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College Education

A College Education, the Key to a Happy Life or Not?

By Chris Jordan

My oldest son is going to be a junior in high school this year. Already people have started asking where he is going to college, what he wants to study, what he wants to do with his life. His answer is always the same, “I don’t know,” followed by a shrug. Then they look at me.  I shrug.

I recently looked up my old university online. Over $60,000 a year. A YEAR.

Here is the thing, I don’t think everyone needs to go to college. Many of us have been force fed the idea that college is the only means to move up and out of our socio-economic status. I don’t think any of my children have to go to college. It is their choice. I especially do not think that they need to go immediately after high school.

Moreover, the idea of them accruing huge amounts of debt to attend college makes me feel ill. I certainly do not have an extra $60,000 per year just lying around. Heck, I don’t even have a tenth of that. I have told my kids that if they work hard in high school and get the grades and SAT/ACT scores that they need to get scholarships at expensive private universities that I will help them in every way that I can, but I also feel VERY strongly about them not acquiring huge amounts of debt, especially at the undergraduate level when most kids don’t even really know what they want to pursue.  Having that kind of debt locks you into things and limits your choices.  But in the end at 18 years old, they are legally adults and can make their own decisions, the choice is not mine.  And as with most things in this parenting gig, I just hope they listen to what I have to say.

Some of my kids might not want to go to college, their interests and desires might take them on a different path. I am perfectly okay with that. I’d rather have a happy ditch digger for a son or daughter than a miserable lawyer. And honestly, the world needs plumbers and mechanics; why have we relegated those careers as inferior choices?

I think as a society we need to accept the fact that not everyone needs a college education. Having a college degree will not buy you a better life.  And also accept the fact that some college degrees have no real marketable value, they do not exchange for a job. I am looking at myself here and my B.S. in studio art, with a concentration in painting. Does that degree have any value in the real world? No. I can tell you it does not. Did I care when I was getting it? No, not really. I have two college degrees that are “worthless” when viewed in terms of job prospects.

Do I regret my degrees? Not at all. But I did not go into debt for them. I wasn’t forced to get a job to pay for my degrees.

People argue that college is not only about the education you are receiving, that there is value beyond the degree that is conferred. I agree. My issue comes in when people insist that it is the only way to have a happy and productive life.


I was with my son recently at his annual physical. The doctor asked him about his grades, extra-curricular activities and college plans. When I revealed he was the classic underachiever sort of student, the doctor gasped and said, “You don’t want to end up at the community college, do you?”

When I asked her what was wrong with that she said, “Well, it’s fine for some people, but our kids can do better.”

Since when is there a better and who decides this? I must have missed that memo.

I would much rather my children spend time at the local community college. I’d love for them to take classes that interest them. Take classes that seem fun. Explore new ideas. Honestly I could pay for them each to get 4 associates degrees for less money than it would be for one semester at a private four-year college. Much much less money.

I would love for my oldest son to attend a local community college for a year or so, work a part-time job and save money. Then take time off to travel the world with a friend or two. Strap a backpack on and head off into the unknown. Those are the kind of life experiences I want for him, and for all of my children. Those are the sort of adventures that teach you about who you are. They broaden your world view. When else will you be able to do this in your life?

Or, I could leave him home and strap on my own backpack– that sounds better than pulling my wheeled luggage behind me– and spend a year searching for myself. Forty-three isn’t too old to do that, is it?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  • Kerry

    August 22, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    Amen Sistah! I was one of those high schoolers who had no idea how to go forward after graduation. My parents drilled it into my head that I had to go to college, but they didn’t really explain the logistics (money for tuition, how to get/fill out applications, etc). I remember a few PTA moms who were in charge of putting together a “Where Everyone is Going to College” bulletin my senior year, and they just couldn’t seem to grasp that I didn’t have a plan… Of course THIER children had been accepted to ivy league schools months ago! Naturally! I remember feeling SO dumb that I didn’t have the next 10 years of my life mapped out.

    I ended up going to the local city college, and I loved it! My professors were awesome, my class sizes were small, and many of the preppy Chads and Beckys who went to more prestigious universities ended up at my school after they partied their freshman year away and flunked out.

    I really think learning an actual trade is so smart- a great way to prepare for a practical career. I would much rather work with my hands (mechanic) or do something creative (hairstyling) than be a freaking desk jockey the rest of my life.

  • Mae

    August 23, 2011 at 2:51 am

    I totally agree. The children nowadays are made to feel so useless and futureless if they are not good at their studies. I mean everyone is gifted differently. Not everyone can be a doctor or a lawyer. I mean what would the world become if everyone fights to be a certain profession.
    I always believe that whatever profession or career path that my children chooses to take, they must excel in it. That will be their best gift to me and to the world.

  • PollyS

    August 23, 2011 at 4:13 am

    I totally agree. College is a slippery slope these days. And really, it’s not like it was even 10 years ago. Thankfully there are so many options…Community college, online, part time, etc. Debt is just not worth going the traditional route.
    Read this and found it interesting
    AND a few years ago my friend had a plumber at his house. The plumber’s DISCOUNT rate was $120 an hour. He gave my friend a discount because the job he was doing would take 15 hours! My friend did the math and told the plumber that he makes more money than he did! And my friend has a bachelors and a masters in engineering from UC Berkeley! His business is regularly slow and he takes pay cuts. But the plumber? He has a waiting list and picks and chooses which jobs to take.
    My husband has an acquaintance in the Dallas area that owns a roofing company. He has a similar story in that he makes almost twice what his lawyer brother makes.
    Soooo, trades might not be the worst thing in the world, huh?

  • Good reads « Loved into being

    August 23, 2011 at 8:03 am

    […] I recently looked up my old university online. Over $60,000 a year. A YEAR.   Here is the thing, I don’t think everyone needs to go to college… (continue reading) […]

  • Ann

    August 23, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Two thumbs up!! You’ve echoed my feelings about college exactly. I’ve seen so many people in my family go into it not really knowing what they want to do, and then taking anyjob after graduation just to get by. I’d much rather see my kids work for a couple of years or go part-time local until they really know what they want to do. I came out of high school so completely unprepared for college – how can kids at 17 be expected to make such a huge decision?

  • Momma

    August 23, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Agreed. A local online paper recently did an article on a great auto mechanic in her neighborhood and how happy he seemed with his life. The irony was that I finished the article believing that the author would never allow her own children to follow such a path. Life is what you make of it. When you spend all your time aspiring to have things when does it ever end. There’s always going to be someone else who has more. The only way to make someone happy is to make yourself happy.

  • jL

    August 23, 2011 at 11:32 am

    My parents drilled 4-year college (with a football team per my dad’s standards) into my head. I had no idea that there was another option. I loved every minute of my college experience and thankfully did not have to go into debt for it. BUT the marketable skills I gained from college were approximately 0. I made best friends and learned lots of things about life but I really didn’t learn much that I used in my first job out of school. I didn’t even find out what I was good at until I had been working for about 3 years. Now, I wish I could go back and get a degree in graphic design. For our kids, I will encourage them to be happy and try community college for a year or two before they want to go to a 4-year IF that is what they want to do. But I will strongly reccommend that they go to a school with a Football team (preferrably with a strong tradition of being ranked in the top 25). I thought my dad was crazy at the time but there is something to be said for team spirit.

  • baltimoregal

    August 23, 2011 at 11:59 am

    As a person who WORKS at a expensive and highly-ranked college, I say YES to you. Some kids are not ready. Some kids will never be the college type and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But please do not go into debt for a “because the others are doing it” mentality. College can be the growth experience many kids need but it isn’t for everyone.

  • Eileen

    August 23, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    I need my husband to read this. When I joke about our daughter going to cosmotology school, he gets upset. But as a public librarian (which requires TWO degrees), I’m sure there are plenty of haridressers out there making more than me! 🙂

  • jcc

    August 23, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    I think people have forgotten the real reason one should go to college: To gain the knowledge, skills and contacts for a career that can better sustain you and your future family. Pursuing a degree that does not lead lead towards that end is in reality a luxury. One that only the independently wealthy could afford.

