College Conundrum

05/25/2011 11:50 am ET

If you have a high school senior in your family, right about now you are probably experiencing the pre-acceptance-to-college jitters. Very soon, Universities and Colleges across the nation will be sending out letters that will either make you smile, or make you sad. The class of 2006 of approximately 2,650,000 seniors -- (609,807 of whom took the College Boards) -- are now vying for spaces from among the coveted university and college vacancies. The competition for these spaces is stiff, the challenge to deserve them is palpable, and the eventual outcome in terms of brainpower for society is vital for our survival. So, how do we help these kids make the leap?

Back in the day, when I first experienced one of my "birds" leaving the "nest," the stakes didn't seem so high. I wasn't worried about her getting into a college, and I wasn't an integral part of the process in the college search. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I wasn't even aware of the possibility of visiting universities, touring the campuses and sitting in on classes to better judge the viability of attending one institution over another -- of discerning whether one was a better "fit" for a particular student, than another. It never occurred to me to interview the universities, nor by the way, was it suggested or set up by the high school.

By the time my oldest daughter was ready to go to college -- my financial circumstances were solid, so it wasn't that there were no resources to launch such an investigation -- we could have pulled it together to do so -- but it simply wasn't on our radar. My oldest daughter, who dare I say it, is about to turn 34, basically navigated this complex system of research, applications, interviews, and acceptances on her own, and indeed, garnered for herself a space at NYU without so much as a letter of recommendation.

But today, things are different. I have a high school senior, and the landscape has changed. Everything in life has been kicked up a notch -- from communication speed, to international competition, to expectation levels -- and now it is incumbent upon parents to take an active role in the college/university search process for their children. The stakes are indeed higher. And sadly -- it is clear that not all of our high school seniors will make it to college. In fact, the figures state that only about 23 percent will actually enroll.

We need to do better. And we as parents must be part of the process. Perhaps some of these kids won't go to universities because academically, they simply can't handle the challenge. One recent series of articles in Los Angeles described how many kids drop out of high school because they can't get a handle on Algebra. Another issue may be strictly financial. Some students can't round up the resources they need to make a four-year college experience possible. This is a real problem when you consider that the median household income in the United States is roughly $45,000 per year -- and the average cost of a year at a private university is $24,000 and for a public university, $9,200. It's a big chunk out of anybody's budget.

Whatever the reasons for the low participation rate, too many kids in the US won't go on to experience a higher education. So what are they doing in place of college? How are they learning the skills they need to obtain employment, to pay for health care -- to buy homes -- to feed their children -- to become positive and active participants in their communities? Without specialized training, and/or a college education, some of these kids face a bleak future. They might labor hard and long for a salary that barely covers their living expenses, with few perks, few options for advancement, and no real job security.

That is not the American dream. We better find ways to help our youth in their education process. Whether it be more specialty schools where we teach specific skill sets, or whether we plan to tutor all children in math and sciences until they "get it" so they can move on and compete -- our society needs to take a stand. We are a global community. Our kids must be prepared to compete in the world of globalization in order to thrive, and perhaps even to survive.

What to do? Get informed. There are scholarships available to many kids, and Ignorance can no longer be an excuse. We, as parents and/or guardians of our youth need to rally whatever resources we can to help further our kids' educations -- to help them navigate the system so they have a chance, and a choice to further their educations and secure a "space," a choice, and a voice in the global economy. It can be an exhaustive process -- but it will pay big dividends in the end.

Visit and click on College and University Scholarships for links to informational sites. Call your son or daughter's high school counselor and make sure they are getting the advice and counsel they need to succeed.