As a father and a grandfather, I have a radically different view of college than I did growing up. I do not believe we owe our kids a college education. I do believe we owe them a helping hand in getting started in life, but that could take many different forms (2 Corinthians 12:14). I believe our culture is actually harming our kids by assuming that going to a four year college is a MUST for every kid. College could actually be the worst thing for your graduating high school student. Why?
1. Student debt is killing the next generation. The average college graduate today walks across the stage with $29,400 in student loans, and $10,000 in credit card debt. That doesn’t even take into account the incredible debt load their parents probably took on in second mortgages and line of credit loans. They are starting out in life with huge liabilities.
2. College is often a knee jerk response to peer pressure. When a kid graduates from high school every aunt, uncle, friend and well meaning busybody slams the poor kid with, “So what are you going to do now?” Since the vast majority of 18 year olds HAVE NO IDEA what they want to do, and since virtually every kid they know is going to college, and since they don’t want to appear dumb, they say, “I’m going to college.” We answer immediately with, “So what will you major in?” With a puzzled look on his face he replies, “Er, I don’t know.” I mean, what could be smarter than to invest thousands of dollars in what amounts to be a holding pattern while they’re figuring out what they want to be when they grow up? Not to mention the number of kids who switch majors 2-3 times while they’re figuring it out, increasing their time at college time and hence their bill.
3. College is used as a social transition rather than career training. College is often used as an excuse to delay growing up. The kid thinks to himself, “Get a job and start being responsible or go to college and delay that phase??? Hmmm, I choose college!!” The reason so many colleges have earned the reputation for being a party school is not because the administration desires this, but because the kids do. What could be cooler than to get out from underneath mom and dad’s oppressive regime to go to a non-stop, culturally acceptable party (hey, it’s college, they’re supposed to be having fun, right?)? Never mind this is the most expensive party on earth! How many kids flunk out of college because they seemed unaware there were some classes they were supposed to go to? What a waste of time and money.
4. College could actually put them behind in the workforce. While Johnny was getting his degree, Billy simply went to work actually learning a real career, making money instead of borrowing it, and he’s got at least four years of real world experience by the time Johnny is just getting started. Most employers care more about experience and skills than pedigree. The only thing a college graduate has is potential and many employers would rather go with experience.
5. Colleges offer too many impractical degrees. What do you get when you mix an undecided kid with an eclectic menu of academic choices? Idiotic degrees! How many schools are offering degrees in subjects that are totally impractical and non-marketable? Worse yet, even if the kid scores a job in their chosen subject, was it really worth $40,000? I’d say if you have money to burn and you absolutely have to go to college, get a marketable degree and fill your eclectic itch with Google for free!
6. From a purely practical standpoint 4 year colleges are a stupid investment when compared to community college. What boggles my mind is how we have bought into the ridiculous pattern that every kid needs to go to a four year college for four years. Give me a break. Somehow the algebra at the community college looks suspiciously similar to the algebra at the four year college. Oh, I take that back. It costs FOUR TIMES more at the 4 year college! Every kid who actually needs that 4 year degree should get the first 2 years of general ed classes at the community college. Why on earth would you knowingly pay 3-5 times more $ for the same class? That’s just dumb.
7. College should only be considered for certain kids who need certain degrees. I have no research data to back this up, but I believe somewhere between 25-30% of the graduating seniors should never go to college. They should be looking at trades. In America, we have devalued the trades industry to the extent that there is now a very real deficiency in the trades workforce. The sad reality is that the college graduate, with his $40,000 of debt working in his $25,000 a year job, is paying a debt free plumber who’s pulling down $35,000 a year to fix his toilet! Mike Rowe from the TV show “Dirty Jobs” has an excellent Ted Talk on the subject of trades – http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_rowe_celebrates_dirty_jobs.html
First, four year college is a great pathway for some. There are clearly many career paths that require a college education. For those who need / desire that pathway, it should only be done with MINIMAL debt. If the kid has no “free money” available in the form of grants and scholarships, then he should choose the least expensive path toward his goal. This will almost surely include 2 years of community college and WORKING while he attends.
Second, we need to remove the expectation of 4 year college for all kids and the stigma surrounding alternative choices. Non four year college is an honorable pathway for life and in many cases will be a far healthier option both financially and vocationally.
Just my $.02 worth (that’s $6.75 if I had taught this at a four year private college)