September 13, 2020

Is College Right For Everyone?

My alma mater: Syracuse University 
A while ago, I was contacted by a fellow who works for an Internet training company. The CEO had just posed a provocative question on their web site. The question asked was whether a college education is worth the money. Is there enough of a return on the investment of tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars for everyone who goes?

The author, Dave Dunn, cited figures that projected the costs of sending his three children to private colleges several years into the future. The totals were over $1,000,000. He used that million-dollar figure to raise the issue.

Aside from the obvious fact that no one has to go to the most expensive private universities (unless on a full scholarship!), his point is still one that we, as parents and grandparents should ask. The mess that has become the college loan industry has been in the news. We are probably quite aware that the cost of college education, even at a state-run university, averages close to $40,000 for in-state students, and $100,000 for out-of-state attendees. Triple that for a top-flight Ivy League or private college, and there is serious money involved.

Now, with Covid shutting campuses, or forcing them to operate partially on-line, the question becomes more relevant. I have not read that any universities are cutting costs for a less-than-normal experience. Maybe dorm charges are not being enforced, but higher learning institutes are suffering a tremendous loss during the pandemic, so who knows.

When I was in high school, it was expected that everyone who could afford to do so would go to four years of college after graduation. For those with limited means, two-year junior colleges (now community colleges) were an option. Technical schools were available for those with mechanical interests. But, in my neighborhood of suburban Boston, college was simply a given.

As post-high school education became increasingly expensive, folks began to ask the question: is college right and necessary for everyone? Well, for some professions like doctor or lawyer, the answer was, and remains, yes. But, how about for other careers or job paths? How many require a four-year degree versus shorter, specialized training and experience? How many of us actually used a lot of what we learned for those expensive four years?

Betty's school: West Virginia University
For this post, I raise the question because grandparents are sometimes asked for help in sending a grandchild to college, or of their own volition, establish a college fund for a child's child.

If the money is available, is college always the best option? Do we accept that a high school graduate may leave college already seriously in debt?




As the graduate of a well respected private university, I will add two thoughts:


1) I have freely admitted that the money my parents spent on me was largely wasted. I had decided on my career path while barely a teenager. My chosen profession did not require a college education. During my last two years, I worked almost full time at a radio station in town, learning my craft and improving my future prospects. My college classes were an interruption. In my case, college was somewhat wasted on the young.


2) I wish I could have gone to college when I was older. I would have possessed the maturity and intellectual curiosity to have made full use of what college is meant to do: teach one to think and learn critically and independently. 


Continuing one's education after high school is essential for the development of many of the skills for success in our technologically oriented world. High School graduates face a daunting task to survive and thrive. When used to its fullest, those extra years of schooling can be a building block to a full and satisfying life.

But, with college education becoming something that is being priced out of reach of all but the well-to-do, we should ask if a traditional college is always the best choice. And, as grandparents, whether we pay part of the bill or not, we should ask if a four-year institution is in the best interests of the young adult.



What do you think? How critical is that diploma? Is the amount of debt often required justified?

What about on-line schools (even during non-Covid times) degrees, where most of the work is done, at home, with only limited classroom time required? Technical colleges are readily available for virtually any career choice. Community colleges have developed well past just being a feeder system for four-year schools. 


Is the time away at school vital in one's development as an adult? Is it more than just classes and study?


Your feedback is encouraged. 



46 comments:

  1. Interesting subject. My wife just sent me the following article yesterday:

    https://entrepreneurshandbook.co/googles-genius-49-mo-course-is-about-to-replace-college-degrees-340f459aaa9b

    Major companies are not requiring college degrees. Career certificates seem to be the new thing. Personally, I'm pleased to this development in the world of education.

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    1. Nice timing, Barak, with this link. Google's new 6 month certificate courses seem likely to shake up the choices after high school for those interested in a tech career. The company says they will consider these training courses the equivalent of a four year degree when looking at hiring decisions. And, a price of around $300, this option is open to almost everyone.

      Very interesting.

