. The good news about today’s economy is that there are multiple pathways to achieve a best case scenario for students. We must do a better job of investigating these new options rather than simply settling with what feels familiar to us.

Consider this. Would you send a student to college to learn about entrepreneurship so they could someday run their own business? If the answer is yes, then would you let your son or daughter attend a career technical school during their high school years if they also ended up running their own business? Many young men and women have learned a skill that helped them earn a job early in their adult lives. While working, the value of hard work was learned, along with business skills like bookkeeping or employee management. From there, they could successfully launch a small business and find themselves with more than just a job, but a long-term career. By the way, this career would pay wages far above the national average, allowing them a higher quality of life.

The truth about alternative pathways to education is that they may provide ways to give our students tangible success. They create flexible avenues for students to engage themselves in different ways, and cost-effective programs exist for students to learn the skills they need to compete in a demanding workplace.

At the end of the day, maybe we need to rethink what might be the best direction for our students. There is no denial that we love our children and want what is best for their future. For some, that will mean they make their way from high school into the college classroom. But for others, a better way forward may look a little different. As a community, it is time we celebrate these students who are choosing to define success in their own terms and walking into a future full of promise.

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