  • Rebecca

    August 23, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    1) I have a very expensive college education that bought me a master’s degree, incurred me enough debt I could have bought a small house (alas, I still rent), and still left me wondering what I wan to do with my life. 2) Most (if not all) the college level classes I enjoyed taking were not ones that led to a career with any sort of stable income. 3) A good friend of mine earned her BA at a private university, graduated, and went on to earn $10/hour. She then went back to *gasp* community college, earned an associate’s in ultrasound technology, and now earns $35/hour. 4) If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it much differently.

  • tasterspoon

    August 23, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    I remember doing an Outward Bound course in high school and one of my coursemates was a thirty-something woman who regretted strongly not having gone to college. She didn’t believe she was at all deficient in skills or knowledge, but felt that not having the piece of paper held her back. I want my children to have as many options as possible. I would see further education not as a tool to narrow their options but to widen them, though I understand how debt would counteract that. God bless em if your child knows that s/he wants to be a dental hygienist or anything else that specific at 18, I truly did not and college opened up a whole world of professions I otherwise would have known nothing about. I don’t love my desk job, but I am reminded at least once a week how fortunate I am to have a job that lets me exercise my mind and doesn’t wear out my body.
    I see what jcc is saying; I do NOT think that is the “real reason” for liberal arts education at least, but do agree that liberal arts colleges are a luxury in these trying times.
    Last point: does a college education make a difference if you’re female? I am fully supportive of female roofers or plumbers or whatever, but are they getting as much business and earning the same wages as their male counterparts in physically demanding jobs? (There are lots of contractors in my neighborhood and it is very much a boys’ club.) I’m truly curious, I wonder if gender income disparities vary by industry. Something for your child to research anyway!

  • Rebecca

    August 23, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    I agree with what you said, I have never read any where someone brave enough to say/write this. I do not have a college ed but I did go to cosmetology school (someone before me joked about it) and my husband is an electrician- again, no college. I think a degree in business or something broad is good to have because I couldn’t make the money I’m making anywhere else without a degree of some kind, and some days it would be nice to do 9-5 like ‘normal’ people. But…we are happy, financially secure, have private health and benefits which is more than a lot of ‘educated’ people have nowadays.

  • Ginger

    August 25, 2011 at 12:21 am

    Hm. “Our kids can do better than community college.”

    That perplexes me. I know a silly amount of very intelligent people (both young AND old–old being a relative term) who go to community college. It’s cheaper, closer to home, and a nice way to transition for a lot of us.

    I will say if I hadn’t gone to community college, I wouldn’t have gotten accepted into a special honors program that’s opened up ten thousand more doors for me. 

    I also wouldn’t have discovered yoga, dance, sociology, or even anthropology. Interesting, huh?

  • Hillary

    August 25, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    I really admire you for saying this! I’ve been telling my friends and family that I want my child to be 1) law-abiding, 2) self-sufficient, and 3) happy. And, really, college is not necessarily part of that equation. A lot of things become less of a priority if those are your goals. It is time to embrace a wider range of options for our children!

  • Melani

    August 26, 2011 at 11:33 am

    I am 36 years old and taking my very first college classes ever. To be honest, I still don’t know what I want to “do” but I’m ready to figure it out. I was valedictorian of my high school class so could have easily gone to college but no one in my family had ever gone and I honestly didn’t know how to go about it.  
    Instead, 17 years ago I married my high school sweetheart, worked for a few years and then had 2 babies and stayed home with them.  I love my life but am aware that my days of parenting will end one day soon and I want to choose a job that I enjoy–not one that someone’s willing to give my uneducated, unskilled self. 

    Now, with all that being said…I expect my children to go to a four year college after high school. Because we have this expectation for them, we have college funds set up and will assume the responsibility for college costs. If they want to be a ditch digger, that’s truly fine with me but I want them to have a degree to give them other choices if one day the ditch digging is no longer what they want.  

  • Natalie

    August 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    I was told to go to college and then told at the last minute, thanks to my parents splitting up, that I needed to pay for it myself. I have been out of my undergrad for 7 years and still owe 36,000 after having paid off 22,000 of it. I make less than 25,000 a year…before taxes. Meanwhile my husband didn’t graduate high school or get his GED and he is making more than 50,000 a year before taxes in a trade job. This has put a ton of strain on our marriage, has stopped me from doing what I truely want to do and forces me to work non-stop instead of being home with my daughter. i loved my college expereince but would I trade it in for anything? Yes…a happier more fullfilled life.

  • s

    August 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    absolutely agree.  My kids aren’t high school age but I already feel this way – especially about one of my boys, who is truly super smart, but hates school and I can’t imagine him being happy behind a desk.  He needs to move, to build/tear things down, to figure things out.    The school I graduated from only pushed a 4 yr college degree- it was that path or…they really didn’t know how to “guide” you.  One of my friends, who was very smart, wanted to go to trade school and his teachers gave him a really difficult time.  So many kids in college are adrift – they have no idea what to do with themselves.  Some of the folks I work with never went to college but are some of the smartest and hardest workers in my division.   So, I’m with you – I hope my kids make the right choices for them, and if they don’t know what that choice is yet, as long as they can support themselves while they figure it out, that is just fine with me.  College is a great experience, but its only one of many options, and sometimes delaying college and enrolling when you are ready is a better choice.

  • Fairly Odd Mother

    August 27, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Funny, there was a very heated discussion about this in our last homeschooler parents’ meeting. . .I have to say that I am on the side of “oh please go to college”—not the $60k/year kind of “notch in my belt” path, but I do want my kids to continue on with their education, whether it be liberal arts or to learn a trade. When I left high school, I had NO idea what I wanted to do, nor did I think I could accomplish very much—college helped me grow up and find myself, away from my family and the friends who knew me from the age of 8 on up.

    Also, I think there are a lot of jobs where a college education DOES matter. But maybe our definition of “college” will change as technology makes online learning easier (and less costly).

  • Kris

    September 6, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    College Plus is an option. A friend’s son is doing college from home through this group. It is affordable, flexible and they are thrilled with it.

  • Kate

    September 6, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    I completely agree with you! I think trade schools are amazing and I think community colleges are a wonderful, wonderful resource. I went to a community college and ended up with a paid fellowship at Harvard based on my work there. I really think it’s possible to do anything and go anywhere with a degree from a two-year college if you’re an engaged and dedicated student.

  • Mir

    September 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Here in Georgia we have the Hope Scholarship, which mostly pays for a GA state college for kids who maintain a B average or better. I consider it one of the few perks of having moved to this area. 😉 Now it’s my kids’ dad who’s always talking about how they can do “better” than “one of those crummy Georgia schools,” to which I respond that if a free college education is problematic for him, he is welcome to pay for them to go to the school of his choosing, assuming they’ll go along with it.

    Honestly, having been raised to believe COLLEGE IS IMPORTANT and having gotten a few very expensive degrees, myself, I’ve come to believe that you can get a good education just about anywhere, if you’re motivated to do so. And “anywhere” includes junior colleges and life experiences OTHER than college.

  • goliadyaya

    September 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I forced my oldest to attend college and we were all miserable. Emotional immaturity on his part and me wondering what everyone would think on my part. However, raising children means learning from our mistakes. I learned! My younger son, excelled in academics, athletics and social situations…decided he wanted to be a firefighter…off he went to EMT school and a 4 month intensive firefighting school. He LOVES it and is happy with his chosen career path. Granted he will have to work & plan for financial success, but he and we are much happier. Also with his 24 on and 48 off schedule he can continue his education if and when he decides. Listen to your children…

  • Cate

    September 6, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Mir, your children’s dad obviously doesn’t know anything about a little institution knows as the Georgia Institute of Technology! Chris, well said!

  • Emily in IL

    September 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    1) college is important
    2) traditional 4 yr schools aren’t for everyone

    I have 4 yrs in a traditional college under my belt. If I had to do it again, I would have done 2 yrs in community college FIRST and then decided if I wanted to go on. This is coming from someone with zero college debt (thanks mom & dad). I was EXPECTED to go to school to get a ‘career’. As it turns out, my job now doesn’t even come close to what I studied other than I studied business and now work for a business.