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  2. I've seen way too many jobs that did not really need a college education, where the job "requirements" included a college education. When hirers have a surplus of talent, they often use a college degree to restrict the resumes they get to a smaller, supposedly better, pool of talent. Maybe this will change with the certificates -- which are becoming of more interest to employers. There's no easy answer. It depends on your child -- what types of jobs will s/he really be seeking? How attractive to your child is a broad general education? And it depends on your financial situation.

    I'm very grateful for my B.A., because when I wanted to move into business -- I just needed 1-1/2 years for an MBA. And I was very happy to have that degree 30 years later when I decided to become a professor and needed to get my doctorate(!)

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    1. The default choice has always been college after high school. But, in the last several decades not only is that no longer true for many careers, but the costs and debts that result from a typical four year higher education are hard to justify for many.

      As your example highlights, the choice must be individual and based on what career path the person wants to follow. You needed the B.A. to allow you to ultimately achieve your goals.

      Others may not need that label, but for many segments of our culture they are funneled into that path. I hope things are becoming more flexible and better attuned to what a person needs and what the job market requires.

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  3. Is university always the best option? Of course not, even if you take money out of the equation, but it's not usually a bad thing either. As with most things it depends on an individual's abilities and their goals. I have one daughter that went to university for her 4 year degree and then went on to get her education degree. She is now doing well working in her dream job. My other daughter dropped out of high school, bounced around for several years, and then gained admission to community college as a mature student. It was a struggle for her to do her studies at night while working full time but eventually she graduated and is now happy with her career choice (though perhaps not so happy that she delayed it by 10 years).

    As you said Bob, there are some jobs that require a 4-year university degree and some that don't. There has also been a credentialization of work where you don't necessarily need a degree or diploma to do the job but you need one or they won't even consider you for it. It's unfortunate but that is the reality that people starting out have to face. Overall, when you are starting out, more education is better than less.

    Private universities are a whole other topic and personally I can't see they are worth the money for the typical family but if you can get a scholarship or your family is rolling in cash then it's an option. In Canada private universities are aren't allowed in the same way they are in the U.S. so that's less of an issue here but in either case there's no reason to think that a degree from a state university is second class. As those of us posting here have already had careers that's spanned decades I think we all know that once you have shown you can do the job your degree, or where it came from, matters little.

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    1. My degree was in International Relations. Most graduates from the Maxwell School at Syracuse went on to careers in diplomacy and government, while my career started with playing records on the radio. Syracuse offered a radio/TV course of study, but I wanted something that was more broadly liberal arts. IR fit the bill even though it had nothing to do with my career path.

      I am the first to admit I wasted my four years, at least intellectually. Yes, I learned social skill and, was President of my fraternity so I had to develop people skills. But, I can count the number of times I went to the library on campus on one hand, and remember this was before computers and the Internet. The library was (supposedly) essential. I got good grades, but didn't learn how to learn. That came later in life.

      Private colleges and universities may have outlived their usefulness, at least in terms of the costs. It will be fascinating to see how all this shakes out after Covid has upended the educational model...like no SAT scores anymore at many schools.

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    2. I didn't attend university until a bit later in life, I was about 10 years older than my classmates, but I have to say my studies were directly linked to my post university career in IT. Perhaps I was more focused on why I was there than most.

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  4. Well, I take a different view. The best reason to go to college is to get a higher education, period. There is nothing wrong with getting an education for the sake of an education, and the faculty at the small, private liberal arts colleges across the U.S. are the best ones to provide that. Most of these institutions in the U.S. are very generous with financial aid, in many cases, making the cost of tution+room and board less than that of our large, public universities in my part of the U.S. (West coast.) Moreover, the large majority of professors in these small, private, liberal arts colleges will hold PhD's. Your child's lecture will not be given by a teaching assistant working on his Master's or Doctorate! That said, the state schools, indeed, even the two-year community colleges are not second class.
    As for using a higher education as a commodity to exchange in the job market? Well, as a former human resources professional for a bank, (who majored in media, btw) I will tell you that the belief in my industry was, by and large, short of positions requiring, say, a CPA or J.D., that when looking for a candidate, a degree was required, regardless of field of study. The degree showed a department manager that one can think, he can worry about the training for the position. When looking for management trainees for branches, we only interviewed candidates wit OR, 10(+) years related experience.
    In summary: Education for the sake of education is a good thing for our country. An educated population benefits all of society. Do I balk at the costs of "brand name" colleges? Yes indeed. But there are ways to get an education without falling victim to the hype of the overrated, overpriced schools.

