Peter Powell

Item in the Sept. 30, 2010 issue of theRockford (IL) Register-Star:South Beloit (IL) High School is taking its entire freshman class on a field trip to Madison next week to visit the University of Wisconsin campus.

Many in the class will become first generation college students when they graduate in four years.

“We want our students to know that college is an option for them,” Principal Matt Vosberg said.

Pardon me for banging my head against the wall. But here, once again, is an example of how high schools seem to still be “pushing” four-year colleges as the top option over vocational training. It’s a topic the HVACR industry has been talking about since long before I came into the industry 25 years ago - and still it goes on.

What caught my attention is that this news item points out a situation that seems to notch up the topic to another level. Follow me on this:

“..Taking the entire freshman class.” That’s 75 students being transported for more than an hour for a field trip. An entire class? Why not just those who want to visit a campus?

“…to Madison.” That’s the state capital of Wisconsin; a city of some 240,000. My wife and I live about an hour from there and go there quite often. It is a fun city even for us oldies - and certainly for younger folks. Is it just a coincidence that the campus chosen happened to be in an exciting city rather than probably a dozen other four-year college campuses within a couple hours drive - including those within 15 to 20 minutes of the high school - but in less fun places?

“…University of Wisconsin...” A major, big time academic institution. A Big Ten school in sports with typically Top Ten men’s football and basketball programs. Is it a coincidence that the trip came three days before Homecoming weekend, meaning frat parties and excitement for the Homecoming game were at fever pitch?

“…first generation college students…” The emotional pitch here seems to imply, “Just because your parents or grandparents didn’t go to college doesn’t mean you don’t have to.” What if some of those parents and grandparents were farmers or tradespeople who made a successful and satisfying living and the children wanted to follow in their footsteps?

“… ‘We want (our students) to know college is an option for them’”. The quote from the principal is careful about noting a four-year college as an option. But this seems to be an awful lot of effort for an “option.” Are there any plans for these 75 students to all collectively visit at least a few of the local community colleges and vocational schools to look at options for those who don’t want to or can’t go to a four-year college?

The principal does go on to say a four-year college campus visit provides a more “concrete” example of campus life. That being the case, why not visit another four-year college campus that’s closer to the high school? There are two four-year private colleges (Rockford College and Beloit College) much closer which also happen to have lovely campuses and are academically strong - although not in as glitzy of cities - and the football team is so-so at one and non-existent at the other.


I’m sorry that, in this column, I’ve tossed out a lot of local references, but the news item that touched off this column was in the local paper I read each morning, and I happen to live in the area.

But it is an issue that could well be occurring in other parts of the country. I’m assuming other high schools could be “field tripping” at least some of their students to big time college campuses at the expense of even closer community colleges and vocational schools. And I’m certain there are still guidance counselors pushing four-year colleges over every other academic option.

It’s been a battle for as long as I can remember - and it will continue.

Publication date:11/01/2010