Ruminations on the future of colleges: where will your kids be in fifteen years?

Guest post by Rodrigues
Poor Quini. He needs the callej.

Will my kids going to college?

I asked myself this question after I dropped my son off at my college-run Pre-K and drove to my alma mater where I work a graduate internship for a Master’s program at yet another university. At this crossroads of colleges, I happened to tune into a debate on NPR titled Too Many Kids Go to College. Despite the fact that I’ve spent the better part of a decade and the better part of a mortgage on higher education, my thought was an eloquent, “Well, duh.”

I suggest listening to the podcast, or reading the transcription, but I am going to focus on what resonated with me, which is this:

I’ve heard my fellow students admit again and again that they are in college to receive a Bachelor’s because they cannot find a job without one. Currently, in my Master’s program, I hear another version: we are here because a Bachelor’s is no longer a door to employment. Throughout both degrees, I’ve been in countless group projects where the consensus is, “We completed enough work for a decent grade; why do more?” I have wasted several credits’ worth of hours listening to students ask for extra time, lowered assignment expectations, and bonus points.

Those sentiments boil down to one underlying thread: college is not necessarily about receiving an education, though this can still be achieved. Instead, college is about trading the least amount of work required to receive one of those job-granting acronyms: B.A., M.S. and so on.

This has been incredibly frustrating for me. I’m not afraid to say it: I am your worst nightmare classmate. I force my group-mates to push past the basic requirements for projects, I want deadlines to be deadlines and I want my professors to have high expectations.

I am not under the impression that I’m better or smarter than other students. I don’t think I’m book-smart and others are a different kind of smart. I don’t think that I was “made for college” and they were made for workforce training. I think somewhere between becoming a parent early in life, loving my area of study, a few wonderful teachers, and a family who values education, I grew up with a conviction that college is inherently valuable. I believe deeply that education is why I attend college and the degree represents that education.

When I have seen the value of college degrees devalued, I went to battle. Now, I am battle-weary as I near the end of my education and find a black hole of opportunities for teacher’s pets like me.

For decades, the economy in this country has been robust enough to allow randomization in the relationship between time spent in college, quality of education, and professional opportunities. Sufficient jobs rewarded students who barely scraped through their program. Student loans were seen as an investment on which a person could not possibly rank an overall loss. Now, as the job listings I read require experience more often than a degree, I see my high-school-then-workforce peers as the applicants whose resumes actually reflect their experience and employee value. As one panel member says in the podcast, “If the only thing you know about a person is that that person has a BA, you don’t know anything.”

I am thinking about all of this as I drive to my internship — the one I do for free because no one will hire me with eight years of schooling and little work experience — and keep coming back to the question: Will my kids go to college? What will college mean in fifteen years?

Of course, despite the last 10 or so paragraphs, my gut reaction is, Of course my kids will go to college! What I felt was the weakest argument by the panel defending college — that the nostalgia of football games and beer pong is why parents impart on their children a desire for the college experience — remains the impetus for my defensiveness of the hypothetical college lives of my children. For me it isn’t keg stands and sororities, but the nostalgia of poetry workshops and student-run literary magazines. The motivation is the same: I wonder what will take the place of those experiences if The Four-Year College continues to tank.

Do we fight for colleges? Do we let the adolescent trajectory evolve into something else? Tell me: are your kids going to college?

Comments on Ruminations on the future of colleges: where will your kids be in fifteen years?

  1. My question is whether poetry workshops and literary magazines (or late nights in the science lab, or psychology discussions at the bar) are worth the rising cost of college. Through a combination of luck, good planning, and working my butt off (but mostly luck) I got out of college with almost no debt. Most of my friends and peers aren’t that lucky–people my age are going into bankruptcy. Is that really worth it? And will it be better or worse in 18 years?

    My gut instinct is that it will be worse. That college will cost more, and that the job market will not be better enough to make it worth it.

    • And regarding your last question, what will take the place of those experiences… I went to college “late” at age 20, and the two years I spent living with friends before college are memories I certainly treasure as much as I treasure the many wonderful things I did and learned in college. Internships at local theaters, learning how to bake bread, late night philosophy discussions, crappy minimum wage jobs that taught me all about what I did not want to be doing with my life, travel in the US and in Europe… I know homeschooled teenagers who have started businesses, sewed wild costumes for Harry Potter fan conferences, followed bands around the country, worked as au pairs overseas… There is actually a whole world out there beyond college. 😉

  2. I don’t have kids yet, but I believe in college as another step in lifelong learning. I will give them a choice, as I know immediately after high school some need time to figure out what they want to study. In high school and the first parts of college, I would have identified with those who did only the required work to receive an A (or close enough) and nothing more. My love of my subject matter left me wanting more college once I had obtained a 4 year degree, and I was enjoying school just to learn. It has been exceedingly difficult to find a job in my field without further schooling. I suppose art majors should assume as much, and I could go on and on about the general underestimation of the merits of art appreciation and education… I better stop rambling but say that I did enjoy this post very much! Very thought provoking!