  • Amy

    September 6, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    My husband didn’t go to college, owns two businesses (plumbing and electrical related) and is probably the savviest business man I know. I have a graduate degree that he paid for that I don’t do much with. I was lucky enough to have an undergrad scholarship so I’m not saddled with debt, but my best friend wasn’t and I see how she’s struggled financially and doesn’t even work in her field. My husband pulls in 4/5ths of our income. There needs to be a shift in our country’s definition of education. I personally got more from a summer apprenticeship than I got from 8 years of college. I’ve never really understood why people look down on trades people. When we moved to our current neighborhood, one of our neighbors practically grimaced when he found out what my husband did. Now we’re pretty popular since everyone’s figured out they can ring our doorbell day or night when their AC goes out, or their basement floods and my husband actually know what to do. Also, many trade incomes aren’t affected by the economy. People still have to flush the toilet and need electricity.

  • amy flood

    September 6, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    i’m with youy Chris. I have 3 soon to be 4 children and there will be no way that any of them will be able to have a free ride unless they get scholarships. I’m also not sure i will encourage them to go to a traditional 4 yr college. I went to a 4 yr college, spent 15 years paying off my student loans and the job i currenlty have (and Like and pays well) i could have done with a 2-yr associates degree!

  • Groovecatmom

    September 6, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Wow, Chris, you pretty much jumped inside my head and pulled out my exact thoughts on college. It’s a myth that every single person needs to go to college to be a success, or even be educated. Especially if you aren’t sure what you want to do/be, it’s unwise to go into that much debt. Plus, mechanic and plumber jobs can’t be outsourced overseas!

    Maybe your son could consider a gap year after high school. It’s done in so many ways–young people volunteer, travel, or just work at an odd job, until they decide if college is right for them, and what that looks like.

    One final thought: our state has guaranteed transfer courses from the community college to the 4 year schools. It makes so much sense to take the freshman and sophomore classes at a CC–cheaper, smaller classes, and teachers who actually are there to teach.

  • Mama Bear

    September 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I am not going to read the other comments, as I’m sure I would be offended, nodding my head in agreement, and astonished at what everyone has said. Here’s my scoop:
    I have 3 children, 2 of them are out of high school. My son went to 2 years at a Technical College (GASP!!) Then worked to finish his associates degree for a year. Ta-Da, one degree under his belt! Yes, it is a blue collar job, an auto mechanic. We will always need someone to fix cars in this world. He has now gone back to the same (GASP!!) Technical school to get his welding degree. He was accepted into a program of 30 students, the professors get calls every year that would require them to graduate a minimum of 100 students from the program. My son will have a job after leaving college, and his debt? Funny you should ask. After four years, it will be LESS than $30,000. You read that correctly, 4 YEARS with a debt of less than 30 grand AND a job immediately out of school (that pays very, very well I might add) AND 2 degrees. On top of that he has been the head coach of a successful athletic program. Does this make him a diversified employee? Yes, it does. Does this make him “over educated” for jobs as many people hear when they go out an apply? The going rate for Welders in my area of the country, granted we are in a boom cycle very atypical from the rest of the nation, is up to $100 an hour. Read it again. How long will it take him to pay back his debt at that rate?
    My 2nd child out of high school is a college freshman. She is going to the 2 year college in our hometown this year. The college is doing very, very well fiscally. In fact any scholarships that a student gets is automatically DOUBLED by the college. My daughter got enough scholarships to pay for her school this year, PLUS enough that she is living in the dorm. So she gets to be away from home, learn to be self sufficient but still have the opportunity for help just a few blocks away when she needs us. My daughter is a brilliant student who graduated with honors. All the counselors and her favorite teachers agreed that an opportunity to have your first year of college completely paid for, get a good chunk of your generals out of the way and still have time to make final decisions on your major was way too good to pass up. We toured many, many colleges, and she was accepted to many, many colleges; this was a better fiscal choice for her future.
    Cities and States who brainwash their children into thinking they must go to a very expensive school to get a job worth having make me want to scream! What are we asking of our children? Theirs will be the first generation to be less well off than their parents, and we are asking them to make it worse by sending them to colleges that will take them decades to pay off the debt that they incur. That in itself tells me that some parents are more concerned with being able to say “My son/daughter goes to LA-DI-DAH University” when they meet their neighbor down the street than they are with the future of their child.
    You asked us to sound off, and I guess I did! Sorry for taking up so much space. I’m off my soapbox now, for the moment.

  • Bridget

    September 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    I agree 100%. I don’t think my parents would have accepted my not going to college after high school, but that didn’t bother me since I wanted to go anyway. However, they never ONCE discussed the financial side of it with me. I chose a private school that I loved and graduated with $35K in debt. I had a great time in college, but oh how I wish they had told my 17-year-old self how much debt sucks. I probably would have given the public universities in my state a much closer look.

  • Stacey

    September 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Thanks so much for writing this, Chris. I was recently having similar thoughts about my own children and my own path in life. Where I grew up, it was also just assumed that you would go to college. Somewhere during the application process, I realized that I didn’t know *why* I was going to college or what I wanted to do with my life. But I was on a path and I followed it, got a couple of degrees, worked, had kids. And here I am. I’d also like to strap on a backpack and go find myself. Gosh, to think maybe I’ve lost that opportunity entirely at 40…!

  • annmarie

    September 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Oh, that almost makes me cry to think of people dissing community college. My ninth grader intends on going that route, as she isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life and also, she is a major worrier and obsesses over things like money and debt. I would much rather raise a child who is aware that debt is not a terrific way to start out your adult life than one who thinks they’ll go to college, accrue massive debt and be able to pay it off because college with guarantee them a terrific job. That just isn’t the case anymore and I’m not sure it ever was. I think there is value to education beyond high school, ( I went and loved it) but it has to be done for the right reason. A friend just asked me recently if I would be crushed if my kids didn’t go to college and when I said no, she gasped and said, wouldn’t you think of them as losers. I don’t know how to respond to that. No, I’m not sure I would ever think of my kids as losers, but certainly whether or not they go to college is so far down on the list of things i care about. My kids are taught to be useful , productive, contributing members of their community, no matter where that is and if it’s not in college, so be it. People are sold a bill of good about college. It’s one of the many things we are braiswashed about. I homeschool my kids – that’s another one people just don’t get, but oh well. Sometimes when I want to be a real wise ass I say, “Jesus never went to college ” I only say this to fellow Christians though, because I guess if you aren’t Christian you might answer back, “yeah, and look what happened to him.”

  • Carla Hinkle

    September 6, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I’m all for not forcing kids to go to get their bachelor’s right away … taking on a lot of debt is certainly not a great idea, and I hate to think of my kids wasting time and money when they don’t know what they want to do. But I would be hesitant to encourage kids NOT to go to college. Just take a look at the lifetime employment/income averages for college graduates vs high school graduates. That’s not a curve I really want my kids to be on, honestly … it brings with it a lot of financial insecurity.

    I also would be concerned, based on personal experience, that kids who take some time off may spend many years floundering around and end up stuck in an unsatisfying career rut. I went to a high school where only about 10% of kids went a 4 year college. The rest of the kids spent a number of years working low-paying, low-prospect jobs and didn’t end up doing anything satisfying or interesting. I’m not talking about everyone being a doctor or a lawyer, but I would like more for my kids than to work retail for the rest of their life — MEANINGFUL work, whatever the pay.

    My experience with going directly to a 4 year college was that I was surrounded by bright, interesting, thoughtful people from all walks of life and with a wide range of interests. Even though my liberal arts (history) degree isn’t particularly practical, I learned and grew just from spending such intense time with a bunch of other young people all doing the same thing. I’m sure this can happen other places outside of college … but I’d want to hear from my kid a specific plan they had to be DOING SOMETHING with their time instead of college before I signed off on skipping it.

  • Tricia

    September 6, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    My husband and I have one son who graduated from high school with 32 college credit hours by taking duel credit classes while in high school. We simply cannot afford to pay for a 4 year, go find yourself college. HOWEVER, we both strongly believe in having a 4 year degree is very important. I just don’t believe it needs to be attained in the traditional way.

    He has gone to Fire Academy and EMT school. When he finishes that he can get a well paying job and have the time to continue his college at the Community College and then a nearby 4 year college. He knows he is welcome to live at home while he does this.

    His brother, 3 years his junior, plans to do the same thing. He is dyslexic and has struggled with learning, but he is an excellent ‘hands-on’ kid. At 17, he already works at an Auto Shop. He will get his Fire and EMT certifications then probably continue on to get a 2 year degree in Auto Mechanics. I have no doubt that he will be able to support a family in this way. 