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    1. The status colleges and universities are the ones I would guess are going to suffer the most with the effects of the pandemic playing out over the next several years.

      You are correct: large, public universities do relay on teaching assistants, especially in the first two years for the foundational courses. Of course, being a TA is good training for someone who wants to become a professor; how else can they learn?

      Times have changed in this regard. I rarely had anything other than a professor teach my classes at Syracuse. Of course this was 50+ years ago. "Publish or perish" wasn't as prevalent as it is today for full professors.

      No argument at all that more education is a good thing for society. The question is, at what cost? Saddling someone with a massive debt when a more economical path is available seems wrong. Since better educated people help us all, advanced education really should be a right that any citizen can take advantage of.

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  5. I've read recently that some companies like Google and Apple no longer require a college degree in order to get hired. Traditionally, a lot of employers looked for a degree as a kind of certificate, but I think increasingly they are interested in what you know, not where or how you went to school. The community colleges around us (the NY and Phila. area) are thriving, largely because they offer a more practical program for many people, and also because they offer continuing education for adult learning. More resources should be invested in those schools.

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    1. Absolutely. The link that Barak made available above is about Google's move to educate tech workers for their company (and others). That company does not care about a sheepskin anymore.

      I don't know about others, but once my career was underway I was never asked where I went to college or what my course of study was. The employer was interested in results and abilities, not my pedigree.

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  6. You may have been at SU while my father taught there. I used to go over on Saturdays for public lectures.
    As a child and grandchild of Ph.Ds, I pretty much knew I was college bound, but as things worked out, I worked a while after high school and then did a four-year stint in the army before going to college. The GI Bill paid for an Associates in electronics and most of a BA in German literature. I was able to get an assistantship to do an MA in history at a "cow college," and we could afford it, so I did.
    While teaching sections of Western Civilization, I ran across two young men who came to me with the same sad story: Dad had gone to this college and was having them go, but they didn't engage well in their studies and felt they could do better not attending college. However, they didn't know how to break that to the Old Man. So they rocked in the back of the class and shot snide remarks forward. Breaking rules, I talked with them about what they thought they ought to be doing, the way to get to do that, and the reality that someday they might want college after all. They made their plans to get through the semester and then present their cases to their fathers. After that they were a lot less obstreperous in class.
    European kids take a year off before college--if they even qualify--and try something else out or travel around and get life experiences. I think a lot of American kids would benefit from this. There's even Americorps to help them build up funding for college.
    I don't use the electronics I learned much any more but I did work in the field for 4 years or so beyond my apprenticeship training, so that was worth it. The liberal arts degrees looked impressive to the human services people who hired me later on, but the credentials were wrong for specialized work, so I did case management jobs and became a middle manager. I retired from human services after 28 years, having learned the vocabulary early on so I could talk to the doctors and therapists. There are whole college degrees in vocabulary for that field but they would have bored me, so I think I did OK.
    So who needs college? I wish more people could think critically and that doesn't develop in high school. Not much of value is taught in high school unless you use it to get into post-secondary school. But not everyone needs to mortgage their lives to slog through four more years of academics. And many could benefit from a year or four to consider whether college is an essential part of their life plan. So parents and grandparents, be proud of your kids and grandkids for their accomplishments, whatever they may be, because they need to live their own lives.

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    1. I have always liked the concept of a "gap year" - a break between high school and college made a lot of sense. The maturity level of too many high school graduates isn't ready yet for the self-motivation and discipline that a college requires to succeed. And, as your story makes clear, going because your parents and social class think you should is so wrong for so many young adults.

