Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thoughts on "Higher" Education...

College was expected in my family for as long as I can remember. It wasn't "if" I was going to college, but where.  My brother, sister and I all have at least 4-year degrees, plus various extras among us.  All in all, college was a great time - fun with some awesome opportunities. It is where I met Mark.  Generally speaking, I look at that time fondly.  I don't regret it or my family's attitude about it.

And yet, my prevailing view of "higher education" has changed somewhat in the last few years... It isn't a view I expect to be popular, and in some circles it would practically be considered child abuse.  

But I don't expect all my kids will go to college, at least not right out of high school.  And I don't expect we will really encourage it.


Now, don't get me wrong.  I don't plan to hold them back purposely either.  I know at least a couple of my kids will likely look right to a college or university at age 18.  But we aren't going to be able to pay for it.  And even if we could, I'm not entirely sure I would...

When Grace was very young, it was our goal to be able to pay for as much of college as possible for our kids.  We both graduated with student debt, especially Mark, and we don't want our kids to have that same burden.  Yet, we made choices to grow our family a certain way, choices that have had financial implications.  We have made other choices, altering career paths, for reasons that benefit our family overall, but not so much in the financial department.  So we've had to alter our goals to helping as much as we are able when the time for college comes around.

Frankly, I think that most college/universities are a racket.  They are degree printing machines, charging outrageous prices for that piece of paper.  They give you the run-around, often making it difficult to figure out your class-path so that it takes 5-6 years to finish a 4 year degree if you aren't careful.  And you come out with a crisply printed bachelor's diploma, a pile of student loans and... not much else. You are just like thousands upon thousands of other students that spent the last 4 (or 5 or 6) years doing the exact same thing.  You have no work experience, no practical skills to offer.  The bachelor's degree is the new high school degree. How long before you will need a master's degree to crack $20k/year?

What makes you stand out?  

Yet, I want my children to pursue higher education.  I want them to ALWAYS see the value in continuing to learn, whether it is under a university roof or their own.  But I want them to do it for them - to have concrete goals.  To know the satisfaction of real work and what it feels like to send in payments for tuition... not student loans.  I hope that they have the skills to inventory some of their strengths and weaknesses and to gauge where they might ultimately find true fulfillment.  On the (somewhat) flipside, I hope they keep an open mind to new areas that might bring them joy and success.  And I hope they choose to do this while gaining work experience in the process.

I hope they aren't pressured by societal norms that constantly tell us that college is necessary for success.  I hope they don't overlook trades that might also suit them.  I hope they are able to keep an open mind to their happiness and ultimate goals, in spite of the pressure to conform.

I hope they have the maturity to know that just because you are "good" at something, does not mean that it should be your life's path.

I hope they never lose their desire to learn, their innate curiosity about life.  

Because that can be hard to get back.

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