    I still think college is very important. But I think sending immature kids off to the traditional 4 year school so they can ‘experience college’ is a ridiculous waste of money. If you have it, great. I, sadly, don’t, so I have to be a little more creative. 

  • Sarah

    September 6, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    I agree with much of what you said here, in fact most.  However, I will say that for many jobs you need a 4 year degree to even be considered, even if it isn’t in a specific area.  It comes down to what you want to do for the rest of your life.  There are many jobs that people are happy with that don’t require education past a high school diploma or an associates degree.  However, these days, it seems more and more jobs that in days past would fall into those categories now require a 4 year degree to even be considered.

  • S in LA

    September 6, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    I totally agree. I went to a community college for the first two years of college. This allowed me to backpack through Europe for almost three months – twice! This was the best time of my life for sure. When I was job hunting nobody cared that two of my four years of college were at a community college. Employers just wanted a confimation of graduation, that’s it.

  • Molly

    September 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I refuse to believe that a young person who does not excel in school does not have the intelligence or ability to be highly successful and to flourish. Schools reward one very narrow form of intelligence:

    I also wish more students went to college because they *wanted* to be there, not because they have never once been asked in life what they want to do. 

    Yes, I know that with the job market as it is, statistically your son’s lifetime financial security is likely to be much less secure if he doesn’t earn a college degree. But he can go to a place and study a subject and choose a time in his life for it that is right for him. Or apprentice to a trade (which could be a great life), or work in a non-traditional career like the arts where it’s not required.

    Also: I have seen the inside of a massive public university and the way I look at it is you can get a fantastic education there as long as you’re self-motivated and you seek out what it has to offer. To the point that paying private tuition is an enormous waste. However, you’ve got to be highly motivated, or even the lower tuition you pay there is wasted. Sometimes I think private tuition is partly paying for the people and advising and individual attention necessary to make sure everyone is guided through. Which is great if you have it, but otherwise you can DIY.  

  • Jackie

    September 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    I tell my children that they must do something after high school. I don’t care if that something is a technical school, 2 year college, 4 year college or an apprenticeship like my husband went through.

  • RebeccaD.

    September 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    I really want my 9 year old daughter to go to college right out of high school.  I did some part time community college when I graduated but then got married and had my kids. After a few years I went back to school and am finishing up my BA this year. My husband just finished up his degree as well. While it has been a great opportunity for us since we have been able to grants for much of it and my major is in a field that wasn’t really around 10 years ago, I am really happy that it worked out that I am getting a degree in a field I love without incurring debt. However it has been difficult juggling school, work and a family and there have been plenty of times that I wish I had finished years ago.  I want my daughter to go and get a degree, but I would never let her go into debt to do it. I have friends who still have thousands of dollars in school loans and I can’t even imagine having that hanging over your head in your 20s when you are already broke and struggling!

  • Lise

    September 6, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    I think your hope for your oldest son is a good one. My (homeschooled) kids went to community college while in high school.It was a great way to transition to doing college level work while still living at home. When they went away to university, they only needed to adjust to living in a dorm, not to doing higher level work. And by the way, they found many university classes to be less work than community college classes. Professors with 600 students in a class don’t assign many essays. Instructors with 30 students in a class do.

  • Jo Anne

    September 6, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Here Here!!!! I must say my son had no desire to finish school (and to my dismay he dropped out in his senior year). I was beside myself. Well, fast forward 20 years and he is a successful business owner who can afford to send both his children to that fancy school of yours. And, he does not even have a GED. I am not saying this is right for everyone. I am saying that different strokes for different folks and good for the individual who recogonizes what is right for them. My son always knew that he hated school and did not want to finish. He always knew that someday he wanted to own his own business — and he made that happen. Good for your children that they have a mother who does not want to cookie cutter their and their futures. Keep up the good work.

  • Jamie/Parallelfirst

    September 6, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    I attended a 4-year university b/c that was what the general expectation was in my circle of friends- my family would have been supportive either way. My first 2 years were *wasted* from an education standpoint, as I floated from major to major, really only applying myself to dance team, beer drinking, and greek life. I buckled down for the second 2 years in order to get out in 4 – but wasted my parents’ incredibly generous money, and haven’t done a damn thing with my degree since. I didn’t have the focus going in, and didn’t get the focus coming out. I should have done the community college 2-year gen ed approach, and saved us all some regret and hassle. Did I love my time there? Of course! Would I have adapted as well in community college as I would have in a traditional 4-year live-away setting? Of course! It’s a crapshoot, frankly. Everyone’s situation is different – judgment is pointless.

  • kolimom98

    September 6, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Excellent article!!! I so agree with you! I do not have a college education and neither does my husband. What we do have is ambition!!!! We are totally debt free and live well. We didn’t care if our daughter went to college or not and actually tried more to convince her NOT to go and get a big debt. We paid the first two years and she paid the last two years and had a a degree and loves what she does. So, everyone is different but I HATE when people do ask kids constantly where they are going to go to college! Most kids do not have any idea what they want to do at 18 years old. And changes their majors many times before they do figure out what they want. I have a friend whose daughter has a degree in “dance”… What the heck is that???

  • Kathy from NJ

    September 6, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    One word – ROTC – One of my nieces who wanted to be a nurse since age 12 went to a private university on full ROTC scholarship for tuition, books & fees – school scholarship for room & board. She also received a monthly tax-free stipend from the army. She’s now a 1LT at Landstuhl hospital in Germany and having the time of her life; in 15 months has vacationed in almost every country in Europe.
    My nephew (her brother) is now in his 3rd year at a private university with a full ROTC scholarship that the army says is worth $176,000. Last summer he completed Air Assault school, this summer he spent 5 weeks in Bangkok teaching (?) at the military school there ; to me, looking at his pictures, it seemed like an all-expense-paid 5 week vacation. Yes, my niece is now giving the military 4 years and my nephew will have to do the same after he graduates. But the pay is NOT BAD, especially when one adds in housing allowance, COLA allowance (tax-free on those two) and exceptional medical/dental/eyecare benefits. My niece would like to specialize in L&D, unfortunately the poor girl will have to spend 6 months in Hawaii for additional training. The military has given them self-confidence and maturity that many people their ages do not have yet.

  • Amanda

    September 6, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    You’re right. College isn’t for everyone. I know I wish I wouldn’t have wasted all that money to figure out after 2 years that it wasn’t for me. Those gen. ed. classes annoyed me to no end. I wanted to take classes in what I was there for, and that’s it. None of that “well rounded” BS. 

    And for the person who said ROTC, I can tell you that unless your kid is top quality, it’s not really an option for a scholarship anymore. We’ve been assigned to ROTC for 9 school years now. My husband has been the ROO and an instructor between 3 different schools. Your child needs great grades, a great SAT score, extracurriculars, etc. They also (and some people don’t get this) need to meet the minimum requirements to get into the college of the ROTC program they’re looking at applying. Honestly, there is talk that there are so many cadets these days that kids may start coming out of ROTC with a 4 year certificate of completion because there are so many, and the field is so competitive. The military isn’t just looking for cheeks in the seats to throw money at. 

  • jaye

    September 6, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    I believe that education is important.  And the vast majority of jobs require (or strongly encourage) someone to have more education than a HS degree.  That doesn’t mean it has to be a 4-year university degree.  I am a professor at a community college here in Texas.  We have programs for firefighters, a police academy, training for mechanics, nursing programs, dental hygiene, food service and hospitality (just to name a few), along with the more traditional business, accounting, management, english, math, history, etc.  Community college is a great place to start!  A technical program certificate can be earned for less than $1000 (excluding books)!  Yes, there is a stigma attached to CC education, but my students routinely come back and tell me that when they get to the 4 year university (those that choose to go that route) that they are more prepared than the students that started out at the university.  I won’t get on my CC soapbox, but it’s really a great place for those who aren’t sure what they want to do, or even for those who are but can’t afford to spend a year’s salary on one semester’s tuition!