  3. I was fortunate enough (and extremely grateful to be so) to not have any loans for college or for my MS. However, the job market has not been conducive to me getting a sweet-ass job that will allow me to offer the same good fortune to my kids. I’ll chip in for my kids’ college education as much as I can, but if they want to go they’ll be needing loans and/or scholarships.

    I was raised always knowing I would go to college. That’s just what people did after high school in my family. But there’s nothing wrong with working a job that doesn’t require advanced degrees if it’s something you enjoy, and there’s nothing wrong with waiting til you’re older to decide if college is right for you. I’ve often imagined how different life might have been had the question been more open-ended for me.

    Bottom line for me: College is costly, and spending that much money on something you’re not sure is for you isn’t wise. As it turned out, I loved my college experience and it shaped me in ways that extended way beyond the classroom setting. I hope that my kids will one day feel the same way. But I won’t force it upon them, and I don’t want them to take it upon themselves unless they’re sure it’s what they want.

    • “College is costly, and spending that much money on something you’re not sure is for you isn’t wise.” YES YES YES

      I went to college for two year got my associates degree in liberal arts and quite, not because I didn’t have it in me. I could not justify spending that much money on something I was unsure of, after two years I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Fast forward a few years and I have a decent job with amazing benifits that I was able to land with just an associates degree, I think I was in the right place and the right time. I know alot of people who have mountains of student debt and still aren’t doing what they love/went to school for.
      If someday my future children whant to go on to higher education I am 100% behind them, I will be thier biggest cheerleader. If they don’t I’m ok with that too.

      • “I know alot of people who have mountains of student debt and still aren’t doing what they love/went to school for.” AGREE!

        Before and/or during college, work! Volunteer! Get an internship! Not to build up a resume, but to find out what you want to DO for the rest of your life. You may discover that the industry you thought you wanted to go into you actually don’t. You may find something else that you love that requires less or cheaper schooling.

        College? Absolutely – if it fits what you want to do! But exercise extreme caution if you’re going as an experiment to try to figure out what to do. That’s an EXPENSIVE experiment. Should I become a parent one day, that is what I would want to tell my kids.

        • Before starting college (or at least before continuing after the first year), I think students should have a plan for what they want to do afterward. What degree(s) do you need to get that job? (Talk to someone who has it; ask them what was helpful and what they would recommend.) What courses do you need to get that degree? Should you find an internship the summer after your sophomore year? Can you work part-time in the same industry while you attend classes? How much will you (probably) make the year after you’re hired? How much will your student loan payments be? Do those two numbers match up in a reasonable way?

          I’m sure that some students DO plan this stuff out — but I also know that many are pretty clueless, for a lot of reasons. This is stuff that young adults need to figure out. I wish I had when I was headed to college — my undergrad time could have been used more productively (NOT because I was out partying, because I wasn’t). I know a lot more now that I’m working through my Master’s.

          • I did substantial research before choosing my graduate degree, but things are changing rapidly in my area of study, library and info science. I am game for the technological and job-definition changes, but it’s harder to deal with the enormous cuts to libraries and public information organizations. Just a few years ago, there was much encouragement about how many information professionals were on the brink of retiring and the need for more tech savvy professionals. Now, many institutions are leaving such positions empty once an employee retires, and many employees are working later into their lives.

            Point being: Research is essential but we always need to accept the existence of unknown unknowns when it comes to education and career decisions.

          • This is a wonderful suggestion, but I think it is also extremely idealistic. When I was 17, and a HS graduate, accepted at college, I WAS SO SURE I wanted to become a magazine editor, or a literary agent, living a high powered career in New York. I was even still reasonably sure of this two years later when I transferred to community college at home.

            However, here I am, 5 years after graduating wanting NONE of those things, and the thought of them actually makes me very unhappy. I don’t know exactly what my point is, but at 17/18 it’s VERY hard to plan your life in a practical way, especially when you have been living with parents your WHOLE life.

        • Totally this! I took 2 yrs off after high school working no-experience-required jobs until I was pressuredvolunteered for kid’s church at my church. LOVED IT!! Did an education degree and am now a teacher.

          A bunch of my fellow upper-middle class friends meanwhile, racked up debt doing science-arts, code for “don’t know what I’m doing here”.

          Be productive; figure out what you want to do; figure out the best pathway to that goal!

