So, IS college worth the cost?
“Mythomania about college has turned getting a degree into an American neurosis.”
I grew up in a little town in the middle of nowhere during the 70s and 80s. I came from smart but not college-educated parents. Not many people from my little town went to college. I had a mother, though, who informed us (my brother and me) from a very young age that we were going to college.
“College is about much more than just the classes,” my mom used to say. “It’s about the entire experience.”
By the time I reached junior high, I knew that it was my ticket out. And boy, did I want out of that little town.
To say that going away to Ithaca College was an adjustment would a huge understatement. The young woman who graduated 4 years later bore little resemblance to that awkward, sheltered teenage freshman … in only the best of ways. College isn’t only about what I learned in the lecture halls. I did have to take out loans to cover the cost of college, though. I came from a family of modest means and scholarships and financial aid weren’t quite enough.
“It’s sending parents to the poorhouse and saddling students with a backpack full of debt that doesn’t even guarantee a good job in the end.”
I graduated into a terrible economy and struggled to find a job. I lived at home and waitressed for a short while. Eventually, I found work and went out on my own. And I started at the very bottom. After a few years of being broke and bored, I knew that I needed to change direction.
“It’s very easy to spend four years majoring in English literature and beer pong and come out no more employable than you were before you went in. Conversely, chemical engineers straight out of school can easily make triple or quadruple the wages of an entry-level high-school graduate.”
The Web as we know it today was just starting to blossom. I became very interested in websites, interactive multimedia, networks … anything related to computer technology. I took a few programming classes and got accepted into the Master’s Program in Information Technology at Rochester Institute of Technology.
“…the past few decades have witnessed an explosion in graduate and professional degrees, as kids who previously would have stopped at college look for ways to stand out in the job market.”
Armed with real world experience and a more pragmatic outlook, I made sure that the investment was worth it before I started. And in the end, it was.
We are already thinking about college for our girls. And, given the recent hype and a wealth of personal experience, I have strong opinions about it:
- College is definitely about the experience, along with the classes. My mom was so right (isn’t she always?!).
- College isn’t a lousy investment … if you use your head. I refuse to finance a degree in (for example) philosophy, art history or drama for my kids. Education is a lofty goal but don’t let the university academics fool you. The investment in education is worth it … if you gain usable and real world skills or knowledge there. Be pragmatic. I wouldn’t major in business again as an undergrad. But I would study Information Technology again. The combination of the two has been useful.
- Most 18 year olds don’t have enough real world experience to make that connection. How can parents change that? I’m still thinking about that one but … I have a feeling that getting a job during high school and understanding the value of work is part of it. This will be a requirement in our house.
- Requiring a financial contribution from your children for their education isn’t a bad thing. We’ll do all that we can, of course. But I am not sure if it’s good to hand it all to my kids on a silver platter.
What do you think? Is college worth it? What have you learned from your own experiences? How do you or will you guide your own children in their choices after high school?