      So much of what colleges teach is outdated that when someone graduates they have to re-learn the ways of the real world quickly. A good example is my wife. She got a Graphics Design degree from WVU. Within maybe 6-8 years of graduating, the field began to be revolutionized by technology. The days of physical drawing, cut, pasting, and coloring were gone. By the time she decided to go back to work after raising a few young children, she was completely unequipped. The degree was fine for right after graduation. But, it had no relevance not that far into the future.

      The radio/TV department at Syracuse was still teaching how to produce radio soap operas and drama shows while I was there in the late 60's. Radio hadn't needed those skills for almost 20 years.

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    2. Ahh! That explains Betty's beautiful photography. She has a designer's eye. :)

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  7. I've recently retired from a 39 career in healthcare. I started with a certificate program to be a surgical tech "scrubbing" in the OR. I then commenced with an ADN and then a BSN. All of my career roles required the education level I had for them.

    I did this stair step education allowing me to make higher than minimum wage while working my way through Nursing degrees, plus, since age 9 I wanted to work in the operating room thanks to the 60s show "Medical Center". I loved Dr Gannon!

    My earnings over my career immensely surpassed today's cost of that same education and yes, I recommend Nursing as an excellent and rewarding career with a very middle to higher class income depending on career choices.

    Some career choices mandate education and that's appropriate. That said, I think education always adds value. Broader perspective, ability to question, ability to think, ability to set a goal and achieve it, to name a few.

    I do wish trade schools weren't disappearing. We NEED the tradespeople and will forever. Not everyone has the interest or acumen for an academic education/role. Some people need to be hands-on from day one. Our local truckdriving program had to close down a few years ago. Why? 6 applicants for 30 student positions. And that doesn't mean all qualified!

    I think the debate about the value of education in our country will never end. My quality of life and my options are better than my classmates who stayed in our little rural town and still 41 years later are working multiple minimum wage jobs to survive. Their retirement picture is vastly different from mine.

    In the 80's, we had a housekeeper w/3 children, on my shift. Her husband died of an MI. We talked every shift and she was so worried about raising those boys. My shift partner and I asked her one night what she'd love to do. "I want to do what you do". We said "do it". "But I can't afford to." "You can't afford NOT to". I offered her all my textbooks and we said we would stay after any shift if she needed our help to study or understand. Well, she DID it! And we helped her as promised. She had a terrific 25year career before retiring. I would say one of my proudest moments of someone taking control of an overwhelming situation. She did it!

    It is a complex discussion and issue.

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    1. I LOVE how you and your friends mentored another woman’s nto a nursing’s career! We lifetime each other up!!!

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    2. I very much appreciate your thoughtful, response, Elle (and echo Madeline's kudos to you). A stair step approach is an option that I am glad you mention. Most of us think of an all or nothing answer. Getting the education along the way, and as needed, makes perfect sense for certain careers.

      I certainly agree with the technical school/trades people comment. I have been sorely disappointed in several local auto repair shops over the last several years. The quality of mechanics is not what it once was.

      Realizing that a good plumber, electrician, or other trade specialist can make a six figure income does not seem to be enough to overcome the stigma of a person working with their hands in a technologically-oriented culture.

      If we truly believe that an education is essential to our society and the maximization of everyone's abilities, then why isn't universal higher education more of a topic? Should someone's abilities to be the best they can be come down to whether they have enough money to learn the skills? As you say, it is a complex subject and one with a multitude of answers.

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    3. Re: "The quality of mechanics is not what it once was."

      They are probably doing their best but cars are much more complicated than they were in the past too. To us drivers cars today (like computers and cell phones) seem simple but that's only because when they work as they should we don't even notice what they are doing. In reality your dad's car with it's manual choke and 3 speed manual transmission was a comparatively simple device (and it broke down more) than the average car today with computerized fuel injection, an 8 or 10 speed automatic with cruise control and accident avoidance braking.