    • “I’ve often imagined how different life might have been had the question been more open-ended for me”…..THIS!!!! a bazillion times this.

      i just had this discussion with my father the other day. like Kissa said, college was just the next step in life after high school. especially if you live in predominantly white, predominantly upper middle class, suburban america. there is no other other option, certainly never any options that were ever discussed. i soooooo wish someone had said to me “there are other paths besides a 4 year university!!” my parent’s would be $200,000 richer.

      what’s a real shame is that learning a trade (electrician, carpenter, massage therapist <–me!, etc) is looked down upon. i spent 5 years in college earning a B.A. that I will likely never end up using. learning a skill that i immediately into practice has been so much more rewarding that all 5 years i spent in college. as an intellectual, college was great….translating that to real world getting a job, etc….not so great…in part because a B.A. doesn't mean shit anymore unless you have experience to go along with it.

      if i ever have kids, i will 100% encourage them to learn a useful skill they can earn a living from first, and if they still want to pursue higher education after that, i will totally support that. at least then they will be able to earn a decent living, and hopefully be more mature than their 18yr old peers who are attending college for the jello wrestling and beer pong.

      • Those damn letters seem to mean so much to some people! BS, BA, MS, MA…. I have an MS, but I’m not working at a job that really utilizes it (and that’s fine by me – I love my job.) Still, when it comes up in conversation that I hold an MS in Library Science people automatically starting talking librarian at me and I want to say, “Whoa, whoa… I am not my degree! And that’s OK!!”

        • >>Those damn letters seem to mean so much to some people!>>

          I completely agree! My partner’s parents were so focused on her getting a bachelor’s, and she ended up doing it… but looking back, she probably would have been better off getting straight into the workforce after her Associate in Networking and building up experience instead of studying things that she hasn’t used since to get her Bachelor of Technology…

  4. NOTHING is for EVERYBODY. If our kids want to go to college, great. If not, great. It’s simply not for everyone (like me; I hated my 3 years I went. but lo, I have a great job alongside a lot of BA-owners) but if an individual has a drive to go, to learn, and to do well for themselves, then (like you said) well, duh.

  5. Personally, I don’t think it is all college programs that are tanking, but I do think a lot of them are. The programs that are tanking, that leave students without the necessary skills and experience for work are the programs that are far more generalized. Programs such as Bachelor of Arts, or Bachelor of Finance (for example, though I’m sure this is not true everywhere).

    The programs that are sending students out to jobs are the programs that are far more specific to a particular job field, such as Architecture, Interior Design, Engineering, Medicine etc. These programs (generally) have small admission, strict deadlines, tough hours, and dedicated students. Because the reality for these students is that if they don’t do the work, if they party and barter for deadlines and grades, they won’t make it. But, as you mention, these aren’t really 4 year programs, professional liability requires a masters, work hours and exams in order to make it. And even with all that, you won’t get a job if you aren’t willing to work for it.

    Education is great, but it can’t guarantee you a job in any circumstance. Some programs will prepare you better than others, but they won’t make you work for that job. Nor will it mean that there are even jobs available for you to work at. I think in the future we will be seeing a lot more entrepreneurship, and self-employment in order to make those jobs even happen (apparently those stats are already on the rise).

    I honestly will leave the education choices up to my daughter, but I will try and make sure that she is ready for whatever choice she makes. Whether it be University, trade school, or nothing at all. I believe (and hope), that I can teach my daughter that a good work ethic is paramount and that you won’t always get the world handed to you just because you ask for it or got a piece of paper that says you are qualified for it.

    • I actually work in higher education and I will note that many employers want graduates from an Arts background (and I was told this by a Business professor) because they are developing different skills and the emphasis on critical thinking is highly appealing while not all specialized areas focus on that sort of education. I’m one of those Arts people (even worse, it’s Humanities!) and I will say right now that my education prepared me to be part of the work force in a lot of ways. But then again, I have always done well and learned because I love to learn. I am well aware that many people can receive a degree without learning much or earning it.

      • I think your last point was more where I was going with that, you just stated it better. I know too many students who used arts or some other equivalent in order to party, just get a degree and get out.

        I come too from a slightly different background as well, being a Canadian student from a university that was formerly a polytechnical school. Thus the arts programs tended to be very weak, while the more “technical” programs tended to be very strong.

        Being in architecture I see the advantage of the arts programs, and have a strong background in them with a prior two years of university. But I think often we need to combine the arts with other vocations in order to create a viable “product” for a so-called employer. If you are creating your own direction such as entrepreneurship, then I would suggest that you don’t need anything else, but if that is the case, then partying your way through a degree won’t help at all.

      • art major. hired almost right out of college by a dream location for me (i admit, i was VERY VERY VERY LUCKY). i also manage my own business now, which is less lucritive than incredibly fulfilling. i don’t make much, but i make enough. Luckily I share expenses with my partner, and between the two of us we do just fine.

