No university, no problem: Alternative routes for high school graduates

  • Written by By Gena Wynkoop, UW News Lab Student Journalist

High school graduation is around the corner for local high schoolers, and there are many options other than attending a four-year university.             

Some families may not have the means to get their graduating students off to a four-year school, but programs like AmeriCorps and JobCorps can be excellent alternatives.

For example, AmeriCorps is a national service program created in 1994 that engages Americans of all ages and backgrounds in addressing community needs.

“Individuals selected to join AmeriCorps are service leaders through nonprofit groups, public agencies  and faith-based organizations across the country to help meet critical needs in the areas of education, health, the environment, disaster services, veterans and veteran families and economic opportunity,” said Amber Martin-Jahn, the executive director of Serve Washington at AmeriCorps.

In Washington a typical position requires a commitment of 10½ to  11 months and is based on a 40-hour week. If a student fulfills a year in AmeriCorps, there is scholarship money available to help reduce costs of college tuition.

“In addition to benefits to the community, a service year increases economic opportunity for AmeriCorps members by encouraging post-secondary education and reducing student debt,” said Martin-Jahn.

Each year, more than 2,300 AmeriCorps members serve their communities in Washington.

“These members give a year or more to serve their nation and community, and they get more in return – the chance to learn, lead, grow, explore new opportunities and become stronger citizens.  Washington is made stronger because of AmeriCorps service,” said Martin-Jahn.
Jess Marino, 32, an alum of AmeriCorps served two terms one in Austin, Texas, and another in Washington.

“I was with an organization called 4H CAPITOL. My role with 4H was to teach after-school science to elementary school kids entirely through hands-on activities,” said Marino.

After serving in Texas, Marino came to Washington and joined the AmeriCorps Leader for Washington Service Corps.

“If I had known about AmeriCorps I probably would have joined right out of high school,” Marino said. “I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do going into college, which led to me majoring in philosophy, going to culinary school, and then getting a BS in psychology.”

Another option for high school graduates is JobCorps.

“JobCorps was started back in the 1960s as a place to train people in the trades,” said Kevin Meenaghan, academy director at the Cascades JobCorps and Career Academy.

JobCorps was created to offer a space for students to come and get hands-on training in the trades.

“Trades are hands-on kind of stuff. Construction, culinary, dental assisting, IT trades…a lot of things that we need in life and that are hands-on things and not necessarily sitting behind a desk,” said Meenaghan.

Students who do not find value in a traditional high school classroom can join a JobCorps program and get hands-on training.
“The JobCorps program is really good because it’s not for students who sit in a classroom. It’s really about getting out and getting your hands dirty and learning on the job. Most of our students don’t do well in a traditional high school setting or being in a classroom for whatever reason. They therefore do well in alternative school systems or drop out because they are not conducive to that learning environment,” said Meenaghan.

Alyssa Elizabeth Hopper, 22, joined Tongue Point JobCorps in Astoria, Oregon, to study dental assistance.

“I didn’t go to JobCorps right after high school. When I graduated I moved to Paris, France, for a few years to be a nanny. After coming back to the states, I decided I wanted to continue my education but wasn’t ready or interested in college,” said Hopper.

Hopper decided to apply for JobCorps because her brother told her about the program.               

“I didn’t feel ready for college, and I wasn’t interested. I didn’t do well with the public high school and knew college was that times a million,” she said.

Hopper currently works as a dental assistant and said that she gained all the professional skills she needed.

“I loved the program. The instructor Sheri Hankel, is amazing! You learn everything you need to know. As long as you apply yourself it’s an amazing program,” said Hopper.

Meenaghan mentioned that most people who come into the JobCorps program think that they are not ready and are frankly afraid of it.
“I can tell you undoubtedly that when they get here and go through some of the precollege kind of stuff we do, like building an academic base and foundation for learning and individualizing learning for each student, we know when they head off to college they will be successful. It’s tailored to each student based on how they learn differently,” said Meenaghan.

After the JobCorps program, students can go on to college, into the military or into their career.

“I would say a picture is worth a thousand words,” Meenaghan said. “Come onto campus and see how beautiful this place is.”
For more information on AmeriCorps, visit and for Job Corps, visit

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