The journeys that children take through education are not as straightforward as most people think.  

In recent years, close to 70 percent of students went straight from high school to college, with those going to four-year universities typically outnumbering those enrolling in two-year colleges by roughly two to one. But a growing number of young people are forging new paths that involve a detour around college altogether.

College-going rates have been trending down since before the COVID-19 pandemic. And a national survey conducted in 2021 by ECMC Group found that less than half of high school students said they planned to attend a four-year college or university–a decrease of more than 20 percentage points from 2019. 

That’s a real shame. Students who pass up college can close off good careers in STEM fields–science, technology, engineering and math–even if they struggled in school in these same subjects. Plenty of STEM jobs don’t require four years of college–just two or sometimes less. A lot of recent high school graduates might be surprised to know that some STEM careers that don’t require an expensive bachelor’s degree pay really well.

Building better pathways to STEM careers starts with teachers, counselors and parents–and a few basic math concepts.

There’s a common perception that young people don’t pursue STEM degrees or careers because math and other STEM subjects are too hard. That’s nonsense. Math is much more than trigonometry and physics and calculus. At its basic level, math is about learning to think and solve problems. Learning basic math skills such as reasoning, estimation, and measurement can open doors to good careers in growing fields such as allied health, health care, medical offices and construction trades. To point students toward STEM careers that require mastery only of basic math, teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade must share the joy of learning math and show all students that math is a crucial skill.

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