        I had a FANTASTIC advisor in college, and when i was wavering between art and ‘the more practical business’ she almost slapped me. “YOU KNOW HOW MANY BUSINESS MAJORS THERE ARE? YOU WILL BRING SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO THE TABLE.”
        took her advice, never looked back.

        • Thats an awesome way to think of an art major! I wish I had that perfect job, but I guess the reason I don’t have it yet is that I’m still trying to figure out what it is. I’m back and forth about going to grad school, working too many hours at my current job to have very much time left to build my portfolio. Yet my artistic background still helps me look at my work differently than my peers, and I’m always thankful for getting a degree in what I love.

  6. The logic of this argument seems errant. If a degree is the first stop on the road to employment, then not having a degree is the death knell, not an option. If a college degree today is worth about the same as a high school diploma was 20 years ago, it goes without saying that a college degree is the minimum regardless of it’s measure of a person. It may not be a true reflection of a person’s education, but it’s as necessary as legal residency/citizenship to get in the door.

    I didn’t finish college. I had more than enough credits, but lacked one requirement (a language), so I never “earned” the degree. I always planned to go back to finish, but being a single mom (a real single mom: no additional support of any kind), I just couldn’t make it happen financially, time-wise, or health-wise (I have Lupus and Scleroderma).

    [SIDEBAR: Here’s a little known fact for anyone planning to go back eventually. Do it soon because, after ten years out of school, credits expire! Were I to go back now, despite my experience and know-how, I would have to start all over again.]

    Where once one could get “in” by presenting themselves and demonstrating their worth, now that opportunity is lost to the age of the computer application process. When my son was born, in 1988, I was only six months out of school. When I applied to McGraw Hill, I had some experience under my belt from working in the summers as a reporter for a local paper and a tech writer for a contractor, so I managed to talk my way into an editing job by showcasing my past work in a portfolio. I stayed with McGraw Hill for ten years and then talked my way into a research project manager job with National Geographic where I remain today. I say “remain” because I’d love nothing more than to move on, to find something new/challenging/fulfilling but my lack of a piece of paper has me stuck now.

    Between 1999 and today, the world has changed dramatically in terms of how corporations and government agencies weed employment applications. Did you know one can not even APPLY for a government position without a degree? The application program doesn’t allow one hit “send” without one. Today, because a BA is a minimum, I can’t even get an interview as I don’t meet “minimum qualifications”. It doesn’t matter than I have twenty-five years of editing and research experience or a stellar career path, I am automatically weeded out of an interview because I still do not hold a degree. Which means, sadly, there are 22-year-olds who’ve never held a job in their lives deemed more valuable than someone with 25 years of experience. It’s not right, but there you are. Just something to think about.

    • Kirsten, I can understand how frustrating that would be. I haven’t encountered the same set of instructions and limitations but individual markets can be very different.

    • My alma mater, Prescott College, has a low-residency “adult degree” program that counts life experience for credits. I know there are other colleges that do that too. Might be worth looking into if you really want the letters.

      • that is AWESOME. there are sooooo many people out there with so much worthwile and amazing life experience that is, in many ways, more valuable than classroom learning.

      • Oh, yes, I’ve research the hell out o f my options over the last eight years or so. The life experience credits are a wonderful incentive, but not nearly the value you would think. Usually their worth only a class or two, at most a year of education. Testing out of cores (101s) can help too. Utilizing all the options, I’m still looking at two-and-a-half years of full time study. That’s a lot of dough and a lot of time that my health wouldn’t be able to handle whilst working full time too. I’ve checked out the scholarship route too and am making some forays in that directions. It may all work out. I don’t mind living as a student again and now that my son is grown, I may do just that if I can find a program that is affordable and doesn’t require me to give up my healthcare.

  7. This reminds me of this NPR story about the liberal arts: I think it might have been a series?

    There’s this idea that college = job training and if you can’t get a job then it wasn’t worth it. Which is true for a lot of people. But if you look at the history of American higher ed a lot of time the goal had a lot more to do with making the children of wealthy families educated and cultured than with employment. You went to school, read philosophers and learned some mathematics, and then went home to run the family business. So you have a lot of institutions founded a century or more ago with goals that differ dramatically from those of many students.

    I personally think that college (especially liberal arts education) has a lot of intrinsic value. Education can dramatically change how you look at the world in ways that affect you way past your first job. I enjoy having read lots of philosophy and literature and studied theorists who only come up at pretentious parties. So for me (and probably for my kids, if it suits them) I think it was definitely worth it. But I don’t think that it’s for everyone. Some people would be way happier with specific training for a job that interests them, which might look very different from four years of college. We shouldn’t be trying to fit everyone into that mold.