  • Maddy

    September 6, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Hi Chris, I too have a 16 year old selecting subjects now for his last two years in high school in the hopes he makes the right choices for whatever it is he decides to do when he leaves school. He has not made up his mind either. Here in Australia you need to chose in Year 10 at 16 the subjects you want to do in years 11 and 12 which combine to give them their equivalent of your SAT score. It’s daunting, if he chooses the wrong subjects now and decides he does want to go to uni he’s got to do an extra year to catch up, more money, more time out of the workforce. He has opted to go to a military university and study engineering, which fied of engineering he doesn’t know, but for now that’s the plan, fingers crossed it’s the right one.

  • Christine

    September 6, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    I agree with you… to a point. I have 4 kids that are 21 and under. My oldest daughter chose not to go to college after graduation she put it off to work. Now 3 years later she is still working in a retail job, she did buy a house and now is in too much debt to go back to school even for the 9 month certificate course she always wanted to take.
    My son 20 who has learning disabilites tried the local community college for a year said it was not for him and luckily he landed a job at a major company working on small engines. I am afraid for him to leave that job since he has no certificates, or degrees. He has looked for other jobs and the first thing he is asked did you go to college, any certificates, any degrees. My daughter 18 did choose a 4 year school and even though it is a 4 year private university is not even close to $60,000 a year. We were relieved when she came to us with her plans. She is studying History and wants to either teach or be a curator of a museum. State schools are also a choice and they are not as expensive as a private university. Just because someone chooses going to college does not meant HUGE debt. There are scholarships givn away even for a few hundred dollars each those really add up. Also Financial aid, Pell grants ETC. I agree you should not force a kid to go to college but remember all those kids who said I will take a year off and then go back? How many actually go back then 20 years down the road regret they didn’t go. I will be the first one to raise my hand. We don’t push college but we sure do encourage it rather then taking a year off, travel ETC. Life in my opinion is easier with a college degreee either from a 4 yr, 2 yr or even a tech school.

  • Jennifer Graham

    September 6, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    I completely agree with you. I push my kids to be the best they can. They are in schools which their dad and I feel will challenge them. We expect good grades or at least the best grades they are capable of in a given subject. We continually tell them that our goal in life is that when they are 18 they will have choices. They will have the choice to go to an ivy league college or the military or trade school or be the garbage collector. I don’t expect them to get in the best school in the country, I expect them to be the best person they can be and to choose what will make them happy. My oldest son’s hobby right now is fixing bikes. If that continues to make him happy and turns into a career, great. If he decides to be an engineer, he’ll have the grades to get into a great school. Happiness is the only wish I have for my children.

  • Shelly

    September 6, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    A higher education is not what it use to be or mean.  Too expensive and very selective.  My college age son cannot get into 90% of his classes due to cutbacks and the fees have increased to $1,000 for one class!  

    My husband has a MA and cannot use it, so we have massive debt.  He has gained more from his employment…which was to put him through school, than school itself.  Yet not enough to live.

    My degree is nothing.  I cannot even use it where I live and would need to go back for more training to become current.  Yet I cannot afford to go back and won’t to have more debt.

  • Melanie

    September 6, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Penelope Trunk’s latest blog post was about how a traditional college education is not for everyone. It is a good read, if you are interested –

  • Nicki

    September 6, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    My husband never got his degree and he makes a decent living.  I got my associate degree and I am now at home by choice.  We never had college debt and started out our family comfortably.  

    My theory is let your kids follow their dreams and not your dreams for them. It’s their life not mine.  My failures are my own and I won’t add to mine by trying to rule my kids lives.  I don’t want them to regret trying to please me instead of doing what they’d like.

  • Kristen

    September 6, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    I think you bring up some good points. As a product of the California state college system- you actually get PRIORITY at the “better” state schools if you transfer from a community college. 

    However, there’s something to be said for the social maturation a traditional four year university offers. The freshmen dorm room, the first frat party, football game. It’s definitely not worth $60,000 a year, but a large part of college is spent acclimating to people and places that are new. This pushes your boundaries. 

  • Sherry in MI

    September 6, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Just one word . . . amen!

  • Sharon

    September 6, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    I agree that some kids are not ready at 17 or 18 to decide their future, but not having a degree does close some doors. I earned my degrees ruight after high school when I had little responsibiliy or other financial burden. I think it would have been much harder to go to school as life got busier with, a home, etc.

  • Jenny

    September 6, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    I actually agree with you.  My husband never got his college degree- he flunked out of LSU.  Of course it wasn’t because he was stupid, it was because he didn’t want to be there doing that.  I, however went to undergrad, and then Veterinary School.  After three years of being an associate, we started having children and I used that as an excuse to stay at home.  The thing is, I didn’t enjoy my line of work nearly as much as I thought I would.  Luckily I got out of school with only 60 K in loans.  I say only because I know what other people came out with after 8 years of schooling…  Yeah, I am lucky.  
    I wish I hadn’t gone into debt though.  When I chose that path, I really didn’t think it would matter how much money I would make, but even if you LOVE what you do, money does matter at least a little bit.  Or, it does to me.  
    The other funny thing???  Being a Vet, I could never make as much as my husband does and he is smitten over his job.  He’s really good at it too (likely cause he loves it).  
    I have since found something I am good at, and pationate about, and that I can make an income at.  Plus, my income will be representative of how well I perform, which is a bonus too.  The funny thing is, I wouldn’t have needed a degree for it.  
    As you said, many people don’t need to go to college, and even the ones who do need a formal degree could probably learn more in a different setting than the way schools are teaching now!  As long as you do SOMETHING after highschool that involves working and self exploration (without beer), for many, that might be the right path.  

  • Gina G

    September 6, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Thank you. I have two sons, they are both in Community College, they are not stupid, but rather saving an extraordinary amount of money by getting their transferable classes toward their degrees while figuring out exactly what those degrees will be. (Excuse the run on sentence) Or if there will be degrees. I have always told both of them – I don’t care what you do in life as long as it’s legal, can support you and makes you happy. 
    BTW, I have two relatives who are so “over degree’d” they can’t find a job who wants them. Rather ironic.

  • Casey

    September 6, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. As someone who fairly recently graduated from college (I graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor’s and 2006 with a Master’s degree), I certainly believe that college in important. I went right after high school. I probably wasn’t really ready. The absolute best part of my college career was the summer my now-husband and I spent traveling around Costa Rica. It was the best learning experience I will ever have, besides raising my kids.

    My husband is a prime example of someone that wasn’t ready to make the ‘what do I want to do with the rest of my life’ decision. He was good at math, so he chose to major in civil engineering. So, now he is a civil engineer. He’s damn good at it, but he doesn’t love it. He isn’t even really suited for it. He’s incredibly smart, but he’s also incredibly outgoing (obviously not your typical engineer) and really loves to help people. But, at this point, he has spent so much time and money becoming what he decided to be when he was just 18 that he probably won’t change careers for a long time… and he’ll be slightly miserable for a long time.

    Is it really worth all that just to make your kids go to college right away? I don’t think so. We will encourage our son to go to college… when it is right for him.

  • Jenny

    September 6, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    I actually agree with you.  My husband never got his college degree- he flunked out of LSU.  Of course it wasn’t because he was stupid, it was because he didn’t want to be there doing that.  I, however went to undergrad, and then Veterinary School.  After three years of being an associate, we started having children and I used that as an excuse to stay at home.  The thing is, I didn’t enjoy my line of work nearly as much as I thought I would.  Luckily I got out of school with only 60 K in loans.  I say only because I know what other people came out with after 8 years of schooling…  Yeah, I am lucky.  I wish I hadn’t gone into debt though.  When I chose that path, I really didn’t think it would matter how much money I would make, but even if you LOVE what you do, money does matter at least a little bit.  Or, it does to me.  The other funny thing???  Being a Vet, I could never make as much as my husband does and he is smitten over his job.  He’s really good at it too (likely cause he loves it).  I have since found something I am good at, and pationate about, and that I can make an income at.  Plus, my income will be representative of how well I perform, which is a bonus too.  The funny thing is, I wouldn’t have needed a degree for it.  As you said, many people don’t need to go to college, and even the ones who do need a formal degree could probably learn more in a different setting than the way schools are teaching now!  As long as you do SOMETHING after highschool that involves working and self exploration (without beer), for many, that might be the right path.  
    Oh, and I don’t get why people think education from a college is the only way to continue educating yourself.  

