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. This is an interesting question here in the UK. I went to university because, well, that’s what people like me did, of course I was going to do it.

    But free tution ended just after I left university and now students are looking at being tens of thousands of pounds in debt after most courses. There’s also a school of thought saying fewer people should be at university, and that the value of degrees has been debased.

    I’d say that I’m still expecting them to go to university, but I don’t know how things might change by then and I’d be quite satisfied with them not going as long as they had a good alternate plan. Ie, not because ‘I can’t be bothered’, but if, say they’d had an offer of a permanent job that they’d like somewhere they’d been doing a weekend/holiday job, and would rather do that than accrue mountains of debt with no guarantee of a better outcome at the end, then sure.

  2. To me it depends on why my child wants to go to college. I went to college because I had a career in mind, and to get into my field I knew I needed a bachelor’s degree. So many of my peers went to college just because that’s what you do after high school, with no real thought as to what degree they were going to get or where it would lead them. If I hadn’t known what I “wanted to be when I grew up”, I would have taken a year or two off of school after high school to work, save money, get my own apartment, etc. I wouldn’t have spent the money on college without an end goal. Most jobs require a degree, and if you want that job, then you need that degree. But if you don’t know what you want to do with your life, then don’t rack up the college debt just because.

    Even with my degree and my internships, etc, it still took me three full years after I graduated to get a “real” job. That’s the nature of the economy. And college does not guarentee a job. It’s just a line on your resume.

    My husband has a BA in Religion, because he wanted to be a minister. When he decided not to pursure that career, his BA became, essentially, useless. He works at a distributing center for a sporting goods company, making $9/hour. He’s intelligent, a hard worker, and has a bachelor’s degree from a liberal arts college. But he got this particular job because of his warehouse experience that he accrued in the Army Reserves. He’s also made good money being a licenced massage therapist, for which he went to school for seven months.

    I want to guide our kids into whatever education will lead to a real job. If they don’t know which direction they would like to pursue by the end of high school, then I will not be pushing them into a four-year degree. If they have a passion in life, whatever will prepare them for that passion is what I will support and champion, whether they come out the other end with a bachelor’s degree or not.

  3. I think of it as the reverse dowry effect and it tends to make me pretty uneasy. I’ll be sending my child out into the world, not with a small nest egg to start them saving for a car or first down payment, or even a little fund of emergency money, but instead with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Which they have to struggle with while also 1) working an entry-level, low-paying job, 2) saving for other financial goals, and 3) deciding whether and when to marry/procreate. There’s just so much of life that is overshadowed by that damn debt.

  4. add me to the ‘shocked’ crowd as to how insanely expensive education is in the US. I’m a firm believer that *everyone* should be able to study past high school if they want. Entry into medical school for example is open to *everyone* if they have the grades, not based on the size of their wallets!! Don`t you want your doctor to have wanted to be a doctor and have worked hard for it, not just picked it because he/she could afford it and it pays well…

    My engineering education cost less than 1000$ a semester. Add perhaps 500$ for books and whatnot.

    You should all move to Quebec Canada! I’m a strong believer in socialized education and healthcare – those are both basic human rights that should be available equally to everyone *dons her patriotic hat*

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