    There’s also the matter of tuition. I think something has to change, since if it keeps growing at the current rate (at least twice as fast as inflation) nobody will be able to afford it in 20 years. Hopefully that means more options, more flexibility, and more employer acceptance of different educational backgrounds. But we’ll see.

    • This is a fantastic comment and sums up so much of why I’ve knowingly, though hesitantly, waded into the muddy waters of a debt-for-degree college experience. I wonder what alternative establishments might be set up so that these intrinsically valuable aspects might be passed on outside of the big-money institution system.

      In my town we have an organization called Albuquerque Old School, where one can attend sustainable and traditional living classes for a nominal fee. The instructors are high quality and given a decent compensation for their time, but not certification exists. It would be fantastic if such an organization could be formed for a liberal arts education for which you may not receive a degree yet do receive that lifelong value.

      • That looks so cool!

        I’m considering creating my own “internship” helping out some friends who run a farm. There’s a certain level of competence I would like to have working with my hands, growing and making food, etc., and I think I could benefit from a change of scenery in which to learn that stuff. (Hopefully they’d benefit from two more hands, a strong back, and someone with the ability to follow instructions!)

  8. Experience is vital, yes, but the thing I think you’re ignoring is that you still can’t get your foot in the door most places without a basic degree. Seriously, take a look at most job listings. They require a minimum of a BA or BS to even apply on top of a couple years experience. Sure, there are a few fields where that doesn’t matter, but there are a whole lot more where it does.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the way the higher education system works (and the costs thereof) is fundamentally screwed up in the US, but unless something changes within the next couple of decades, a college degree is still generally going to be necessary for many types of jobs.

    • That’s why I went back to school, really. I was 22, and really frustrated by how few job options I had. Not even, oh hey, I had a hard time finding a career path. I had people tell me they wouldn’t even look at my application because I didn’t have a BA for minimum wage jobs answering phones. Seriously, I don’t need a BA to answer your phone, I just need to speak english, be polite, and be smart enough to learn about your area of business to answer questions. That was a big turning point.

      I so see both sides of the coin though, as my partner is adamant that he doesn’t want to go back to school and get massively in-debt for something that he doesn’t feel is worthwhile right now, and I totally support him.

  9. This has been on my mind quite a bit. My experience was such that my degrees did in fact help get me that first job. I grew up believing that college was just what you did after high school. When I still hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do after college, there was grad school.

    I am trying very hard not to get ahead of myself and put expectations on my son. Though I did start a college fund for him. Not a general savings account, but an actual college fund. Lately I’ve been thinking about leaving it and starting a savings account instead. Because, what if he doesn’t want to go to college? Or what if he doesn’t need to? Or…or…

    There is definitely value in the traditional college education. Though it is not the path for everyone. I am trying to let my child be his own person, make his own choices. I don’t know if he will go to college or not. Part of me hopes he does though.

    • This was also a concern of mine when starting a college fund (to which we contribute rather minimally, I fear, but I know every little bit helps). The plan we chose will allow us to get the money back if our son does not go to college — we just have to pay taxes on the earnings. This seems fair to me. If he dies, it can be transferred in full to a sibling or other designated person. And, it is fairly flexible what type of educational institution he can choose — a 4 year college, a 2 year college, chef’s school, etc.

      So, who knows if he is college bound or not, but we do want to build up something for him, and we can get it, more or less, back if he does not go.

      • You know.. if you (or anyone who has done something similar) ever want to write about it, I’d love to know more about these how these funds work and how you make decisions about which one to choose. I realize that people can just go ask their bank, but I for one am at a loss when it comes to college funds — I’d love to start one for our son, but I’m not even sure where to begin.

  10. I graduated with a B.S. almost 10 years ago. Thanks to good grades, scholarships, working part time all 4 years, and a low-income single mother, I was able to attend a private school and come out with $12,000 debt.

    Ten years later, my brother attends a public university where tuition is raised nearly every semester. He’ll probably end up with closer to $50,000 in debt for his bachelor’s degree. I can’t help but wonder what will happen in 15-20 years if tuition keeps increasing at the rate it is now. College will become out of the question for a majority of the population. The job market seems to adjust for these things, but it will certainly be interesting to see how it’s dealt with. For my soon to be born child, s/he will be lucky to come from a family with better means that I came from, but that also means way less financial aid for him/her. It just doesn’t seem right to start your adult life with sooo much debt- the increased pressure to find a well-paying job, no matter how much you enjoy it.

