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Is College Necessary?

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My husband and I were talking about starting a College Fund for our kids the other day. I was worried we wouldn't be able to afford it, the way tuition has been rising. My husband thought about it and said, "Well, who knows what college is going to be like in 15 years or if the demand will be as high". You know, I think he is right.  Many professions do require those extra years of study but sometimes I think the college years are a 4-year period of time for 18 year-olds to wait until they are mature enough to enter the workforce. Don't get me wrong, I think the services and guidance you receive in college is valuable and you always have those few professors you will never forget, but is it necessary to ensure certain jobs. Well, the answer is yes right now but, who knows, maybe that will change. 

Students stress about getting into the right school, parents worry about how they will pay for it if they do. A few years later, the new graduate is often stuck will massive debt and disappointment. When I was a kid, I was told I could be anything I wanted to be. We were never told that the road to that ideal career will be a slow and frustrating one that we may never actually achieve. My brother wanted to be a pilot or astronaut but when he tried to take that path in the Air Force, he was told his vision was not good enough. 

Another example: A teenager with a learning disability in a lower-level learning class I used to teach was told by a visiting college counselor that he should come to the college fair. She said that he could go to college and could be whatever he wanted to be. This student reads at a 1st grade level and was struggled spelling words like 'obey' and 'heart'. I know the counselor did not personally know him, but she was setting unrealistic expectations. This student wasn't college material, and that's really is. We ended up setting him up with an electrician apprenticeship and he loved it! He was a kinetic learner and the apprenticeship really helped him shine. When he spoke about his job, he would just glow. It really is nice to be an expert at something and not everyone needs a degree to gain knowledge or start a career. 

My sister-in-law has a bachelors in computer science and international relations and a masters and she is struggling to find a job, let alone an internship so she has decided to go back to school to make her resume more desirable.  I cringe when I think of the debt she is accumulating (especially considering her dream job will not pay well) but there are so many people who have followed the same path because they can't find a job right away or they want to get their dream job right out of college.  

When I got my BA in Special Education, many of my classmates went on to get their masters degree right away. Some people decided to work in the public school system first so that the district would pay for them to get their masters. I really don't remember anything I learned in my college classes. The only time I really learned anything that was applicable to the classroom was during my student-teacher internships. Actually, all of my mentor teachers told me to forget about the methods learned in college and develop my own methods as I gain experience in the classroom. If I had 4 years of internships instead of pointless classes, I would have  been an expert teacher when I graduated. I think that method of learning would also weed out all the people who are going into teaching for the wrong reasons (e.g. Summers off, stability, off at 3, easy job *the last two make me laugh*) and we might have better teachers in our schools. 

Anyhow, off on a little tangent... There are thousands of bartenders with Bachelors Degrees and, according to Bloomberg Business, 17% of bell hops and baggage porters have college degrees and 15% of taxi and limo drivers. Sure, you can make pretty good salaries with some of these jobs but you can have these jobs without a degree. 

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, has introduced the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, which would require, among other things, that students have access to data on university graduates’ average annual earnings. Governor Rick Scott of Florida has caused controversy by expressing interest in shifting state financing of public colleges to majors that have the best job prospects like science, technology, engineering and math. 

Peter Thiel, co-founder of Pay Pal, believes that college classrooms aren't doing much to prepare our future CEOs, innovators and industry leaders. He thinks that some of the brightest students might be better off not going to college at all where they will be forced to take classes unrelated to their goals and interests and leave with large amounts of debt. Thiel recently started a program that brings together bright students younger than 20 and offered them a $100,000 grant to skip college and explore their own research and entrepreneurial ideas. Under the guidance of investors, scientists and like-minded industry tycoons, students should be able to develop connections, court investors and promote their businesses on a level that  colleges may not be able to provide.

