Flashback Friday: More Thoughts About College

Note: this post was written nearly seven years ago. My eldest now works part-time and has two small businesses. My son never did go to seminary because of his college debt. But he has a great job that he would not have gotten without a college degree.

I’ve written before about the struggle my eldest and I went through once she told me she had no interest in going to college. That was several years ago. In fact, it’s been six years since she finished homeschooling. She has worked full-time ever since, and while she has not yet found the kind of work that makes her happy and pays its way, she loves living on her own, which was one of her primary goals.

Meanwhile, in the five years since my son finished homeschooling, he has been working towards his college degree, and we are all happy for him because he graduates in a few weeks. This is not the end of his formal education, however; in August he will enroll in a Lutheran seminary, where he will begin three more years of classes (plus a year of vicarage).

So we’ve had a wide range of college viewpoints going on in our family, from adamantly opposed to college to thriving in the college atmosphere. The past six years have taught us a lot about the whole college issue. Boiling it down to several salient points:

College is not for everyone. Many young people, including my daughter, want to experience life outside of the classroom, not within it. Often, the work that interests them does not require a degree. Also, many are autodidacts like my daughter. She inhales books of all kinds because she wants to, not simply because they were assigned.

College is just what some people need. My son has thrived in the atmosphere of the small Lutheran college he attends. He has made contacts he will need as he goes about his life’s work. He has learned a lot, which was the whole point. And he cannot reach his goal of becoming a Lutheran pastor without a bachelor’s degree.

College is incredibly expensive. I say this as the mother of an intelligent and outgoing son who earned a lot of money in scholarships and grants and yet is graduating with a frightening amount of debt….and may have to rack up more before he’s finished with seminary. My daughter works with people who graduated owing thousands and who were unable to find work in their major. They earn the same money as she does (some earn less), but they have to pay back that debt in addition to all the usual monthly expenses.

College should not be the only option considered. In the years since I attended college, the way our society views college has gone from “nice if you can afford it” to “an absolute necessity.” This is patently untrue, but the result of this change in outlook has resulted in kids who have no business being there being pushed into college. That’s why so many colleges now have to offer remedial reading and remedial math.

College does not equal success. There are plenty of people in this world who have done very well for themselves without a college diploma, and many others who turned out to be failures despite having one.

Attending college is not an indicator of homeschooling success. Young people who have trouble understanding what they read or putting two numbers together are getting into colleges these days. Homeschooling parents should set their sights higher than merely bringing up future college students; raising young people with moral character, a concern for others and a wide range of abilities is a worthier goal, and if said young people decide to go to college, they’ll be a good influence on the other students they meet there.

Adapted from an April 2007 post

Another Dirty Secret about College

There are some facts about colleges that deans of higher education would prefer that you not know.

In addition to the fact that half of all college students drop out before graduation, there’s the reality that most of the high-growth jobs of the future do not require a college degree.

This flies in the face of the common wisdom of the past 50 years that said you must have a college degree in order to get a decent job. That’s true in some career fields (who wants to be the patient of a neurosurgeon who hasn’t gone through college and medical school?) but it’s certainly not true for all fields.

The U.S. government makes projections about the growth (or lack of growth) in different career areas. You can find those numbers at the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) website. Here’s the latest BLS projection of above average growth and above average wage occupations. It’s an interesting document. Note that the projected increases in job growth are for a ten-year period (2006-2016).

When reading it, keep in mind that a high percentage increase in a given career field doesn’t necessarily translate into a lot of jobs. Check the “Employment” column on the left side of the page for actual numbers (in the thousands).

For example, on the first page you’ll see that the rate of increase for “aircraft cargo handling supervisors” is a healthy 23.3%. But that only equals 1,000 new jobs over the next ten years. Not exactly a booming career field in a country of over 300 million people.

On the other hand, note that while the BLS projects there will only be 10.4% more truck drivers needed over the next ten years, that’s the equivalent of 193,000 new jobs.

Once you become familiar with the chart layout, note the “source of training” column on the right side of the page. Most of the jobs on the first few pages do not require a bachelor’s degree. As you go through the document, you’ll find more jobs that do require at least a four-year degree. There are quite a few.

However, only a few of them show the highest growth potential in both percentages and numbers. They include a variety of tech careers, social workers, jobs in education, and accountants. For those willing to earn more than just a bachelor’s degree, a career as a pharmacist, physician or surgeon would certainly be a growth area to consider.

Still, most of the above average growth jobs that require bachelor’s degrees don’t equal many jobs. For example, only 100 jobs per year nationwide are expected to open up for archivists, anthropologists and archaeologists, marine engineers and naval architects, and atmospheric and space scientists. So unless your child passionately desires to become one of those professionals, you might want to gently point him or her in another direction.

Since many of the degree-required careers have such low projected job numbers, today’s parents have to think seriously about whether a degree is even worth it, particularly if their children’s interests and abilities don’t necessarily fit with the jobs with the most openings and growth in the future.

Again, colleges and universities will not tell you that the degrees they offer do not necessarily translate into good jobs, especially in the working world of the 21st century. This is one area where parents and their teens really have to do the homework for themselves.