A Parent’s Heartbreak to See College Dreams Crushed


April 7, 2016

By Marianne Lombardo

There’s no heartbreak worse than seeing your child struggle. And when they struggle to make a successful college transition, it can impact the rest of their life. In my son’s case, the public K-12 schools and the college of his dreams got paid, but he got a pink slip.

Blvd Broken Dreams

Like all parents, I wanted my kids to achieve success in life. I very purposefully moved us to one of the highest-performing (and very expensive, greatly stretching our middle-class income) suburban districts in the state to assure they would get a good education.

My son’s school experience was generally good. He got mostly good grades and easily passed the Ohio Graduation Test the first time without any issues (attaining a $500 college stipend the state provided). We found a public four-year college with a program that perfectly matched his interests and felt great that we did all we were supposed to do to launch him toward the career of his dreams.

But, it all crashed down. He only attended one quarter. He left because, surprisingly, he was not prepared for the academic demands of college. It was a surprise because it had never been pointed out by his suburban high school that his writing skills were not up to college readiness standards. That surprise deficit did him in.

struggling student

The program my son wanted to enroll in at college required students to attain an “A” or “B” in a required introductory course taken during the first quarter. But because of his apparent poor writing skills, he got a “C.” Crushed that he would not be able to attain a degree in the field he had chosen, he dropped out.

My son moved back home with me and enrolled in community college, where he was placed not only in a remedial writing course, but also in a remedial math course. We paid thousands for these courses, to help him relearn what he should have learned in high school, and all the while none of it counted toward a degree. He attended community college on and off for another year and a half before eventually dropping out due to work opportunities and not seeing a clear path toward how college would add value in a career field. He has never finished a college degree and is still paying back student loans.

Our story closely matches data found by my colleagues, Mary Nguyen Barry and Michael Dannenberg, in their report Out of Pocket: The High Cost of Inadequate High Schools and High School Achievement on College Affordability.”

It really hurts to see your kid not be able to attain his dream.

I feel as if our public education system failed him – both the highly acclaimed “public-private” district (where you can’t attend unless you can afford the $300K housing cost) that didn’t adequately prepare him, and the publicly-funded State University that whiplashes kids that didn’t get an adequate preparation from their high school.

I’m not saying kids should get a free pass, but our education system should be doing everything possible to help kids find success. In our experience, there was a complete lack of alignment between what we were told by the district (get good grades), what we were told by the state (pass the Ohio Graduation Test), and the reality that he did not have college readiness skills. The kicker is that once he graduated high school, the problem was ours alone: there was no responsibility or ownership on the part of the district, the state, or the college. We paid the additional price.

Our state has since increased the rigor of its state assessments, and there’s much more opportunity to get ongoing, honest, and objective feedback on how your child is doing based on these assessments every year they are tested. I hope parents understand the value of this information and use it to help if their own child needs intervention before they are cut loose from the K-12 system.

If we had better information, and if the high school had been required to provide intervention for kids that needed shoring up before they left for college, perhaps we would have been left with more than financial costs and a lifetime of wishes for what could have been.