    I think about returning to school myself, for a Masters or PhD, but with the field and careers I’m interested in, I have a hard time justifying the $50,000 to $100,000+ of debt I would amass. How long would it take to pay that off with interest? And would my income increase enough to make it worthwhile? Of course there’s the intrinsic value of enjoyment and satisfaction in one’s career, but I have a hard time giving that a $100,000 value, especially when I know it would affect not just me, but also my husband and our child.

    Lots to think about!

  11. Until recently, I just assumed that any children I raised would be pointed toward college by default. This was the expectation in my family, where both my parents have advanced degrees, and in my school system, where 95%+ of graduating seniors went on to a two-year or four-year college.

    But they will probably have to pay for it on their own, and unless major changes happen to the university system in the next 20 years (possible! even probable!), their paths probably won’t be traditional.

    I would want my children to succeed, of course, and part of that is feeling economically secure, so I worry about their chances in the job market if they choose not to go to college. (I’ve been helping my partner with a job search in recent months, and as many have noted, most listings have a BA or BS as a minimum requirement, even for entry-level work.) I *do* think that there are other ways to nurture lifelong learning without formal education, and I would want to raise children who value learning new things, who can write well, who can think critically (things that college is supposed to teach but often does — I recommend reading Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Richard Arum). Those are higher goals than simply a degree — especially if it brings insurmountable debt with it.

  12. For the record, when I say “will your kids go to college,” I do not mean to imply that any of us would force our children to go to college. I simply wonder if that is what you see in your children’s futures, what you are or are not rooting for, or what the future of college means to you.

  13. A big part of me (the part that had me doing graduate work with no break EVER between high school, BA, MA and the majority of my PhD) is horrified at the thought of my future kids not going to university. But a growing voice inside me is aware that there are a lot of options to receive training that do not include a university degree. The idea of my kid being ridiculously in debt just for a piece of paper is scary. I was lucky to escape with minimal debt. But I also recognized that I did not want to finish my doctorate.

    My husband is part of my shift in perception. He has returned to school to take art classes but to be quite honest, he may or may not finish. He is aware of what he really requires in the industry he wants and it matters more that he is prepared and learning.

    I learned the hard way that even if you think you’re doing what you want, you may be sent on a different trajectory. So even if my kids don’t do college, they might end up there at some point. Or their degree may not be in the same field as their final job. I’m a community manager and my profession of choice is educational technology. Definitely not related to my degrees, at least in terms of content. But I think a university education has the ability to teach a lot of skills that are important so it’s hard for me to say my degrees were wasted. They weren’t. I think a lot of the change in expectations has been from society and from parents. We as parents (or potential parents) need to work to prepare our kids and I think we can do a lot to help them choose the right paths and get the most out of them.

  14. I honestly think it depends on your field and other factors.

    I took professional writing and communications in school, and came out with a diploma. I haven’t been able to get ANY WORK within my field, and am stuck doing a job I find detestable.

    However, my husband is a college dropout (1 year), and is extremely successful! He’s not even doing the thing he went to college for! He moved up in the retail chain of command, and then took some project management courses. Next thing I know he’s getting jobs thrown at him left and right, not to mention excellent pay.

    I think there’s more than just a BA these days. Or maybe it’s different in Canada? Maybe we value experience more than education? I know I’ve gotten turned down for jobs in my field based on my lack of experience, and not education. However, my husband’s resume doesn’t even mention his college education, just his certifications. He also interviews amazingly and I do not.

    So i think there are other factors to consider. Obviously i think education beyond high school is important, but I don’t think a BA is the end all be all. In fact, I would be more pleased with my kids going into a technical college than university (get trained specifically for a specific career like social worker, massuse, electrician, forensic technician, accounting, etc), because those have better chances of obtaining a job immediately than a BA in Arts or a BA in Engineering.

    But like I said, I think it depends on your field.

    • Can you tell me more about what kind of project management courses your husband took? My partner is trying to figure out where he is going, and feeling rather lost right now, but certain he doesn’t want to go into huge debt for a bachelor’s right now (he also has some college). I’d be interested in the types of other training that is out there. Thanks!

  15. The problem is that college is regarded as the ticket in the door, rather than education for education’s sake. In the future there’s gonna be a need for skills that are a LOT more transferable,you don’t just have one career any more. Get your kids (girls and boys!) interested in trades.

    • More than that, it is specifically marketed as a ticket in the door. Can you imagine if colleges marketed themselves as, “You may spend $50,000 and not find a job, but you will have a great education!”

      • Yes. I feel like they were selling that so hard when I was applying for uni in November of 2008. Now that I’m going into my last year of school, I feel like it’s through my own initiative that I’ve aquired skills rather than through what I’ve been taught.

  16. I will forever be shocked at the mention of student loans and debts and how much college costs. Where I live it is free even for non citizens and I never had to pay anything at my own university (in another country), they gave me free accomodation, free lunch, free internet, plus scholarship and money to go abroad.

