Crossing the Finish Line Wins the Game of Life

Crossing the Finish Line Wins the Game of Life

ZiglarPresident Obama challenged every American to commit to at least one year of higher education or post-secondary training. Setting a new goal for the country he indicated that by 2020, America would once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. The President and his administration are working to make college more accessible, affordable, and attainable for all American families. The impetus is the belief that having a college degree will help individuals gain access to the middle-class via good paying jobs, while supporting the US economy and global competitiveness at the same time.

The Positives

Despite high tuition, high debt, and other challenges, college is becoming more accessible. According to the latest analysis of Educational Longitudinal Survey data, 86% of students who graduate high school on time attend college within 8 years of graduation. 37% of those go to community college. Students who indicated no plans to go to college after high school ended up attending within 8 years. There is talk at the federal and state levels about making the first one or two years of college free public education.

The private sector also is helping increase college attainment.  Many private sector companies, most recently Starbucks, are paying for postsecondary education for their employees.

The Problems

Attending college does not mean completion of a degree unfortunately. 46% of community college students did not complete a credential within 8 years. Only 20% of community college students go on to get a Bachelor’s degree within 8 years of high school and only 33% of community college students attain an associate’s degree or some certificate within 8 years after high school.

Why All This Matters

In general the more education one has obtained, the higher the earnings and the lower the unemployment rate. What is disturbing is that, according to the report, The New Forgotten Half and Research Directions to Support Them, having some college, but no credential or certificate is no better economically than not having gone to college at all. These individuals have paid for their education, possibly or probably gone into debt, remained out of full time work, and are not getting a return on their investment.

The report also indicates that many of those who do not finish postsecondary education with a certificate or degree have taken mostly remedial classes in college.  This is particularly true at the community college level. These courses generally do not count toward a degree anyway. This is a lost opportunity resulting in squandered resources.

Finishing counts.  Individuals who do complete a degree or a certification have an economic edge over those who do not so crossing the finish line matters. Stopping short of the finish line makes you lose the game educationally and financially.

What to Do?

There are many ways to help more individuals cross the goal line – a more solid educational background during high school, wrap around services as one enters postsecondary programs, mentoring, greater parental understanding of postsecondary education opportunities and challenges, duel enrollment leading to college credit, financial assistance and budgeting, and an emphasis on career development starting at an early age.

Career services personnel at the middle school, high school and postsecondary levels need to show the broad range of educational and career options to students and their parents. Financial literacy and college planning needs to start early so that individuals know the costs and consequences of postsecondary attainment.

The onus is on the students as well. Prospective postsecondary students need to understand that their abilities need to be developed to such a degree that remediation is not necessary in order to succeed in postsecondary education, and that hard work moves them ahead in the world. Parents need to encourage students to perform their best and educators need to show the connection between what happens in school and in life. As Zig Ziglar has said, where you start is not nearly as important as where you finish.

Dr. Janet Wall is Founder of, a provider of continuing education for career, academic, and workforce counselors and advisers. She is co-author of the Ability Explorer which helps people match their abilities to careers, and she is a consultant in career development and education.


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