  • Elaine

    September 6, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    I agree with you, too. I recently said to my husband that I wish I could go back to school now, at 40, to pursue a degree in literature. Youth is wasted on the young. My husband did not go to college and he has a highly skilled and very well paying job that college could have never prepared him for.

    I am not financing college either. They can live here for free, and work and pay for college themselves. I think their education will mean more if it has to come with a little bit of self-sacrifice and hard work. But if they choose not to go to college, that is fine with me, too.

  • kris

    September 6, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    i think about anyone would do well getting a 2 yr degree or doing an apprenticeship program towards some goal or trade.. i know that most every job requires some sort of degree even if you really don’t need one. pretty soon they will be requiring a degree to flip burgers at mcd’s..

  • Elizabeth

    September 6, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    I’m with you completely. I recently watched a very interesting video of that guy (forgot his name) from the show “Dirty Jobs” who spoke to the U.S. Congress about this issue. I also have a husband from Switzerland who decided at fifteen, when he finished secondary school that he wanted to be a chef and not a “professional.” He became an apprentice and has worked as one for more than thirty years and now owns his own business. I think the American way of doing things is ass-backwards  —

  • Kris

    September 7, 2011 at 12:31 am

    Thank you for this post. I have been trying to make this point to my kids (6 kids, 2 are teens with passions I pay for them to feed daily). It feels good to know another parent sees outside the box!

    I love the idea of traveling. The argument could be made that plenty of colleges offer study abroad programs. Alas, that too is semesters of thousands of dollars. I think there is something to be said about life experiences and being self taught. College will be much better (for some, not all) when young adults have found themselves.

  • meredith

    September 7, 2011 at 2:20 am

    I totally agree that a 4 year expensive college is not the only option after high school. I would hope that guidance counselers were helping high-schoolers find out what they really want to do and then point them in all the directions possible in order to achieve their goal. And if a senior doesn’t know yet, why not for a gap year before investing time and money into a school or training program.

    In France, Universities are not nearly as expensive (our taxes are way higher)…but having that degree does not mean a job, not by a long shot. There are many 2 year schools that open the more doors to a job than a Master’s degree does.

  • Kathleen

    September 7, 2011 at 2:35 am

    Can I hear a rousing Amen! I have 5 children, all very different. My oldest was an honor student and star athlete. Even with scholarships her private University cost us over $25,000 a year. A sizable portion of that was loans. After two years she transferred to a more economical school but now has a mountain of debt entering the work force. I have 2 HS seniors this year. One is not academically motivated whatsoever. Truthfully I will likely be standing over him at the table harping over that last paper so he can graduate. College is not his “thing”. However, he is an amazing worker. He spent the summer commercial fishing and in 60 days earned 1/3 of what his college degreed sister will make in 12 months. That is his thing and it works for him. It would be penny wise and pound foolish for him to look at 4 year college. If he wants to take community college classes in things that interest him I support him completely and would encourage him. Each individual is different and a college degree isn’t for everyone. I want each of my children to pursue what makes them happy – whether that is further education or snaking toilets. In the end happiness doesn’t always come from a book.

  • Brigitte

    September 7, 2011 at 5:15 am

    Hmm, I still need to figure out what *I* want to be when I grow up. My 4-year math degree, for which I went into debt (even though it was “only” a state college, my apologies, snobs, for being poor) certainly never got me any job. I couldn’t afford schooling after the 4 years, I was in enough debt already.
    Ever since, I’ve felt that even high schools should have a mandatory course each year about the real world, what types of fields and specific positions there are, what kind of education they need, plus basics like how to handle a credit card and bank account. I feel that if you’re focussed enough to KNOW you’re good with your hands and mechanical things, then going to a tech school fo learn for a specific job is AWESOME. Heck, most plumbers and HVAC guys make more than I ever did. If you need more education for a different job, or are still exploring, community college is great. Not everyone is wealthy enough to go to a foofy university (and no matter what they say, scholoraships based on smarts only get you so far, I know from first-hand experience – not like those sports scholarships!). Then again, I’ve been able to see both sides since my mom was a smarty-pants who graduated highschool two years early (was too poor for college, but earned a community college degree as an adult, and we’re very proud of it) while dad was never educated past the age of 14, and earned his GED as an adult, and we’re very proud of him as well. They’ve both had successful careers in different kinds of fields.

  • Deb @ Home life simplified

    September 7, 2011 at 8:42 am

    I completely agree with you. I went to a very expensive school in the States and graduated with honours in International relations.  I planned to be a lawyer, but realised I could not go deeper into debt to pay for law school.  I went travelling, met my husband and have lived overseas for most of the last 17 years.  I have never once used my degree, but have had various interesting jobs depending on where we lived. I did gain excellent research and writing skills, but in a practical sense of what I studied = what I work on it does not compute like that.

    Here in Australia it is not assumed that kids will choose University – some go to the equivalent of community college (called TAFE), others get apprenticeships and some even leave school by 16 years old and just get a ‘job”.  In the States too many kids go to college who really should be looking at alternatives anyway – there are too many schools in existence.  Kids who are getting Cs and Ds can still get into a college (some local small school, but college nonetheless) and I never understood why a parent would encourage a non academic child to go to some third or fourth tier school and spend all that money (some are as expensive as 1st tier schools) instead of finding a career that is suitable and of interest to that child. It is that important to them that they get any degree rather than a job??

  • Mert

    September 7, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Most (maybe all) private college offer scholarships, both for financial need and for good grades. My sons have always received at least half tuition scholarships at every college and university they have applied to. So your kids should apply (if they are inclined towards college) and see how the aid shakes out before making a decision. College is also not necessarily a job training program. Many jobs that don’t have a direct correlation to a degree still want that BA or BS. And people with degrees tend to make more money (please don’t tell me your anecdote, look at the data):

    But if your kids don’t want to go it would be best not to waste everyone’s time and their money. My sons will come out of college with about $20,000 in loans. That’s about the price of a new car , which seems like a reasonable amount to pay for an education. One last thing, plumbers in my area attend a technical college, so even they are getting in the act!

  • Mel

    September 7, 2011 at 9:31 am

    I would prefer my children to take a minimum of 1 year off before making a decision on school. Think about it, by the time they finish highschool, they have been in school FULLTIME, a minimum of 12 or 13 years and when you count JK and SK, it is 16. I say get a job, and live in the real world for a year and they will soon learn that school isn’t so bad. I want them to be happy and make a career choice that they will enjoy. I was lucky in that I knew in highschool that I wanted to go into accounting but not necessarily be a CA or CGA or anything with letters behind my name. I went to a community college, got a job in the field that I wanted and am still at the same job now for over 23 years and I love going to work everyday. That is what I wish for my kids. You spend too much time at work to hate what you do.

  • Cheryl

    September 7, 2011 at 9:33 am

    I recently started college, at 48 years of age. I go to community college, as that is what I can afford.

    I started this journey to update office skills, seriously outdated when I stayed home to raise children. I have been unhappy that jobs require a 4 year degree to be an administrative assistant, what we used to call a secretary or clerical worker. I don’t understand how you can require a 4 year degree for something that could be learned on the job, and then offer to pay pretty close to nothing, and expect people to jump at the offer. On the job training was part of why the job paid less to start and you worked your way up. I think it is very unreasonable, and insulting, to expect fully competent workers with a 4 year degree at only a few dollars more an hour in wages. That is an unsustainable system.

    I think the college choice needs to be personal, and it sure helps to be ready for the journey, which ever path you choose.

  • Lyndsey

    September 7, 2011 at 10:05 am

    I have to say, respectfully, that I think you’re setting your kids up for a life with many more struggles than necessary. This isn’t coming from a parent, it is coming from a person not *that* much older than your kids (I’m just three years out of school now). While I agree with you that there is absolutely nothing wrong with learning and performing a trade, unless your kids know that they want to do that I think college is the much safer bet. The reality is that college is hard. It is harder when your parents aren’t telling you every day that it is worth it. If I didn’t have my parents pushing me to get it done, I probably would have quit– and I’d say the same is true for most of my friends. And where would we be then? Without a degree and with no interest in a trade– what could I do? You might think that your degree is useless but I assure you that most jobs now require A degree. A lot of them don’t care what the degree is– you just have to have one. With so many people out of work, its an easy way to narrow the field. 