    • Was it difficult to get a job after you graduated? Do people get good jobs without degrees? I’m interested in how the job market affects a nation’s view of higher education.

      • I am doing a PhD so still studying. In Italy the economic situation at the moment is incredibly bad, so it doesn’t matter if you graduated at the best University and got 2 Phd and 2 Masters, you’ll still be unemployed unless your relatives can help you. But the same is true for people who didn’t go to college. The general rule is that if you are young you are screwed, the economy is just insanely bad. In Finland it is very different, the attitude is more relaxed in the sense that going to college or not is seen as a personal choice and you are expected to find a job according to what you studied/your qualifications. So I’d say that it is very different in Northen Europe, my Nordic friends seem to be very relaxed about their future and they seem to think finding a job won’t be too hard, while my Southern European friends have lost all hope and accept to work as a waitress without any rights, very little money and zero financial indipendence or just stop looking altogether. So I think there are similiarities between Italy and U.S in that regard. However, at least education is usually much cheaper.

        • Yes, there’s a big difference between North and South Europe, with the former doing economically ok and the latter doing very badly. In Spain, 50% of the youth in unemployed.
          I just graduated from my MSc degree and it seems I will not have trouble finding a job I like/love. I come out of a (double) degree with minimal debt, thanks to the government grants for higher education, which are linked to the parents’ income. Here, everyone gets a basic grant + more if you parents do not make much. This system is changing, however, due to the need to cut budgets. It means my youngest brother will probably have more debt when he finishes.
          I agree with other posters that education is mainly a way for developing yourself, not a ‘ticket to a job’. But it doesn’t hurt to think about what kind of degree will be useful. Here, sciences/technical degrees will give you a headstart compared to a degree in Celtic languages/Chines/Art history. That’s the way the economy works. I think I would explain this to my kids, helping them to make a informed choice (i.e. ‘if you want to be rich, think twice, maybe choose hydro-technology or something, but if your heart is in Latin poetry, go for it.).

      • I want to reply for my experience in Australia. University costs money, but citizens have the option of the Higher Education Loan Programme, which is an interest free government loan paid off when you have a job earning over $39 grand and comes out with tax. So… it’s actually pretty awesome.

        So anyway, University degrees are still valued. There are a bunch of entry level jobs for various professions catering to most degrees. Often a Bachelor is all that’s necessary.

        I only have a Bachelor of Education. I did relief teaching for 6 months to get some “real world” teaching experience and am now in a full time job. I am enrolled in a graduate program through my school, the leadership staff appreciate that I’m a new grad and I’m given appropriate support.

        Speaking to my engineer, doctor, lawyer, vet friends, they’ve all had a little bit of trouble finding a job due to the competitive job market, but they’ve all landed one in time, some through graduate programs offered by government departments/private firms, and some just through having the right credentials.

        I would see a system in which there’s free tertiary tuition offered as on par with what we have offered to citizens. 🙂 /2c

        • This just makes so much sense to me! If education is seen as an investment in the future of a nation, why would it be important to make as much money off of it as possible? Why not grant people interest-free loans that they start paying off when they can afford it? It’s just too… logical for the U.S.

          How difficult is it to get citizenship in Australia? 🙂

  17. College was one of the worst financial decisions I made. Classes didn’t work for me and I got my life experience by hanging on campus with my friends in college. Meanwhile, my husband who wants to get back to school so he can go off and be a programmer, can’t get in because of some academic mistakes he made after his sophomore year.

    The whole system is fucked. That is the only word I have for college.

    All that said: my son has a trust fund. (How fucked up is that sentence?) His grandfather is putting his whole estate into said fun to give the child up to a certain amount for college, to be divied out over four years. If he doesn’t use it all (or at all) what’s left goes to charity. While it pigeon-holes my son (or future children; there’s a future children setup, I don’t even fucking know) it does give him the means to attend college without too many financial issues.

  18. I have one semester left in college, and I’ve managed to pay for all of it except for $2000 my parents paid my second semester of college. How? Scholarships and the fact that I went into a field (engineering) where internships are very common and are paid quite well (~$18/hr, 40 hour weeks). I also took out ~$6000 in federal loans. I also work 15 to 20 hours a week while in school. It also helped that I came in to college as a sophomore due to AP credits.

    I’m really grateful that I managed to do this, but realize that this just may not be something that my future children could do. Maybe they really hate engineering and therefore don’t get the well paying internships. Maybe they’re not as academically oriented as I was and won’t get those scholarships. Maybe they can’t juggle a job while going to school full time (heck, I barely can).

