The high school to college pipeline isn’t what it used to be, or should be

The transition from high school graduate to college freshman isn’t for everyone, and it is past time to admit it.

Andrew Donaldson
5 min readMay 4


Representatives of the BridgeValley CTC Department of Nursing were among those at a recent career fair at Valley PK-8. Courtesy photo/Valley PK-8

It is the time of the year where this year’s freshmen are finishing off their first year of college right as next fall’s freshmen are graduating high school. American society has spent generations perfecting this pipeline, trying to get the maximum number of high school graduates into colleges and universities. The entirety of the secondary education system has been retooled into a funnel to achieve that very purpose.

“What are you going to do after school” has been mostly replaced with “Where do you want to go to college,” and if someone answers they don’t want to, need to, or can’t go to college, society has seemingly placed an onus on that person to explain their non-conformity.

The stated reason for this human pipeline at the turn of adulthood is sound enough on paper. College graduates on average make more money both per year and over a working lifetime than non-college graduates. The value of a broader education and the social connections it makes are not as easily defined but widely accepted as positive outcomes.

Inarguably the maturing process between 18 and 22, or whenever one finishes their pursued degree plan, is immense and sticking it out through a college-level program shows drive and discipline to future employers. The truth is, though, that in West Virginia only 45.8 percent of graduating high school seniors in the class of 2021 went to college. More startling, the last set of data from the years 2017 to 2021 show that the number of West Virginians over the age of 25 with at least a bachelor’s degree or higher is only 21.8 percent.

Despite decades of relentless marketing, the entire education system pushing kids towards college, and all the benefits thereof, college enrollment nationwide is declining. In West Virginia, public four-year college enrollment declined slightly, while community and technical colleges saw a slight rise.

Educators have noticed and are trying to be proactive. Part of West Virginia’s numbers holding steady against the national trend is an emphasis…



Andrew Donaldson

Writer. Mountaineer diaspora. Veteran. Managing Editor @ordinarytimemag on culture & politics, food writing @yonderandhome, Host @heardtellshow & other media


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