For Ohio high school teacher S. Alexander Cooke, the end result of college shouldn't be about the employment waiting after graduation.
"The most successful college graduates use college to better themselves. Life is about more than a job, and education is too," he wrote Thursday in a commentary about the state of American education and employment.
It might not surprise you to hear a teacher extol on the virtues of college education. However, it might come as a shock to hear this: The Bureau of Labor Statistics says, for the first time ever, there are more jobless Americans who attended or graduated college than unemployed who never enrolled. According to BLS stats cited by Investors.com, of the 9 million unemployed in April, 4.7 million went to college or graduated and 4.3 million did not.
We asked high school teachers: Would you recommend college for your students when confronted with numbers like this? The overwhelming response was yes. Below are excerpts from thoughts they shared with Yahoo! News.
Cooke tells his Columbus, Ohio, English students that the most successful graduates use college to improve their life, job or no job.
"If your reason for going to college is to get a job, you don't have a good reason to go to college. That's what I tell my graduating seniors."
"The value of a college degree is tiny if a student's purpose is just to get the credential itself. A "degree" is a piece of paper that certainly isn't worth thousands -- or hundreds of thousands -- of dollars. I think many students think that a college degree provides admission to a club that offers its members valuable benefits, such as jobs with good pay. As the Labor Department statistics show, often the club is too crowded to provide every member those benefits."
"Here's what I tell my seniors. You don't need college to get an education. You need education to get a degree. College can provide great value. But no degree has more value than you."
Graduates from Columbia University's School of Public Health cheer during the university's commencement ceremony …
Midland, Texas, teacher Calvin Wolf has U.S. Government students with concrete college plans and others without a clue. His suggestion for those undecided remains firm:
"I suggest they go. Despite the gloominess of recent news about the benefits of a college diploma, such degrees are still the key to middle class success for the vast majority of graduating high school seniors. The key is now worn and rusty, no longer possessing the shine and crisp edges it did years ago, but it is still the only key. It does not open the lock each time you turn it. Opening the middle class lock, once a simple task with a college diploma, now requires a lot of twisting, jiggling, straining, and perhaps even a bit of blood, sweat, and tears. But there is no substitute for that key."
For the still-skeptical, Wolf believes it can be an eventual option:
"For those who do not feel that college is the right path, I suggest the military, which is one of the few career paths for young people without college degrees that offer decent pay and benefits. Later, the military's generous benefits can help pay for college."
***Despite Unemployment Statistics, College is Still a Good Option
Andrea Hayes was a high school math teacher in Michigan and now teaches at Grand Rapids Community College. The Bureau of Labor Statistics report didn't change her opinion that completing college still matters:
"As a teacher, these statistics would not deter me from encouraging many of my students to pursue a college education, but I would strongly encourage them to research their prospective majors and the job outlook for those careers. The statistics don't explore what degrees are held by those who are currently unemployed.
"While many high school seniors may feel that they are incredibly passionate about politics and want to earn a degree in political science, they also need to be well-informed of exactly what type of jobs they can attain with that degree and how many of those jobs are actually available.
"I wouldn't want to discourage students from pursuing their dreams, but when it comes to employment, they also need to be realistic."
A man looks over employment opportunities at a jobs center in San Francisco, California, in this February 4, 2010 …
For 21 years, Davis, Calif., teacher Jennifer Wolfe has spent her time prepping freshmen for what she says is the end goal of high school: being admitted to a dream college. While these recent statistics are unsettling for educators, she's not changing her approach:
"While these numbers are frightening, they only speak for part of the college experience. For me, college wasn't about preparing for a career; I had no idea I'd end up as a teacher. Instead, college prepared me for life by providing me with the ability to think, wonder, and imagine. I learned about life and myself, and realized I could do anything I set my mind to. College grads may not find jobs right away, but they will find the knowledge they gained of greater worth. And when you know what you can do, you open yourself up to so many more possibilities. Education, unlike a job, can never be taken away from you."
"I think I'll keep telling my students to work for their dream school. It's worth it."
***Raymond Bureau teaches physical science and math to freshmen and sophomores in Jacksonville, Fla. He wonders about his students after they graduate -- whether they attend college or become successful business owners and trade workers without a degree. Still, he encourages them to move forward with higher education:
"When confronted with these statistics, I want to ensure that my students do not lose hope. I still believe that a college degree opens many opportunities, and those students who work hard to succeed will. They may have to work jobs out of their fields for a while, but the opportunities will eventually come. I explain that employers look for candidates with strong academic records, varieties of skills and willingness to work multiple areas."
"Considering the Bureau's report, I advise my students to plan carefully. Salary is important, but so is happiness in their careers."