Playing to Lose

Annice F. Hood

Graduate Student, Educational Leadership,

The promulgation of the idea that most students who graduate from high school are (or should be) college-bound is a dangerous and counterproductive phenomenon according to Kenneth Gray (1996). It creates waste of money and effort on the part of the students who drop out of programs they were not prepared for and may have never been capable of completing.

Gray speculates on the reasons that students make this damaging decision and elaborates the assumptions that foster this mentality:

  1. that most students who complete high school are capable of doing baccalareate-level work,
  2. that most students who start a four-year program will complete it,
  3. that most students who actually graduate will be in employed in jobs that require a degree, and
  4. that there is little risk associated with this "baccalaureate game."

The unrealistic pursuit of four-year degrees is encouraged by influential adults in students' lives, such as parents, guidance counselors, and teachers. One of the results of this narrow goal is seen in growing numbers of "reverse transfers," students with four year degrees who enroll in certificate or associate's degree programs to be competitive in the job market.

Gray recommends that the high school curriculum be reconfigured to include individual career plans for every student and more diverse instruction to better prepare students for college success.


This article highlights the need for a clearer definition of the purpose of American schools. The current curriculum is aimed at creating culturally literate citizens. A more useful goal would be to develop citizens who can select or create for themselves and envrionment in which they can support themselves and their families.

This goal also highlights the critical need for the revision of the high school curriculum to realistically meet students' needs.

Source: Gray, K. (1996). The baccalaureate game: Is it right for all teens?. Phi Delta Kappan, 77 (8), 528 - 534