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    4. So true. In 1981 hubster and I drove a 1970 Chevelle and a 1969 Camaro. We did everything including building a new engine and rebuilding a transmission. Today's cars? We don't even change our own oil. Lifting my hood, I can clearly ID the battery and sadly, that's about it!

      And the computers are not necessarily accurate on evaluating engines. The dealership said we needed a $5k repair on an 8yo XTerra. We went to a 'seasoned' mechanic who said "there is nothing wrong with this vehicle". It would be fantastic if our seasoned mechanics could mentor youngsters. Alas, it's like us "seasoned" RNs trying to teach our newbies what we now call "Brail Nursing". We didn't have many machines-we looked, talked, assessed based on the patient talking to us both verbally and nonverbally. It's hard to see those skills devaluated. My seasoned surgeons say the same thing.

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  8. Great article, Bob, and thanks for all you do for us. In so many respects, the financial burden of attending a large college or university which leaves a debt that haunts for decades is WAY worse than the benefits of a degree. I'm thankful that you and I went to college in the 60s-70s when the expense was manageable. Imagine what today's tuition invested in the stock market could generate for the future of that young person and his/her family. Learning personal finance is more important than much of the college education that's taught these days. Maybe the BEST "teacher" is living life itself.

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    1. I wonder how the tremendous growth in online learning, both before and after Covid, is changing the face of education. I must receive a dozen invitations a week to attend an online seminar, watch a lecture, or otherwise participate in something that can keep my brain alive. Getting a degree online is so commonplace today, leaving for a distant campus seems almost passe.

      For me, learning is its own reward. I will be eternally grateful that my parents had the resources to fund my private college education. But, in hindsight, that money was somewhat wasted on me in that I didn't taker full advantage of the opportunities. Frankly, I have no idea how a young person today can live with a student debt that now averages $33,000.

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  9. I am appalled at how much money it takes and the debt burden on our youth, for higher education.I got married and had my child young, and put my college dreams on hold. At age 28 I decided to go back to school for a SPECIFIC degree,Nursing. The local community college cost me around $3500 for two years. I got my AA degree as well as my RN. Years later, my employer helped pay for my Nurse Practitiotiner degree and I got good jobs throughout my life,due to specific training. I CRINGE at the costs of a nursing ed. These days!!! America has a lot of areas we need to improve upon, and education is one of them.We also need a lot more community college ed. Lower prices, and expansion of tech schools to provide us with the tradespeople we need. My gifted nephew was the one of 3 brothers who did not want college, and instead went to tech program for HVAC training. He is doing great and loves his work! We need to put more thought into the ed. Process.As a “youngster’ i was always interested din literature, poetry and liberal arts. Had I gone to college back then I would have gotten a mostly useless degree.Now, I learn those things on my own!

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    1. A liberal arts degree of some sort was the majority choice in my day. As you note, today, such a general approach would not translate into the job market very easily.

      That said, is college just to help you get a job? That wasn't its primary purpose when I attended. Its most important role was to teach you to learn independently, set goals, and become confident in your own self.

      If college is just to find a job or career, the cost of four years doesn't make a lot of sense. There are all sorts of options that make more financial sense and accomplish that goal.

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  10. I had a good friend in my industry who had worked her way up to a very responsible position. But when the rest of us left that dysfunctional company, she stayed and gutted it out because she didn't have a college degree. She wasn't sure she could get another job without one, as they seem to be the ante for an interview in many places. Whether she was right or not, she stayed with that company riding the waves of management change, etc., until she retired. (She was also savvy and didn't get into the political battles that sunk so many around her when management inevitably changed.)

    Having grown up in a small rural town where not everyone went to college, and most girls prioritized marrying and having children, I went to college for a couple years, married and had children. After realizing I had higher ambitions, and after a string of unsatisfying jobs, I decided to return to school to finish my degree. The sense of satisfaction that afforded me was beyond that diploma. I had grown up a lot in the ensuing years and really, really enjoyed and appreciated college. I was also able to work part time and ended up with only about $4K in student loans...unheard of today!