In high school I was told that the lifetime earning difference between having a college degree and high school degree was around a million and a half dollars. They did not explain that the amount you earn entirely depends on your major and, well, if you can get certain jobs. Some engineers (certainly not all) make over $90K right out of college. A social worker will probably start off with $30K and will not too much more than that, even with a masters, as time goes on. A social worker and an engineer may even have the same amount of student-loan debt. I'm not saying people shouldn't become social workers, I'm just saying students should be told the pros and cons of certain careers during high school and be given realistic salary expectations. Even jobs that may pay well, like an Architect, have such a high rate of unemployment because of the current state of the housing market.

To sum it up, I am not saying don't go to college. I am simply saying do your research. Have realistic expectations.  Talk to professionals before deciding to go take any career path. Ask if success in their job depends on what school you attended or if they attained most of their knowledge and skill in a classroom or through others in the workforce. Not college material, not a problem. There are plenty of trade schools and apprenticeships you or your child can explore, often as early as high school. If you are one of the few high school students who actually already have a successful business or have a desired skill ( I have actually met a few who do) then you probably don't need college. College is not a necessity as society might have you believe, but a luxury. Maybe he's wrong, but I really do believe and hope my husband is right when he said college will be different by the time my kids are old enough to start thinking about it. 


VirginiaPeanuts posted May 04, 2012

To answer the question in the title, it depends on the career field you're looking for. For an electrician (going by your example), not necessarily, but if a student were to find an electrician certification program, it might provide a leg up.

A lot of your analysis is spot on. I don't believe in shoving your kids into college. My oldest son is in a VoTech program at the college where I work. I WANTED him to atttend, but was clear to him that were he to find a job that paid him well, kept him happy and provided a decent standard of living...I was ok with him not going to college. Understand, this is a kid who talked about dropping out of HS, can't be still for more than a few minutes before he gets bored and aggitated.

I gave him to the end of his summer following graduation to find a decent paying full time job, or all bills were his to pay. Insurance, repairs, maintenance, maybe rent. He piddled around all Summer and didn't get a job, so he had to go to college.

He'll finish this Summer with a basic certificate and thinks he can't do any more. It may be a hard lesson for him if he can't find something different, but its a lesson he clearly has to learn. He's simply not in a place in his life where he can do college. More than a waste of his time, it would be a waste of my money.

nthsll (rep: 12.5k) posted May 04, 2012


Good read VirginaPeanut, as a parent, I have chosen to invest in Colorado 529 plans for my Texas Children. The way we've set up these savings plans, the money can actually be transferred to "other" family members, should the child not attend College later on in life.

As for going to College and your article, I would give two pieces of advice to those thinking of attending:

1. Major in something the market demands, not on something you necessarily like/love. Contrary to belief, not everyone does something they love for a living. I would argue that very few do. However, most people work at something they're good at... If you're good with computers, study that, it's in demand and will be for years to come. If you're good with math study finance/accounting. Nursing/Medical professions will always be in demand as will legal/paralegal type occupations. Avoid certain degrees that will require special circumstances for use in the future... i.e. Latin, Music Therapy, Theology, English Literature, Social Sciences, Art History... etc.

2. Weigh costs vs. reward. A public school in many ways can provide you with a rewarding education at an economical price compared to a private one. I know individuals 5 years ahead of me still paying off college loans, and my "paid off" public education degree provides for a higher monthly check than their "private" one. This isn't always the case, but look at the value in the school. On top of this, it's very economical to get your basics out at a local community college and then transfer into a University.

Texas_Aggie (rep: 3.5k) posted May 04, 2012


I can only speak for myself. In my field your better off doing manual labor. Engineers in my field start at $65,00. An operator in my field should make no less than $90 his first year. After a year that engineer will start pulling in around $125k bu operators will still continue to compete with that. My second year I made $139k for working 3-4 hours a day plus all the other perks, free truck, corporate card I can essentially buy anything job related i need, fuel is paid, mileage, per diem, etc. With No college (i should say no degree), no experience. So of course it all depends on what he wants to get into but to make a good living of course its not needed.