    I understand where you’re coming from in not wanting your kids to have a lot of debt, but it is one of those “it takes money to make money” kind of things and I think that perhaps you’re not aware of how dire the situation is for job-hunters without college degrees right now. My husband and I may have $120,000 in debt, but we make good salaries, have a nice house, nice cars, and we are able to make all our payments. My brother and sister in law have no student loan debt (they did not go to college) and they are constantly struggling to make ends meet because their salaries are so much lower. 

    I’m not saying you should force all of your kids to go the traditional route, but I am saying that you seem to be so fearful of the debt that you’re encouraging them NOT to go that route and I think that in the end they’re going to have a really hard time finding jobs. 

  • Annette

    September 7, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Community College is one place (in Texas) where you can get a degree in fire science and/or EMT. Hope your doc doesn’t quiz any firefighters, paramedics or other emergency personnel about where they went to school if she ever has a need for them. I agree, we need people in other professions that don’t necessarily require a college degree. My nephew is a successful electrician. Bought out his company with several other co-workers, and he’s not even 30 yet. How many 30 year olds with a 4+ year college degree own their own business? My oldest is enlisting in the Marines. Being in the military has always been his dream. I couldn’t be more proud. We’ve always told our kids to find a job where they love what they do, then it won’t feel like work. And not all great jobs require a college degree. A college degree does not automatically equal high income.

  • Annette

    September 7, 2011 at 11:26 am

    As soon as my daughter is home from work I’ll be reading this with her. She is so depressed by all of our friends, family and even just acquaintances asking “Why aren’t you going to college?” that she wants to scream. She has always struggled as a student, but that doesn’t mean that she’s not smart—far from it. She has great people skills, is a lightening fast learner, hard worker and determined—when she’s set her mind on something, you’d better not get in her way. She just got a full time job so she can save for a car. And she will. And if she wants to go to college some day, she will.

  • annie_a

    September 7, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    I have a college degree. My husband barely finished high school…. so we have both situations in our family. we live in Canada, where the education system is slightly different than yours, but I can totally relate to what you’re saying.

    I think that parents pushing hard for higher education on their kids should reflect on their own expectations and their own standards of what constitutes a successful life.

    where I live, there are shortages of qualified tradesmen and women in many fields, while too many college-graduate young adults can’t find a job related to their studies.

    I hope that my kids work in field that they love. If they make good money, that would be ideal. but a high-paying job that you don’t like will not do much for your own happiness. and in the end, I want them to be happy, not rich.

  • Kristin

    September 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Totally Agree! I was forced to go to college as soon as I finished High School. Guess what? I wasn’t ready to leave home. I wasn’t emotionally ready to get out into the big bad world. Luckily after a semester and a review of my dismal grades my parents allowed me to move home. After about a year of that I was ready to try again. Some kids just aren’t ready and why waste money if they don’t want to go to college or aren’t ready at 18 like the majority.

  • Cindy

    September 7, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    I like your parenting style! Giving a high school graduate the option to have some time/space to fine-tune (or just tune) their goals will benefit them tremendously. And I believe the working & saving money part is critical to helping them figure out what their goals should be.

  • Molly

    September 7, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    As much as I value self-motivation, I also think Lindsey has an important point. 18-year-olds do still need guidance. And again, college-educated people statistically make twice as much as those with only a high school diploma. I think that’s an important caveat for this conversation, even though when it comes down to it your child is an individual, not a statistic. 

    Also, remember that there is good debt and bad debt. Education debt that leads to a productive career is a positive investment. Under the right circumstances, in a place where buying a house is affordable and a good investment, it would be self-defeating to say you wanted to rent forever there because you were afraid of a mortgage. (Yet sometimes renting, like in NYC or if you move a lot, is a better option. You get the idea). 

  • M.

    September 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    A few thoughts on this —
    1) I went to a top university and did reasonably well there. But looking back, I wish I had waited until I was in my thirties to go there. In my thirties I would have had a much better idea of what I wanted to accomplish… in my early twenties, I had zero idea, so you could argue I kind of “wasted” those very expensive four years. 2) Yes I agree that college is NOT the only way to create a fulfilling life for oneself. Just look at people living in places like Mongolia or the jungles of Brazil… they don’t all go to US colleges and I’ll bet plenty of them feel perfectly happy with their lives….

  • Natalie

    September 7, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    This is a tough one because I have seen both sides of the coin. I have a master’s degree; my husband is a carpenter who had a vocational education. Do I love our life? Absolutely. Does my husband wish he had the opportunity to go to college? Yes. He was just talking about this topic yesterday–that he will never be looked at beyond a carpenter because he doesn’t have a degree. And that’s a bummer because he is an amazingly astute businessman as well as an exceptional craftsman. Is college right for everyone? No. Does everyone need to go to college straight from high school. No. Do try community college. Do travel the world. But ultimately, our family has found that without that degree, in the U.S. it does put some limitations on you. Not that people can’t overcome–heck, look at Richard Branson. But it’s that “stigma” of “you don’t have a college degree?” that may follow you for a lifetime and make things more challenging than they need to be. And that stands even if you’re a plumber (garbage collecter, carpenter–fill in the blank) because what if you’re a plumber who wants to go into business for yourself one day? A few business skills would be invaluable and provide a nice backup plan 🙂

  • goddess

    September 7, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    I think Mike Rowe said it best.

  • KSM

    September 8, 2011 at 12:08 am

    While I totally agree with this, I do believe that where you live and where you think you might want to end up play a role in what path you should consider. I grew up in the (almost) mid west, where there are many more opportunities to excel in a trade. Now, living on the east coast, it is damn near essential that you have at LEAST a four year degree for any job. Most people now require a degree above that four year degree for you to go beyond an entry level position. I do not know a single person that has not gone on to get an additional degree or professional accreditation related to their field in the years post-graduation. Of course, all of these things can be done in time, but as someone who graduated from college, then took some time, and went to law school part time while working full time, it is much easier when you are younger and have fewer responsibilities!

  • cath

    September 8, 2011 at 7:06 am

    This pushing kids to higher and higher levels of education is happening here in Australia too. And it is ridiculous. There are lots of kids that don’t measure up to high academic standards and it is crazy to think that they should. And then there are many careers that can be achieved without opening a book, but with experience and on the job learning.

    As a bit of background, I left home at 16. Would have been sooner but legalities made that hard. My mother used to beat me a lot and being at home was not an option. Bang…my aspirations to be an architect, lawyer or scientist went out the window. Many many many (30 odd) years later, I’ve learnt so many things, now run my own business, advise people on their passions and how to live by them, and wouldn’t change history even if I could.

    Good luck to your children. With open minded parents they will have the chance to grasp every opportunity that floats their boat.

  • Holly

    September 8, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Agree, agree, agree. My husband began training as a mason right out of high school, worked for another company, opened his own company. He would be considered “successful” in the eyes of the world- no degree necessary. But the ultimate success for him is that he LOVES his job, loves to be outside, would shrivel up and die in an office. I went to college but I knew exactly what I wanted to do, went to *gasp* one of those community colleges, then transferred to a reasonably priced state university. I lived at home the entire time, worked as much as my school load allowed. Graduated last yr. with NO debt.

  • Alison

    September 8, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Amen!  My husband and I were both shipped off to college right out of high school – neither of us knew what we wanted to do, and only one of us finished (and went on to get a masters).  The other dropped out, found their true calling and was able to work as an apprentice while their employer paid for their school.  I wish there were more apprenticeship opportunities in the marketplace – perhaps this college-alternatives-cult can gain some momentum before my girls are old enough to make a decision.  BTW – for plenty of support, check out Mental Multivitamin.  She has many great posts about college and using community colleges instead of four year institutions.  When I was in high school, everyone was expected to go to college and community college was for everyone who couldn’t get accepted somewhere else.  Now I see it as the smart choice in so many ways.

  • RJ

    September 8, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    I am only 23 years old and I went to college and it wasn’t private so I saved a lot of money, and luckily I was one of the few people who did know what they wanted to do with their life. However, I graduated in December of 2010 and that was one of the worst times for a person to get a teaching degree. It’s been almost a year since I have graduated and I finally am landing a substitute teaching break.