    Great topic, and I'm interested in the comments re: employers not looking for a degree anymore. I think that is limited and agree with Meg B's comment. Unless I'm way off base, a lot of employers see that degree as a sign that you have the ability to learn, stick to something and have (hopefully) a bit of maturity.

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    1. The need for a diploma and whether it is looked at during an employment interview might be industry-dependent. If we think about the high-tech industry, for example, that field is evolving so quickly, that a college degree is out-of-date when granted.

      But, your point (and others above) about what a college education says about a person's abilities and maturity in non-academic ways, may remain quite important in certain fields.

      Does it matter if it is Ivy League or good state university? Probably to a Wall Street firm, but not to others.

      This post has generated a lot more comments than i thought it might. I am loving the discussion.

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  11. Credentials matter. They do not have to be a college degree. Apprentice programs, similar to what is offered in Germany, would go a long way to offering a viable alternative. In my career I saw many people that were trained on the job with only a HS diploma. While very competent they had no credentials. When the inevitable downturn came many were left to start over at another company. Starting over at 50 with a 50% pay cut is a recipe for disaster.
    Critical thinking does not appear to be a required subject in colleges. Ample proof of that can be seen by the number of college graduates embracing positions devoid of science based evidence or anything resembling logic.

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    1. I always wondered why apprentice programs are not offered in more fields. I think of them for certain trades, or architects, but why not other careers?

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    2. The first requirement for an apprentice program to work are national standards. This would allow the certification to be recognized everywhere. Unfortunately the cost of these programs would mostly fall on companies. With our short term focus on quarterly profits at all costs it is not going to happen. Stock options, stock buybacks & CEOs that only stay 4 or 5 years have rendered a system that cannot think long term. Sorry kids.

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  12. This is still a hot topic in our home as we just finished getting two of our daughters through college, and our youngest still has two years left to go. Three of our four children went to/go to “name” private colleges, and our oldest daughter went to a state flagship university. All four received large amounts of financial aid; the private colleges provided much more than the state university. Brett and I both graduated from a state university in our 40s. A degree was required for his job; a MA was required for me to work in my field (ESL) - I am still paying my student loans 20 years later.

    All that being said, college is not right for everyone but it never has been. Somehow this country got sold on the idea that a college degree was necessary without ever stating “necessary for what?” Two of our four knew what they wanted to do when they started out; the other two found their way through trial and error.

    Certificates like the one from Google will be a boon to many, but a degree can make a difference. Our oldest daughter’s boyfriend got a job with Google as an engineer right out of college (name university) and made probably 4-5 times annually what someone with that certificate will make along with signing bonuses, etc. Our daughter, who has a degree in computer science, started at a tech company at the same salary Brett was making when he retired. On the other hand, another daughter’s boyfriend started his own company when he was nine, never went to college, and is a multimillionaire now. It all depends on where you want to go, and what you want to do whether a degree will make a difference.

    The greatest benefit of a college degree *if you or your parents can afford it* IMO is that it shows that one is able to take on a massive undertaking and finish it. Critical thinking skills are also usually learned, whether that’s initially apparent after graduation or not. Other skills are also picked up along the way whether they make sense at the time or not. Those art classes can come in handy later as could a language or math. I would hazard a guess that a degree in International Relations, for example, will play more of a role in one’s world view than they might realize even though it doesn’t have any bearing on their chosen career.

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    1. I picked International Relations because it covered the broadest number of subjects: political history, world history, sociology, philosophy, urban studies, and political geography, just to name a few. I am sure it helped my mind be open to more ideas than it might have been with a narrower focus.

      You and Brett are a perfect couple to share a college-centric experience that has worked well for everyone. Of course, the fact that you are still paying off a college loan from twenty years would also make the case against big debts that stick with you for a long time!

      I will be quite interested to see how programs like Google's certification work. Is it just a rather inexpensive way to get a steady stream of employees, or will it be a model for other companies and industries?

