In America, the topic of college education is a hot one. On the one hand, we are crippling our young adults with toxic debt. Bernie Sanders, and many others, are on the forefront of addressing this problem, and this is good. Very good. Young adults who want to pursue a life that focuses on the types of skills taught in academia should be able to do this – without having to promise their first born, or the economic equivalent of their first home, in the process.
In fact, we should do even more. Rather than simply paying for our fellow citizens to pursue a college education, we need to invest in our young people becoming happy & successful adults. Realistically, career choice #1 might not pan out. (Did you know what you wanted to do, when you were 18?)
In Denmark, college students pay nothing (tuition, modest transportation costs, and books/supplies are all covered), they receive a generous monthly stipend ($1,500 per month), AND they are offered this sweet deal for seven (7) years. This is enough time to receive either two (2) Bachelor Degrees or one Masters Degree. Many Danish citizens end up not liking career #1 and go back to college for an entirely different degree that better fits their “grown up” adult selves.
All of that said, there is one incredible truth that is being widely ignored, even by Bernie Sanders.
College isn’t for everyone. In fact, for some people, it is completely wrong. Yes, you heard me. For some people, college is the absolute worst choice. These people come from every economic class, every racial demographic, every region of the country, and every family background. They can graduate top of their high school class or be one of you many, local high school drop-outs. They are here, among us…and they authentically need something entirely different than college. How do I know this?
(1) Nothing is good for everyone.
(2) Times change.
The answer is simple & obvious, but getting men and women aged 45-65 (average age of parents when kids graduate from college) to believe it? Well, that’s another story. In their day, and their parent’s day (1950’s-1990’s), college served a very different function in a very different world. We’re living in 2018, and out-dated advice is becoming a real problem.
Welcome to my “College Presumption Series.” This is only one part of a larger project, designed to empower young adults by informing them (and their loving parents) of the many, legitimate options that exist. In other words…
Ways to Live Well in the World That Have Nothing to do with College.
But first, let’s take a look at how “bias” can interfere with our ability to logically evaluate our options.
“In the box” thinking tends to suffer from two specific logic flaws. Exaggerated claims as to the benefits combined with a blind spot when it comes to the problems. There are legitimate psychological and sociological reasons for this, but without getting into the why…let’s talk about the outcome.
Let’s start with a fairly basic example that precedes the college conversation by several years.
All homeschooling parents can expect to be told that “homeschooling” will screw their kid up socially (supply list of how weird the kid will be here: __________).
Ironically, the person who says this would probably (in another conversation) be able to list out all of the social problems that exist within and/or are created by the school system (bullying, early sexual behavior, self-esteem issues, anxiety, depression, oppression of uniqueness and individual diversity, sleep deprivation)…but, when talking to the homeschooling parent, they’ll conveniently forget all of this.
Here is another fairly basic example of “biased” thinking.
People often say, “if you homeschool, then your kid may not get her high school diploma,” all while ignoring the fact that OVER 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States every year. Yup! That’s a student every 26 seconds – or 7,000 a day. Another number: 25% of freshmen don’t graduate on time.
Such data points are often ignored, by the person who is encouraging someone else to put their kid into school, because attending government regulated schools (public or private) is the safe, accepted, society-approved, normal way to do things. Surely, with so many people doing it, it must be the better way?
And so on.
These types of logic gaps or biased thinking go beyond the realm of K-12 schooling. MILLIONS of people hold the same “faith-based” opinions about college. Whether it worked for you personally, or whether everyone you know and trust went to college and credits their degree for all that is good in their life…college simply is not the best option for everyone. Even if it was, our society couldn’t survive if every person got a “college degree” based job! All around us, our lives are made wonderful, clean, safe and better by people who are clearly working in non-college degree jobs, and many of these jobs require a great deal of knowledge, skill and experience.
To make this a bit more personal, let’s say it this way. When you tell young people to go to college, because it will make their lives better, you are saying that all of the people who don’t have a college degree-based job are…not living well. They failed. They lost. They took the low road. They under-achieved. They are worse off. They missed their opportunity to have a better life than the life they have.
Don’t feel bad. I have this same “knee jerk” belief, and if you are being honest with yourself, you’ll probably realize this is exactly what you think, too. It’s almost impossible not to, because this viewpoint is endemic to our society.
The man who takes away your trash every week?
The woman who rings up your purchase at the grocers?
The person who sells you stamps at the post office?
The waiter at the restaurant on the corner?
My guess is that over 80% of the people reading this article believe that the doctor, psychologist, lawyer or other “degree-carrying professional” is happier. But, are they?
College is one of many experiences people can have during their life on this planet, and it is nothing more than that. If you want to believe something is true, the best way to know for sure is to go looking for proof that it isn’t! Which is exactly what I did, and what I’ve learned is that there is A LOT that the “parent generation” needs to learn. While college can be a wonderful experience (I personally loved it), it is most definitely not for everyone.
Getting to this realization, however, is only half the battle. The real question is, “if my kid doesn’t want to go to college, what else is there?” Seriously. Try to answer that. What comes to mind? The military, and….nothing else? That doesn’t cut it!
Homework for Parents:
If you don’t have at least 5 ideas that pop immediately into your head, then you need to do your own research into “great ways to live in the world that have nothing to do with college” before you offer up more advice on the subject.
Last thought. When people feel pressured to do something that isn’t authentically good for them, the result is predictable. Distress, anxiety, a sense of wrongness, boredom, depression, struggle, escapism and an increased potential for failure. Even if they stick with the program, land the job, and grow the career, true happiness is often sacrificed along the way. Just think of your stereotypic divorced lawyer, doctor or politician who has the house, the sports car, the pool and the 401K…but his wife and kids hate him. Surely you wouldn’t wish this on your child?
Which raises the question which will be addressed in the next article:
“How do we evaluate success anyway?”
Click here to read an article that explores:
WHY 1 in 5 college students suffers from anxiety & depression.
P.S. The author of the above article missed one, in my opinion. I would add a 6th reason: College wasn’t right for them and they need to be told (with sincerity and honesty) that this is totally okay.