JENKINS: For high school grads, it's not too late to go to college

My kids and I have a running family joke. As we're driving down the road and pass by some guy (or gal) who is toiling away in the hot sun -- or in the bitter cold, or in a driving rain -- I'll say, "Hey, kids, see that guy?" And one of them is sure to respond, "Yeah, Dad, we know. Go to college."

Not that there's anything wrong with manual labor. It's honorable work -- much better than collecting a welfare check -- and obviously we need people to build roads and dig ditches and so forth

But if you're a recent high school graduate, and breaking your back daily while exposed to the elements for the next 30 years isn't your idea of a rewarding career, then perhaps you should consider my advice to my kids: Go to college.

I know a lot of you have already applied to college and been accepted. Congratulations. But every year I'm surprised at how many graduates don't have a clue what they're going to do next. Some haven't decided yet if they want to go to college. Others would like to but aren't sure where or even how.

To the first group, I would say, regardless of what you may be hearing -- that a college degree no longer guarantees a good job, that some high paying jobs don't require a degree -- going to college is still, on balance, a good idea. It's still true that, on average, people with degrees make a lot more money over the course of their lives than people without degrees. They also tend to live longer and be healthier.

Of course, college isn't for everybody. If working on a road crew or as an auto mechanic or a retail clerk is something you've always wanted to do, then go for it. Otherwise, go to college.

If you're not sure where or how, consider: The University System of Georgia includes a number of "access institutions," colleges designed specifically for students who either didn't get into one of the system's universities, can't afford to go away to school right now, or have other reasons for staying close to home.

Access institutions tend to have lower entrance requirements as well as lower tuition and later application deadlines. And yet students who start there have the option of transferring after a year or two to any university in the system, provided they meet certain requirements.

This part of the state is fortunate to offer two fine access institutions: Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville and Georgia Perimeter College, with campuses in Clarkston, Decatur, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, and Covington. In other words, there's an access institution within easy driving distance of just about everyone reading this column.

So basically, what I'm saying to you is this: If you want to go to college, you can. It's not out of the question, and it's not too late.

Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and a professor at Georgia Perimeter College. Email him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.