      We have a friend whose son got a substantial payment from her ex-husband. With no education past High School, he went on to establish a multi-million dollar company, and "retire" to the Big island in his late 20's.

      I guess the answer is the path after high school must be selected with the individual in mind. For some, that means a four year college. For others, a technical path. And, some, like the young man mentioned, make the most of an opportunity that required focus and hard work.

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  13. I'm concerned with my kids starting out in the world with a lot of student debt and then spending the rest of their lives being vulnerable. I don't trust employers to do the right thing and you can watch them in action during this pandemic. I believe the way to go for some is to learn a trade or start their own business where they can become self sufficient and in control of their own future. It's the cheaper (more practical? safer?) alternative to an expensive college degree.

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    1. For those with the aptitude or the "big idea" I completely agree. I'm not sure a study has ever been done, but my guess is at least 50% of the freshman and sophomore years are spent in non-learning activities: parties, sports, etc. The first tastes of freedom can be intoxicating, but they don't have to occur in a place that costs $2-3,000 a month (or more).

      Being a good tradesperson, repair expert, or entrepreneur usually requires only specialized training that does not last four+ years.

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  14. No education is wasted and all work is an education. There's no one-size-fits-all. I've seen people who were high achievers academically but couldn't apply it on the job. I've also been witness to the reverse in the workplace - some lesser educated coworkers demonstrated ability beyond their certification. I'm a big believer in mentor/apprenticeship programs. The definition of success is very subjective.

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    1. It would be to all our benefit if the mentor/apprenticeship approach was more widely used. The older person teaching the younger is how things worked for thousands of years. There are elements of that type of intensive, hands-on education that can be learned in no other way.

      And, yes, the definition of success is both subjective and individualistic. I imagine we can all agree that someone should not allow others to tell him or her whether they are successful.

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  15. I lived at home, when to a community college and then a local (state) four year school. To be a teacher it was required to have a 4 year degree, and then a master's degree.

    My youngest did 2 years at a community college and got an AA, got computer certified and went from there. He was earning a good living. Then he went back to school online (as a working dad of 3)and got his four year degree and teaching license.
    My oldest went to community college and went Air National Guard. When he finished his last two years he used his GI Bill. When he graduated he had no debt. We paid for his first 2 years (he also had some scholarships and free credit since his dad taught there). He paid his last two years with the GI Bill and the Kicker he got. He is earning a good income. He could probably have done it without the degree, but I think it was still helpful for him to have it.
    My middle boy took a few credits and that was it. He ran his own business for 10 years. Then he had to medically retire from it (knee injury). He is going back to a two year college (this area does not call it a community college) and getting trade skills/degrees.
    It is hard to make it on just a HS education. Some type of additional training/learning is needed most times to get a living wage job.
    Just as a side note, as someone that got a technology certificate online and teaches online. When done correctly a online class can be just as educational, engaging, useful as a face to face class. Online opens the world of education to many that could not do face to face classes due to life responsibilities. Many assume they are "easier" and in fact many times it is the other way. Both students and teachers work harder with online learning than the traditional face to face class setting.

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    1. This is an excellent overview of so many different paths forward, all from the same family! I appreciate your sharing this because it really proves the point that a 4 year, traditional college, right after high school, is not the only viable choice for many young people.

      My son-in-law completed his college degree mostly online after the Navy and I know he worked very hard to do so. There were occasional in person meetings required, but most of it was done from a distance. He has turned that into a very nice, well-paying career.

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  16. Looking at it purely from a financial perspective, in Canada the more higher education people have, the greater their lifetime earnings will be. This is with the years of lost earnings and tuition costs factored in. Of course, in Canada, as in most countries, postsecondary education is greatly subsidized by tax dollars so that young people don’t have to begin their careers deeply in debt (although even here many students have significant debt upon graduation).

    That said, the true value of education is not financial or even as a credential for a career, but in better understanding the world, learning to learn, critical thinking, social skills, self discipline, and learning to be a citizen. The ignorance that comes from lack of learning, paired with lack of respect for expertise, have contributed to the mess we are in today.

