High school graduation should be a time of optimism about the future and congratulations all around. But I heard recently about a mother who was in mourning at her son’s graduation, struggling to restrain tears.

She had implored him to enroll in a four-year college, but he had chosen a two-year technical college instead. Now she fears he has lost his chance at the good life.

In fact, her son may have made a shrewd decision. Today, too many high school graduates start down the four-year road because they mistakenly think it’s the only route to success. Too often, they wind up dropping out, jobless and in debt, and lacking the skills they need to succeed in the 21st-century workforce.

In recent decades, our society has developed a powerful cultural bias that a four-year college degree is optimal for everyone, and that any other path to a career is second-best, “for dummies.” But in fact young people who choose alternative pathways — like a two-year associate’s degree, an apprenticeship or an occupational certificate — can often land in-demand, well-paying jobs fast, avoid crippling debt and look forward to a secure future. Some earn significantly more than classmates who choose the four-year route.

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