We have a mess in this country. Actually, we have several messes but the one I want to talk about today is the distorted view we have of higher education. As a country we have perpetuated the idea through our comments, our expectations, our posts, and our media that college is a rite of passage for everyone in this country, and a right of everyone in this country. We have made it look like all fun and games where you spend your parent’s money, your own future through loans, (not to mention, the grant and scholarship money of hardworking individuals) so you can have a good time and maybe complete a degree in something that will possibly bring you employment. If you choose a degree plan solely based on feelings, or what is popular with your friends and not on market needs, you may not even be employable. The truth is college is expensive, hard work, a huge time commitment and a liberal arts education is not for everyone, therefore it should not be a guaranteed right.
This lie has been being repeated now for going on thirty years and it needs to be stopped. In the process we eliminated many great technical schools who could have produced amazing tradespeople but instead we have sent these kids off to college to fail or to the world of dead end jobs where their talents were never recognized. We now are a nation of retiring tradespeople with very few following in their footsteps because technical college is not “college” and it isn’t “cool” to go there. Which of course brings us back around to the first paragraph. What is college and higher education for? Is it for four more years of living on someone else’s support so you can have a lifestyle that resembles a wealthy retiree while you maybe get a piece of paper that says you achieved something?
I am not opposed to college/higher education being a positive and fun experience. What I am opposed to is the notion that it should be like an endless vacation that you are on “because you are never going to have it this good again.” Post high school education should be about furthering your knowledge, learning time management and discovery skills for a lifetime of learning. It should develop you as an individual so you can be a great employee or employer. It should be about being exposed to people from different walks of life and learning to live and work with them in peace. It should be about discovering strengths in yourself you didn’t know existed and developing your own identity separate from your parents’. These lessons can be learned in the classroom, in the dorm/roommate experience, in intramural sports and club activities. They can be learned in the libraries and in the peer tutoring rooms. They can be learned in the coffee shops and the class travels and the cafeteria, and the part-time jobs you hate. By the way, you can have all these experiences at many trade schools, but no trade school or college should be so comfortable and fun and luxurious that you never want to leave. It should be a balance that leaves with you great memories but spurs you to wanting to do, and to be, and to produce.
I am a product of a junior college, a private Christian university and a public state university. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. I learned lessons from each. I was blessed to have most of my tuition paid by my parents (my dad matched my savings I put away in high school so I did contribute some), but I worked 20-30 hours a week through most of my college years and longer during the summers. I didn’t have a super nice car, I didn’t have an expensive wardrobe, I carried my lunch to work everyday and I rarely ate out. My trips were not exotic ones; when I went to school, international travel was not for the majority nor did I even consider it. I though it was something you did when you earned enough after college to do it.
While I would have liked to experience so many of the things younger ones do, I am thankful that I did not have to pay for those experiences for years after college. I also know that the travel and luxuries I have enjoyed post college are probably much more rewarding because my husband and I actually paid for them at the time we purchased them. I too am a big advocate for taking advantage of international educational opportunities, but why not have the student work for their travel money? Now there is a novel idea! When you owe for something you already have or have enjoyed, it leaves a bitter taste associated with that experience and that is what is happening to so many college graduates today. Many want the government (a.k.a. you and me, the taxpayers) to forgive their college loans. Sadly, so many of the loan balances are based on extravagant living and not just for actual tuition. Have you seen the apartment complexes the kids live in today? They resemble full service resorts including housekeeping services for as little as $600 per month per student! No wonder that the money borrowed for college loans surpass all home mortgages in this country!
I am not sure how we reign this problem back in, but here are a few starters that I can do in my own sphere of influence:
- Ask high school seniors what their plans are for post graduation rather than “What college are you going to?”
- Be aware of excellent vocational programs and colleges in your area and encourage students to consider them. Many are a third of the price, require less time and the graduates are making average salaries equivalent or above their university graduate peers.
- Don’t talk derogatory about tradespeople and the service industry. Many of these people are amazing entrepreneurs and are far wealthier than you will ever be. Check out the book, “The Millionaire Next Door.” by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, if you don’t believe me.
- Quit contributing to the image that college is four years of partying. Be real with kids about your experience. If you worked, tell them; if you racked up debt, tell them about the realities of that.
- Most employers, unless you are really specialized, don’t care so much about where you got your under graduate education (as long as they were accredited); they do care about your performance and your practical work experience.
Let me know what your experiences have been recently with the whole higher education financial crisis and attitudes about college/trade school. What suggestions do you have?