    Jude

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    1. Someday the U.S. may adopt the logical system of investing in its citizens education, by providing the type of subsidy Canada (and others) does, making basic secondary education free, or some combination. In the world today, the need for those who can think and analyze on their own without being swayed by the loudest or most extreme voice is desperately needed.

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  17. I'm surprised that there is little mention of college just being part of "growing up". When I went off to college in 1965 it was the first time I was away from home and on my own. College opened up the world to me as I had grown up in a small racist rural community and had no idea that the world was so diverse.

    Yes, the cost of college is ridiculous now. It should be free as it is in many European countries and treated as just the next step beyond "high" school which I think if very much misnamed.

    As a result of college I have come to believe that everyone is entitled to be able to reach their maximum potential regardless of race, economic condition, or anything else. Stopping education at high school is one of the primary reasons that MAGA exists today. Too many uneducated voters out there. Jefferson said "a democracy depends on an informed electorate" and college plays a big part of that.

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    1. While today's online world and Internet options allow anyone to find the type of mind-expanding education you mention, I certainly agree that leaving home and making it on one's own is a critical part of becoming a mature adult. The "normal" choice has been college, but it is not the only choice.

      I know we pride ourselves on our educational system and the intelligence of our people. It seems terrifyingly obvious that in too many cases that is a myth.

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    2. While online and Internet options do allow mind-expanding education, it misses out on the daily interaction with other different from you. Before I went to a live-in college I had never really met anyone different from myself let alone actually becoming friends with them.

      It is possible for someone to get a book-learning education and still remain in a very restrictive environment and mindset. That was my primary reason for commenting as I did.

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  18. A college education/experience provides many advantages, many not related to job skills. I've always believed that everyone should have the opportunity to go to college if he/she wanted to. I believe vocational education provides a valuable alternative to college to those students who are interested in a different career path than a bachelor's degree offers. Find what you are happy doing and then get prepared for it.

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    1. It does benefit virtually everyone to be tested in some way after High School. The military, higher education of some type, apprenticeship, taking an idea and starting a business...anything that causes someone to spend time in a different environment, gaining new exoeriences, and facing new challenges.

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  19. Bob, this is such an interesting question. I'm only a few years older than you are, but my experience of educational expectations was very different. About half of high school graduates in the 1960s went on to college, and the % was much higher for boys than for girls and in the middle class than in the working class. As a girl growing up in a working class family and a working class town, I knew very few people who went on to college after high school, and it certainly wasn't expected. People talked about graduating from high school as "finishing school." I was the only one of my parents' five children to get a 4-year degree. (My two brothers went on to get 2-year degrees and my two sisters stopped their formal education with high school graduation.)
    Having spent 40 years teaching at liberal arts colleges, I naturally agree with Meg that the value of education is in learning how to think, communicate, and learn and not in job training. Having said that, however, I also think that education is often wasted on the young, most of whom just aren't mature enough to take advantage of the opportunity.
    As a society, we need to value a broader range of occupations, both in terms of pay and in terms of respect. Maine, where I live, currently has a big ad campaign on to encourage young people to go into the skilled trades. A general education can prepare you for many kinds of occupations, but it is not direct training for them. Meanwhile, there are ways that don't involve getting a four-year college degree to get good job training for important jobs that we should value (but often don't). As Senator George Mitchell once said in a Commencement address I heard him give, "If we respect philosophers just because they are philosophers and look down on plumbers just because they are plumbers, we'll get just what we deserve: bad philosophy and bad plumbing; neither our pipes nor our theories will hold water."

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    1. I so appreciate your "insider" view: as someone who grew up in a situation where college wasn't a natural choice, and then as an educator who understands the limitations of a "higher" education as it is presently structured.

      I fully support the increased support for trade and technical education. We need to place much higher value on these folks. Without them our world would literally grind to a halt.

      BTW, I will have a post on Monday about the lack of good tradespeople. I will be interested in the comments it generates.

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