As a parent, I worry about my kid’s future. I try to arm him with knowledge, social skills, and common sense so that he can one day become the man I believe he can be. At no point do I want to stunt his eagerness for learning or education, as I believe these are cornerstones to building a well-rounded human being.
But I WILL NOT force him to go to college. In fact, I secretly hope he shuns the idea of pursuing higher education. This may sound blasphemous and counterintuitive to my original statement, but allow me to explain.
Over the last decade, it has become increasingly clear to me that the American Dream of pursuing higher education is – for lack of better words – a total sham. I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, I was one of the millions of people seduced into the ideology and promise that college was an answer to all life’s problems. It was hounded into me at a very early age that getting your college degree would ensure a future of success and security. There was no alternative; no other option that didn’t cast you aside as a delinquent or failure. College was just something you did.
In high school, college was presented to my peers and me as an institution that would arm you with the sort of knowledge that wins wars, slays dragons and cures cancer. We were romanced with promises of old libraries where the words of great philosophers and medical journals leaped off the pages and mingled with the smell of leather bound books and hushed voices under low-covered lamps. We were sold on the dream of campus coffee shops, buzzing and brimming with brilliant, eager minds that discussed the kind of things that would help cure world hunger or ensure a political revolution. Images of enthusiastic professors, standing on desks like Robin Williams, declaring “Oh Captain, My, Captain!” fervently invoked excitement and invincibility that we certainly never experienced in the rooms of our stuffy high schools. The world was our oyster and college was the key to opening that shell.
Though computer labs replaced libraries and dive bars were more frequented than coffee shops, college was still, in essence, everything I thought it would be. Maybe even more. I made lasting friendships, had classes that sparked amazing debates and new ways of looking at the world, and eventually graduated with a somewhat admirable degree in Health Science.
I also graduated with almost $80,000 in debt and found that the workforce climate my peers and I were entering had changed. Employers were no longer impressed with a 4-year diploma – they wanted a Masters. See, as more and more parents, banks, institutions, and employers pushed for us kids to pursue college, we listened. We took out the loans to pay for classes. We used credit cards to buy new addition textbooks each year. We worked two jobs in between classes to keep our refrigerators stocked. Why? Because we believed it would all be worth it in the long run. We were bound to get jobs. That was the whole purpose of college, right?
But suddenly, everyone had their degree. The world I was competing in was saturated with kids who also had my degree. I became my own worst enemy – “too experienced” for half the jobs I applied for and “under experienced” for the rest.
10 years later and I’m doing something in a completely different field. I had to work my way up from an entry level position to where I’m at now. Nobody gave a crap what my degree was in or how much I paid to earn it because most jobs right now actually don’t require a four-year diploma.
That’s the big secret that colleges and banks don’t want you to know. Why? Because they are raking in billions of dollars on this misguided belief that, to be successful, you have to get your college degree.
For the record, I don’t blame any of my financial struggles or lack of employment on anyone but myself. I could have chosen differently. I could have gone to a trade school or a junior college or no college at all. Ultimately, that responsibility falls on my shoulders. But I certainly don’t want that same responsibility to fall on my son’s shoulders.
Gen X and millennials are getting absolutely crushed with student debt. Even those who end up with great jobs like lawyers and doctors are suffering from these astronomical loans we are indebted to. It’s easy to blame younger generations, claiming they should have known what they were signing up for.
But should they have known?
Isn’t it kind of insane to assume a 17-year-old has any real grasp on how bank loans and interest rates work? They can’t possibly set realistic expectations as to what they’ll make in the future and how much of that will be allocated toward student loans with soaring interest rates. Do you honestly think a teenager has a grasp on what will happen to their credit if they miss even one payment on their loan? Kids are too busy dreaming about joining fraternities and study groups to be thinking about the long term consequences of the loans they are signing up for. Essentially, we’re asking kids to make preemptive decisions about what their future holds under the false security that a diploma will get them a job. And it’s simply not true.
This is why I won’t be encouraging my son to go to college. I won’t make him feel like a failure if he decides to take a year or two off before he decides if this huge undertaking is something he’s ready for. I won’t pressure my freshly-graduated son to make life decisions under the faulty guise that college is the only answer. Because it’s not.
Even if it was the answer, it’s insane to believe most 18-year-old kids really know what they want to do for the next 50 years of their life. Hell, most of us are still trying to figure that out. Some of us never do.
I loved college. I still love college. Or, more accurately, I love the idea of it. I love that it encourages learning in a unique environment where one can really find oneself and (if lucky) one’s passion. But letting our kids get so wrapped up in the heavily-flawed belief that one can’t make it in life sans a college diploma could have detrimental effects on so many other aspects of their life.
It’s time we change the way we view success and intelligence. It’s time we approach education not as a learning facility, but as a business that has no invested interest in our kids other than money.
I promise, college isn’t everything. I promise there are other means to a great life. I promise some of the most business-savvy and creative entrepreneurs of our time never sought a college diploma. College does not make or break a person. Grit and hard work does.