A very interesting question was presented to me during a meeting recently. I was asked what I did to help promote college in my classroom. Now being the smart ass that I am, I wanted to say that I showed them my student loan bills and said, “Look children! This too can all be yours!” The truth is I do very little to promote the lie of preparing every child for college. The lie we tell kids is that they will be “college or career ready,” by the time they leave us. This is just a back handed, bullshit, way of placing kids on a college track who neither have the financial means, the mental fortitude, or the educational tools for a four year college. Think about it, we say we will prepare students so that if they don’t want to go to a university, we will give them the skills they need for a “career.” Yet, they have no electives in wood shop, auto-mechanics, machine shop and home economics. No classes that teach students the foundation of tangible real world skills. Instead, they are given courses in computer programming, coding, and robotics. As if they are all going to be potential Zuckerburg’s, Gates’, and Elon Musks. What schools promote shows you what type of “careers,” they really want kids to be involved in.
The idea that every student should be on the fast track to college is just stupid. First of all, it inflates the actual value of a college degree. Everyone and their basket weaving mother-in-laws, have some type of college degree. Economically you would think this is a good thing, but it inflates the value of those skills because now everyone else has the same skill set. It’s like money, the more paper you print, the less value it has. Soon a graduate degree is needed to set you apart. The myth here is that your college degree is the golden ticket to your dream job. One, if you cannot provide an employer with the skills they are looking for, you will not get hired. Two, no one starts their career at the top.
I am going to tell you a little secret. I did not go to Indiana University. I went to Indiana University South Bend. I got the same IU degree for a fraction of the price. If we are going to promote college then we need to start showing our students more practical choices. Funny how everyone wants to go to Notre Dame or the University of Texas when they only have a Texas State budget!
The completion rate for enrolled students is equivalent to the divorce rate. Seventy percent of those students who finish, borrowed money to earn a degree. Average student loan debt is in the neighborhood of thirty-eight thousand. Those who earn a bachelors degree will be lucky to find a first job that pays them over thirty-five thousand. So, I have to ask the question, why promote that debt to income ratio? Especially when they could learn a trade and make more than I do. I would sound like Michael Douglas in Wall Street, “Debt is good. Debt will save your life.”
Explain to me how a child is being served by being told they need to decide their future at the wise old age of 13? Why don’t we let them be children a little while longer and enjoy the moment? They have plenty of time to become as jaded as the rest of us. Instead, we fill their minds with the Jurassic sized myth that their fate must be decided right now. I don’t know about you guys, but I wish I would have went to Europe when I was young. I wish I would of served in the military so that my college degree would be paid for by the U.S. Government. The world is a beautiful place, filled with wonders beyond our wildest imaginations. It is only outside the college dorms, libraries, and study labs where the real lessons of life are learned. Life is the ultimate adventure and the greatest educator you can ever have. Living it is mostly free.
I am not going to tell you that going to college is an unnecessary waste of time and money. That would be a lie. I am far more educated and cultured then the ambitious and arrogant kid I once was. My earning potential is far greater than a lot of other people and because of my degrees, I have more options. However, I believe we do students a serious disservice by trying to sell them on the myth that college is the only path for success. I have spent some time unemployed and it is not fun. While going out to look for work, flaunting my degrees, I past by numerous auto shops, construction sites, and hair stylists. They were working and I was not. They have a skilled trade that will always be in demand. So does my hair stylist, my massage therapist, along with the many more skilled practitioners that make life so much easier for us.
Students in my class were shown some of the same research and statistics about the college drop out rate as well as the costs of tuition and growing student debt. I asked them whether or not the “juice was worth the squeeze?” Did going to college give them a better chance at a future or given this day in age does it make life more difficult? Ninety percent stated that they believe that the options a degree grants you makes it all worth it. As I probed for more information, my students all said the same thing, “The possibilities are endless and you never know what could happen!” I love these kids!