Maine Township District 207 helps HS students minimize college debt

PARK RIDGE, Ill. (WLS) -- Maine Township District 207 is home to an innovative program that helps students minimize debt while still encouraging them to achieve their career goals.

It's a new and unique approach that challenges the notion that four year colleges are the right path for all high school students.

Cassidy Hicks is graduating from Maine East High School in Park Ridge with good grades and a passion for engineering. Hicks always assumed she would go on to a four year college in the fall, but her mindset has changed.

"I'm going to community college for a couple years and then hopefully go to a bigger four year down the line," Hicks said.

With some college and career coaching from Maine East, Hicks decided a community college for two years is more economical. Record college debt for jobs that don't pay enough or don't exist is the driving force behind a complete shift in how the school district counsels students and their families on college and careers.

"We think the highest form of equity that we can achieve for your child is to help them identify what their passion is, what their way is and help them figure out where they are going to get that," said Superintendent Ken Wallace.

Calling it the "Return on Investment Model," District 207 uses a combination of analytic tools to pinpoint a student's interests and match them with the current labor market.

"Based on that data, we are working with families and students to help them understand what is the right amount to get a degree," said Wallace.

Every Maine Township High School student has an individual career plan. During their junior and senior years, students get to try a career to see if it's a good fit or eliminate ones they don't like. It's done through various career experiences.

"That can be picking classes that they are interested in through electives, going to guest speakers, panels about certain topics, also having an internship or job shadowing experience," said Laura Cook, Maine Township District Career Coordinator.

Whether the path is a four year college, community college, the trades or neither, the hope is to help high school students figure it out before they spend time and thousands of dollars on a degree they may not need.
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