Summer College Benefits: Should High School Children Work Over the Summer?

August 16, 2011

1989 was the last time 60% of those aged 16-19 worked over the summer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the summer employment rate for this age group has fallen by nearly 50% as 2010 numbers indicate only a 31.3% employment rate. But, is this a bad thing? Should high school students be folding clothes at retail apparel stores and waiting tables at restaurants over their summer vacation?

My initial reaction to hearing this data was to opine the ever increasing persistence of helicopter parents who simply refuse to let their children grow up. Having worked since I was 15, I’ve been an avid proponent of a “kids need to work for the summer” policy. This was until I found out that declines in summer employment have corresponded with increasing summer school enrollment. Over the same 1989-2010 time period, summer school enrollment of those 16-19 increased from 14.5% to 45.6%.

When I read about summer school enrollment increasing, I simply imagine that the number of children failing their grade level has increased from 14.5% to 45.6%. I had no idea that summer college opportunities for high school students have become a popular trend over the years and many are taking advantage of earning college credit at a potentially more affordable cost.

I’m shocked at how little press these programs have received, but I’m impressed by some of the programs. For example, the University of Syracuse offers a six week program for six credit hours of college credit. Courses offered were also impressive, ranging from engineering and computer science to law. These programs offer housing too, so you don’t need to be near the school program to take advantage of it.

Read Smart Family Finance long enough and you will hear me warn of the need for college students to make smarter decisions about their college education and careers. Summer college, could be one of these smarter decisions. Some of the potential benefits include:

Earning college credit while in high school – One costly trend in college education is that the average time it takes to finish a four year degree is more than four years and it is only getting longer. Taking the advantage of college credit in high school could allow for early graduation. This means college grads can enter the workforce earlier and add more income to their lifetime earnings potential.

Introduction to important life decisions such as school, degree and career – The problem with college is that many young adults use it as a way of deferring the important life decisions that they need to make. Only half of students entering college, graduate. Going to college because you don’t know what to do with your life is a costly procrastination. Summer College gives high schools students a taste of career and academics earlier and long before these decisions need to be made. Summer college programs also offer non-credit courses that cover careers and vocations at a lower cost than credit bearing courses.

It might save you on college tuition – I can’t speak for all summer college programs, but Syracuse University’s programs for college credit are cheaper than normal tuition. The cost of a commuting undergraduate attending SU is $2,092 per credit hour. The cost per credit hour for SU Summer College is as low as $830.

I’m not ready to fully sign-off on the wonders of Summer College. While college credit is awarded, I’m not sure what those credits will replace in terms of actual curriculum or if other colleges will honor them. In other words, they give you credits, but can you use them? I’m also not sure that the social benefits of working as a young adult can be replaced with college. There’s just something about having to serve pushy customers that enriches the character of a young adult and I often find it missing from those that forgo high school jobs.

I have a long-time to think about whether my children can benefit, but there is a reasonable chance that they may not be working over high school summer break.

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