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Posted at 2:31 PM ET, 06/ 3/2010

College awareness: How much is too much?

By Valerie Strauss

How old should children be before they are asked to start worrying about going to college? Eight years old? Ten? Thirteen? Fifteen?

How about 5?

Here’s part of a story in the Detroit News about an early awareness program in the the Kalamazoo School district:

At age 5, Jeremiah Kagumba spoke often of playing professional basketball. But after his elementary school held a college awareness week, he decided he would become a doctor.

"After the college week talk, his talk is changing," said his mother, Josephine Kagumba. "I don’t think he really appreciated before how important it is to go to college."

Jeremiah is a kindergartner in Kalamazoo Public Schools, which is working to create a college-going culture for its students starting as early as preschool.

It used to be that kids didn’t think much about college until high school, and then, the concern moved down to middle school. Now, with President Obama’s goal of having the United States have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by 2020, there seems to be no age limit at which kids are spared having to worry about college.

Of course it’s a good thing for kids to understand the importance of going to college. And it’s especially important for families to start to save money for college as early as they can.

Along these lines, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom recently announced a new program starting this fall that would establish a publicly funded college savings account for every child who starts kindergarten in a city public school.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle
, the annual deposits will be small -- $50 to start, $100 for lower-income children -- but the program was conceived under the principle, cited in a study from the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis -- that children who have any amount of savings set aside for college are about seven times more likely to enroll.

And it’s important that kids get a good early academic start so that by the time they get to high school, they don’t feel so lost they have to drop out.

And this week, Gregory M. Darnieder, special assistant and senior adviser to Education Secretary Arne Duncan on the secretary’s Initiative on College Access, said at a college-readiness forum in Washington D.C., that the nation’s dropout rate of about 30 percent was a key obstacle to meeting Obama’s goal, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But there are limits to what young kids should be thinking and worrying about.

Here were some of the elementary school activities during the Kalamazoo school college awareness week in April, according to a news release from the district:

*Students read a book about going to college and discussed how to choose a college based on what they plan to do.

*Children wrote about what occupation they would like to pursue.

*Social Studies lessons were based around college culture, including discussions of colleges around our community and teachers will be sharing first-hand experiences. Students were required to choose something they would like to do when they grow up and write a plan of action.

*Students took a walking tour of Western Michigan University followed up by a writing exercise on ‘What you need to do to get college ready’.

*Each Greenwood Elementary School class “adopted” a Michigan school and staff and students wore the school colors.

*At King-Westwood Elementary School, all kindergarten classes discussed if their parents “are going to college or did go and what they studied." They also discussed what the children wanted to be when they become adults, where a person might go to college to study for chosen careers.”

Really now.

How much “awareness” is too much? How much leads young kids to worry about how they are going to get to college, what they will study when they get there and what they will do when they get out?

For kindergartners, this kind of attention borders on the obscene.

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By Valerie Strauss  | June 3, 2010; 2:31 PM ET
Categories:  Elementary School, Higher Education  | Tags:  college readiness, college readiness week, kalamazoo and obama, kalamazoo school, kalamazoo school district, newsom and savings account, obama's 2020 goal and college, san francisco and kindergarten savings account  
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it is unreasonable to build a public policy based on everyone having to go to college. This administration is basically dictating the future options for all Americans. College is a choice and many either are not qualified or not interested in spending 4 more years of classroom drudgery with dull/uninteresting professors. You can be smart/successful/happy without college! so let's not be so dictatorial about how everyone must choose college as the only option.

Posted by: fsg2118 | June 3, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Some of the stress on college backfires. We were told from junior high onward that college was very difficult and we would have to work very hard in college so we should start getting used to it. Today you hear all about how expensive college is and how unless your parents are wealthy or very good at managing money (or you are a top athlete) you will come out of college with debts it will take you years to pay off.

As a result, many students begin to dread college. Those who understand, or think they understand, their parents' financial worries simply decide there is no point in working hard in school because they can't afford college anyway. Students who need to work hard to get good grades wonder if they can possibly work any harder. The bright students who are bored in high school don't always know college is different and dread four more years of the same boredom and drudgery.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 4, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

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