    I’ve been blessed and I hope that once I graduate I can get a job and immediately start saving (note that my parents did have the ability to help me with college – but their deal was that you did as much as you could by yourself, and they would cover if you had to start taking out third party loans) so the option is there. While I certainly wouldn’t force them to go to college, I have a feeling that would be the general default as I do plan on someday getting a PhD, I think I will insist on some sort of advanced training or schooling. If they don’t have that, I don’t see how anyone could get a job.

  19. I work in building maintenance, and I see the building trades wasting away due to a lack of young people coming in. We need smart plumbers, electricians, HVAC techs, etc. I went to college for two years and HATED every minute of it… and am still very bitter about that experience 10 years later. What is really needed is for HR people to see that having the degree doesn’t mean a thing, but experience and ability to learn on the job are important.

    I guess what I am trying to say, is that my hope for the future of colleges is that people will start to think rationally again about what our kids really need to succeed, not just about getting a piece of paper.

    • It’s odd you’d mention that regarding trades. My father is a recently retired electrician and one of the reasons he chose to retire early was because there simply wasn’t enough work for him at this point in time. He told me he was lucky if he’d get the call for one or two jobs a year, and this is someone who has 30+ years of electrical experience and was willing to travel to other states for work. So I’m not so sure tradesmen are completely unaffected.

  20. “This has been incredibly frustrating for me. I’m not afraid to say it: I am your worst nightmare classmate. I force my group-mates to push past the basic requirements for projects, I want deadlines to be deadlines and I want my professors to have high expectations.”

    I COMPLETELY AGREE. I was/am that over-participatory, classmate pushing, “b’s get degrees” hating, write 5 pages over the requirement, work my ass off achiever. I am not on the planet earth to do my minimum and get by. I am here to do my maximum, and to do it WELL.

  21. Wow, what perfect timing! I am an 8th grade teacher (and a mother of a 14 month old) and we just wrapped up a career project. I work for a charter school whose goal is that ALL of our students go to college. I look at some of my students and see clearly that their desires and their strengths lie elsewhere. We, as a society, NEED plumbers, electricians, welders, auto mechanics, and a myriad of other hands-on professions. Some of my students would excel in those professions. I would hate for them to think that if they don’t go to a four-year college that they are somehow a “failure”. I want each of my students to find a profession that they enjoy, that will be stable, and that will allow them to support themselves and their family. If that requires a degree, I will help them get there. If that requires a certificate from Trade Tech, AWESOME. They should be proud of following their strengths to a place of stability and joy. If my daughter chose to follow such a path, I would be proud of her, too.

  22. I was super late going to college. I was 25, I worked full time and went to school full time, thanks to an adult education program. I didn’t experience any of the “wild” college stuff and my classes were filled with SERIOUS students.

    $20,000 and a B.A. later I am no farther in my career than I was before I graduated, in fact I’m the exact same spot from before I started school.

    I am a proponent of learning something, be that a trade or university. I will encourage my kids to pursue their passion’s no matter which road it may be.

  23. I definitely think there should be better options for people who don’t want to go to college, but there really aren’t a whole lot (at least in the US). I’m the only of my siblings to go to college, and while I totally respect my brothers for having the maturity to know that it wasn’t for them, it’s incredibly frustrating watching navigate the world without degrees. They are both bright and hardworking, but there aren’t a lot of fulfilling channels available to them. I don’t want them to suffer for having made this wise decision, but they do.

    I did go to school, and I am currently working to save money to go back for a master’s/PhD. With a degree in history, I can tell you it has been hard to find a good job (although I think that where I live, it’s hard to find a decent job no matter what you studied in school). Still, even if I never used my degree ever again, I will never regret having taken a few years to study something that I truly love and that pushed me to new ways of thinking on a daily basis. I definitely had (and still have) a life plan that involves my degree, and I think it’s extremely important for students to be practical in their thinking about college, but school is so much more than just a step toward a job.

  24. This reminds me of what Frank Zappa said: “If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.”
    I think college is great for some people. However, most of the people I know that went have retail jobs now, or work a job that has nothing to do with what they studied. I didn’t go to college for a few reasons. Mainly, I couldn’t afford it. But I also didn’t really need to. I knew I wanted to be a photographer and I started at a studio right after high school, took a community college class, and bought myself a bunch of books. I’ve gotten so much experience and I’m in a much better financial situation than my friends with degrees.
    I just think, college is great, but it’s not for everyone. And it’s hella expensive, so if you’re just going to work at the Gap afterwards, it’s not really worth it.

  25. After having my daughter at the age of 18 i am just now getting ready to attend college 5 years later. I actually really appreciate the time that I got to really think about what I want to do. For my daughter, her future situation is a little different, she is blind and her dad and I have been told numerous times that we need to do everything we can to encourage her to go to college, as its the only way she’ll be recognized as an able individual in a job market.

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