Acidbaby (rep: 7k) posted May 04, 2012


Speaking as someone with a bachelors degree, two masters degrees, and working on a doctorate, I would have to say "no." Obviously if you want to be a doctor, lawyer, psychologist, nurse, etc. then college is a requirement. But if your goal is to be successful financially you can do well on your own. Several of my in-laws have owned their own small businesses since they were just out of high school and they all out-earn me by a wide margin and they are very happy and well-adjusted people. Going to college should be something that you do more purely for the education and less so to earn a living. The stats do say that you will earn more if you go to college but that does not take into consideration owning your own business or truly excelling at what you do(they are, after all, talking about average people. Clear as mud, eh?

erick99 (rep: 432k) posted May 04, 2012


Another thought comes to mind; I make my living as a professor and I see a great many students that seem to be out of place in college. They seem to be there because it was either someone else' idea or they are playing along with a societal norm that they buy into. They look miserable. It's not hard for anyone to discern the students who really want to be in college from those who are just doing time. Some are barely 17 (or still 16) and too immature to be in college or otherwise not ready. I think all of that is sad and a waste of a person's time and valuable resources such as student aid. Just wanted to toss that into the mix :)

erick99 (rep: 432k) posted May 04, 2012


all of my girls will go to College, Their mother did, and I didn't...If I had a boy, and he liked working with his hands then the trades would be a better bet.....

encorez (rep: 10k) posted May 04, 2012


I have heard so many stories about people with college degrees and so much debt from college and they still don't have a job, its sad!

krmills1 (rep: 14.4k) posted May 04, 2012


The debt is part and parcel of going to college. I was able to pay mine off fairly quickly and the payments were low. Some folks do not find jobs right away, post-graduation but most should find something, somewhere. If their major was history or philosophy they are not likely to find a job related to their degree without getting a grad degree. But, those degrees often help people in sales & marketing jobs. I've not gotten wealthy in psychology but I found jobs in the field and I've loved all of them including my current job teaching psychology.

erick99 (rep: 432k) posted May 04, 2012


College is somewhat necessary, but racking up an enormous amount of college debt that will take a lifetime to pay off it not.

lilywow (rep: 8.7k) posted May 04, 2012


I think that the high cost of college and the dearth of opportunity for graduates make it a raw deal for most people. Unless one is a top-of-the-class student serious about pursuing a career that requires a degree, most college students are just going to end up saddled with a huge debt that will follow them to the grave. There are already many sad stories of student loans that got out of control with penalties such that the student ends up owing 3 to 4 times what they borrowed because they had no means to pay, and their loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Some students trapped in this situation have even committed suicide.

The idea that everyone MUST go to college has been drilled into every student's head, along with the borrow now, worry about it later mentality. It is very hard to get anyone to seriously consider an alternative to college, even while a growing surplus of graduates are finding little to do with their degrees.

fluffy (rep: 2.2k) posted May 04, 2012


I was fortunate enough to get a full scholarship to college. It certainly wasn't the college of my choice at all, but I knew I wouldn't be making a ton of money as a teacher and where I went did not matter too much for what I was going into.

Maybe it is because it wasn't a "top-notch" school, but I really believe I would have been an ok teacher with just my student-teacher internships but no degree. It might be because I went into Special Ed. and that really requires more experience than knowledge, who knows. A girl I know works at a restaurant and the general manager position is open. She applied and they told her the position required a bachelors degree. This woman has been working for the company for 15 years, does inventory just about every day, orders the food and equipment, and knows the restaurant inside and out. She is very bright and the owner knows that but I guess there is a policy. I used to work there and I don't think the position should require a degree. It should certainly require experience and she has plenty of that. The last GM at the restaurant had a MBA but fumbled around the restaurant making unnecessary changes and eventually quitting because of the stress. *sigh*

VirginiaPeanuts (rep: 12.4k) posted May 05, 2012


I think going to college is important.. Find an affordable CUNY and get a part time job on the side to pay. That's what I did. Now I'm so happy. I graduated and have no loans to pay off. Now I have a BA and it gets be interviews!

gangstabarbie (rep: 21k) posted May 05, 2012