    In today’s economy going to college can really hold you back. If your child (ren) do want to attend college I would make sure it was with a good scholarship or cheap (i.e. no private schools). My best friend goes to a private school in Chicago and she is studying education, she will never make that much in her life as a teacher.

    College names don’t really mean much anymore unless it is a top school – Harvard, Yale, UCLA, ect.. anything else is pretty much just a regular name. Your personality, grades and resume have more to say about you as a potential employee than the university you attended.

    I chose a cheaper school, but learned as much as any other student in a better school.

    Make sure your children always look at the cost because college is not worth putting yourself in debt for your entire life.

  • Linda Mc.

    September 8, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Agree. Came from a terrible. Had my first child very early. Went on to have 4 more. My husband and I ( I married at age 16 with a child 1 1/2) never went to college. I have a GED, my husband didn’t get that far. We have both worked hard. 4 of our kids went to college, almost all through scholarships and some grants. One went to an Ivy League University. All are doing well.I could never bring myself to put our family in debt for a higher education for myself. I’ve made my choices. I live with them. My kids live with theirs.A higher education,even in the best of economies, is NEVER worth the debt. I dont know anyone that disagrees with me.

  • CJW

    September 8, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    I very much agree. My son is a junior. We are considering a gap year of sorts. I bought a book about it,, too.

  • Brandi

    September 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    This debate always surprises me. When I was growing up the question was never IF you are going to college, but WHERE? I went to a public 4-year university and graduated with a degree in Engineering without a penny in debt thanks to scholarships, living frugally, and my family’s determination to send us to school. My mom was a single working mother. And I am the first person in my family to graduate from college. My mother and I both work in the same field, and despite the fact that she had been doing it for 25 years I made as much coming out of college as she did with 25 years experience. 5 years out of school I made more than DOUBLE what she did at her HIGHEST earnings and had already eclipsed the 6 figure mark.. 16 years later in a crappy economy where my company hasn’t given me more than a 2-3% raise in 6 years I make almost TRIPLE.. She’s just as qualified, if not more so and has head hunters calling her reguarly because she’s very good at what she does, but several times she’e been told they would offer her a job in heartbeat if she just had that piece of paper – any piece of paper. And in my current job I have a coworker who works harder than anyone else and arguably is one of the most capable people on our team, but doesn’t have a degree and is 4 job grades and over 50k in salary less than the rest of team. Why? Because he doesn’t have a piece of paper. And it’s just that. A piece of paper. So, yes, you can get a job without a degree, but why risk it? Why put your children at such a disadvantage for the rest of their lives? I get supporting them, and I do believe that college probably isn’t for everyone. And the same college certainly isn’t for everyone. There is a reason there are Ivy League schools, private schools, public schools, and community colleges. There is something to fit every price range. And as to the question of debt – it’s an investment in your future. While I didn’t have debt, my husband did after getting his Masters from UT. But that degree also opened doors for him that allowed him to pay it off in half the time most people finance a car. I will certainly do everything I can to encourage my cildren to go, and go before work, life, famiilies, make it so much more challenging if not impossible. In our house there really will be no question as to IF, it’s just a question of WHERE. Even my youngest at 3 if asked can tell you where he wants to go to school (Gig ‘Em Aggies or Roll Tide depending on the day). Will it change a thousand times? Absolutely. Will I love and agree with where we wants to go? Maybe not. But I will support him in whatever school he chooses and will do whatever I can to help him and the rest of my children get there.

  • Rebecca

    September 11, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    I think that this post makes an excellent point.  I am a 21 year old senior in college and although I have a major now that wasn’t the case for freshman or sophomore year.  Out of high school I had no idea who or what I wanted to be.  Junior year I finally found something I felt I could be good at, Public Relations.  But sometimes I felt that college right away may not have been the best choice for me. I had a lot of friends that knew exactly what they wanted out of college and at times it made me feel nervous and unprepared.  In the end I’m happy and glad I stuck with it but if I had taken off after graduation and experienced the working world or just something outside of my hometown maybe I would appreciate school a little more or have a different take on some things.  I guess I just think that nothing should be looked down upon as long as you are happy and have found where you fit in the world.  

  • Rebecca Shaheen

    September 11, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    I agree with this post.  I am a 21 year old senior in college and although I have a major now it hasn’t always been that way.  When I graduated from high school I had no idea what I wanted to be.  My friends in college all seemed to know exactly what they wanted to get out of the whole experience which sometimes left me feeling nervous and unprepared.  I’m now majoring in public relations and I think it is a good fit for me but I sometimes wonder where I would have ended up had I had the option to do a little soul searching after high school.  Maybe I would’ve appreciated college more or been interested in different things.  I don’t think that anyone should be judged for their post high school choices.  Do what makes you happy!

  • Michelle

    September 12, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    I totally agree.  It is not right for everyone and certainly isn’t right for many right after high school.  

  • Jennifer

    September 13, 2011 at 5:14 am

    Amen. I went to college and it was great and I am so glad I did. I had small scholarships and my parents paid the rest and I will be forever grateful to them for that. DEBT FREE!

    A few years ago my mother was projecting future careers on my very young son and I mentioned I just really wanted him to be happy and well-adjusted and if he wanted to be a plumber I thought that was great. Plumbers make their own hours! She was a little horrified.

    Honestly I would love my kids to go to college. I learned a lot in college and if not for my degree I could not be self-employed and doing what I am doing, which I love. But I agree it’s not for everyone. If your kid is not interested, I admire you for not forcing it on him.

  • Heather

    September 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    My husband and both went to a community college before moving on to a university. I was a rare kid who knew what i wanted to do, but my parents just couldn’t afford four years at a university. My husband didn’t know what he wanted to do, so he spent a couple of years at the junior college getting generals out of the way and figuring out a study path. We both got a great education at the community college before moving on to a state university. My husband went on to medical school and is now in his third year of surgical residency and I went to grad school for my MBA and neither of us had debt from undergrad to weigh us down. Education is very important to me, but in this economy, I’m not sure the expense and debt of private colleges is worth it at the undergrad level.

  • Amy

    September 15, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    I am late to this discussion as I was out of town, but I find it a fascinating one.  First of all Chris, the majority of your readers appear to agree with you so I am little surprised that you commented on your own blog that they did not?  

    Of course college is not for everyone and certainly CC is an excellent option and one absolutely valuable especially when money is a huge issue or uncertainty or even for homebodies.  However I also agree with the few readers who pointed out that if you wait to attend college – you often end up never going at all because working turns into more working and the money seems so good, when in fact in the long run, you might have cheated yourself out of a better and more fulfilling job if you had gone to college and even incurred some debt.  Debt is not an evil thing when it is for something valuable and when it is not extraordinary.  What you learn in college is not just for your financial future – it is for your intellectual and personal future.  It is an investment in your “self”.  Nobody needs to attend a $60,000 a year college, but certainly going to college is a worthy goal – that is why people ask teens about it.  Also you would be surprised at how generous many expensive colleges are for kids especially those in your situation who have many siblings and whose parents are divorced.  Don’t dismiss college out of hand because of how expensive it might appear to be.  And college might not be for everybody, but if it is right for your child, there is a college out there that is affordable.  I promise you that, and I do know a lot about it!

  • jet

    September 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    I just completely agree with you.  And people look at me like I’m crazy in my community, too.  Whatever.  

    I went to a community college for two years.  Then I transferred to a four year university. Then I went to graduate school and got a masters.  And guess what?  I paid for it all myself.

    My husband–same thing.  Didn’t have the high school grades to get into the college of his choice.  He went to community college for a year, got into his college. Got his degree, and then a PhD after that.  

    You know what?  My parents followed the same track, and my dad finished up with law school.

    We all have successful, fulfilling careers.  Not everyone in the world has the money to ship their kids off to private college when their kids are 18, me included.  And my kids will be FINE.  

    They may decide to go the college route, or they may decide to something else entirely, and that will be just fine with me.  I hate snobs. 😉

    • Joe

      April 10, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      No, these salaries are just averages. A few salaries can and will distort the average salary. Yes, I have a college degree in Government and Economics. Most college degrees without skills are worthless in the job market. The vast majority of students are better off going to a trade school.