Friday, May 24, 2013

Is College Worth It?

I wrote a post a while back about the idea that not everyone needs to go to college, a post that apparently got more than a few people really thinking.  Now I'm reading a book that is confirming all those thoughts again.

It's Is College Worth It?, by Bill Bennett, Reagan's former Secretary of Education.  It's a fascinating book (a little heavy on the numbers for my taste, but the numbers are necessary).  And he makes many of the same points I was making earlier, but with facts and stats to back them up (thus the burdensome numbers).  Many, many people going to college right out of high school -- about two-thirds of them, Bennett contends -- should do something else.  For a number of reasons:

- They are gifted with knowledge and skills in much-needed areas that don't require a college education (although they may require other technical training).  We have made these people feel like second-rate citizens when they are crucial parts of the fabric of society and we need them to do what they do best.  Our society and economy flounders without them there.

- A college degree is no longer the guarantee of a good job.  In fact, there are thousands of people out there with piles of student debts on their hands who are unemployed or underemployed and feeling like they were sold a bill of goods about this higher education business.  And they were.  Many  economists are predicting that college loan debt will be the next big bubble to burst and mess up the country.
- College is rarely worth the money you put into it now -- and Bennett blames the federal government for this.  In fact, he predicted this phenomenon back when he was Education Secretary: the government has made financial aid so easily available to every Joe on the block, regardless of Joe's chances of succeeding in college or getting a job later to pay back those loans, that the market is screwed up.  Instead of becoming more affordable, college has become less affordable . . . because colleges know that students can get the money, so they just jack up tuitions.

This discussion has become very pertinent to me lately because our eldest is a senior next year.  This is when everyone tells you you need to be visiting colleges, deciding on your top choices, sending applications in in the fall . . . but she has no bloody clue what she wants to do with her life.  And it's stressing her out.

Only recently have we finally convinced her that we're okay with that.  We have suspected for a while that whatever she ended up doing, it was not likely to require a B.A.  And we're fine with that. We're not going to feel like she's a failure (or we're failures) if she takes a gap year after high school -- or if she never ends up at college at all -- as long as she is using her gifts to God's glory.

Now to convince others of that.  I'm already bracing myself for the unspoken (and maybe even spoken) condemnation of my seven years of homeschooling with her.  That I obviously didn't instill in her the skills and knowledge and passion she needed to succeed in life.  I reject that condemnation (remind me of that when I'm hearing it).  My daughter is always stunned at the ignorance of her public school peers (You don't know what an adjective is?  And no, New England is not in Europe).  She's an excellent writer, communicator and thinker.  The passion . . . yeah, that's frustrating, but that will come when she finds her calling.

Bennett had more to say that I love . . . especially about K-12 education.  But that's for another post . . .

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