Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Stepping on the toes of the anti-college movement

I’m going to say something that will probably make you upset, but we can hug it out later:

If you think college isn’t worth it, you’re wrong.

Yes, I’ve heard the “college does nothing for you” speech thousands of times.  I just smile and nod because if I disagree I look like an insensitive child of privilege but at some point I just have to say, “that’s not true.”

If you know what you want to do and you have a solid plan, college is worth every penny you invest.

Read it again – I’m not saying college is for everyone – but I am saying that if you are saying college isn’t worth it, you are wrong.

I was raised by teachers so I didn’t grow up wealthy. I amassed a significant pile of debt on the way to a doctorate . . . I knew I would . . . but I also knew my education would help me pay it off in under five years. 

College may not be for everyone – but if you know what you want to do and you have a solid plan, college is worth it.  The debt incurred is worth it to achieve the goals you have.

Yes, I know the horror stories – $200k in debt and no jobs available, but is that really about college or poor planning?  Maybe someone needed to tell you that majoring in leisure studies at a university that charges $50k a year is a bad idea.

And now I have just picked a fight with the leisure studies major reading this blog, but I stand by my statement.

I read about a young man who, under the advice of college counselors, majored in history.  The ‘experts’ told him companies like to hire people who think and write critically. Not his passion, but not knowing what else to do, he completed the major.  He now manages a dry-cleaning store and struggles to pay a $300 monthly loan payment because no one is hiring history majors.

He should have waited until he had a better plan.

On the other hand, his friend skipped college and got a job with a local oil company at $18 per hour.  Four years later he earns $60,000 a year.

Stories like this are often used to illustrate how a college degree is worthless.

First of all, it is a lazy argument.  We’ve stacked the worst case scenario alongside a best case scenario.  How different would the comparison be if instead of a history major we selected a brain surgeon?  An electrical engineer starts around $60k and over a lifetime leads to double that amount.  That takes nothing away from the guy working at the oil company, but at least the comparisons are equal because both had a good plan.

There are plenty of careers that involve trade schools, apprenticeships, technical schools.  Knowing what you want to do and then developing a solid plan means more than a college degree or a high paying job.  Most people arguing against a college education are actually arguing against poor planning.

The two are different.

In terms of opportunity, however, you can’t argue with a well-thought out college education:

-        - The rate of unemployment for non-college grads is nearly double the rate of college graduates.  [1]

-        - More employers are looking for college graduates.  In the STEM field alone (the fastest growing job field), employers are looking for college graduates versus non-college graduates 3-1.[2][3]

-        - As a whole, salaries of college graduates nearly double those of non-college grads.[4][5]

-        - During a forty year lifetime of work, some estimates show that college graduates earn about one million dollars more than non-college graduates. 

But what about the debt? 

You are right – getting into tens of thousands of dollars in debt in a field you don’t really like is no way to go about planning your future.  Perhaps take a few years to earn money and explore life before so you figure out your calling. 

If that calling involves eventually making $200k a year, then a $200k debt is an investment.  If that calling involves making $20k a year then maybe looking at more economical options like community college is a better plan.

It really doesn’t matter if your calling in life pays you $20k or $200k – what matters is whether you have a good plan.  Going to a college that gives you $200k debt for a $20k calling is not a good plan.  That doesn’t mean college is worthless, it just means your plan was worthless.

Forget the money and the statistics for a moment.  I work with college age young adults.  Many (but not all) would benefit from an environment that stretches them intellectually.  Having to room with people that are different from them.  Figuring out their worldview from all the hodge-podge of ideas in an academic community really makes you grow if you are mature enough to seize the opportunities.  Having to negotiate and work with difficult professors and advisors - all the education that goes beyond the classroom - that is what makes a college education worth it.   

So please, enough with the “college doesn’t do anything for you.”  Arguing college isn't worth it is the same as saying everyone has to go to college.   It all depends on the person.  In the end, nothing takes the place of maturity and having a good plan.

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