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September 06, 2011

The Most Important Thing About College (that nobody tells you)

The Most Important Thing About College (that nobody tells you)

By Kathy Reschini Sweeney

Ready - here it is: Some People Shouldn't Go to College.

I am pausing now to let this really sink in.  Also, I am wondering if I still have a job teaching tonight.  (Kidding about the last part).

Images-3 College is an expensive, time consuming project.  It's even more expensive this year, as state and federal grant, loan and other funding is cut so we can continue to pay for our wars all over the globe.  Yes, there are other reasons, but that is the big one, and anyone who tries to talk about the economy or the budget without admitting it is lying to you.  

It also takes longer than it ever has, because most places are cutting full-time faculty and class offerings, which makes it a real tetris project to schedule all the classes you need, in the right order, and get out in four years.  It used to be that if someone took five or six years to graduate, it was because they were under the influence of something other than the thrill of learning.

Unknown-1 And then there is the biggest reason: a college degree is no longer any kind of guarantee of employment.  Factor in the cost of a degree, the resultant student loans, and it's less likely than ever before that a college graduate can find a job that pays enough to cover school loans and still allow the grad to live independently.

Now let's talk academics.  Just because a person CAN get into college, based on their high school transcript and test scores, does not mean they should.  Any teacher will tell you that we are still graduating kids from high school who do not have the academic background to do anything other than take tests.  I could tell you a hundred stories, but will stick with my all-time favorite.  In one of my first classes, on the very first day, I posed a series of basic questions to try to establish a baseline.

Images-4 I asked the class of 50+ students to name the three branches of the U.S. Government.  Only THREE of the students could do it, and one of those students was Canadian. After  I recovered from the shock, I jokingly announced that I would have to bring in the Schoolhouse Rock videos.  It is no longer a joke.  I carry the DVD with me now, because I never know when I'm going to need it.

This is not an isolated incident, nor is it a reflection upon my university.  Once I started telling the story, I heard things from other teachers that would make you blanche.  You can blame NCLB or budget cuts or the fact that many public schools don't have enough textbooks or paper for everyone.  It's still true.

So -- let's assume a young person wants to get a job that allows them to live independently (as in, not with their parents).  Please do not assume that choosing the right college is your only choice.  Ask some tough questions. Then consider that there are lots of professions that do not require a 4-year degree and provide a good living.  The key is finding a job that fits your interests and skills, and provides services that are in demand.

Look for something that has a license.  I don't mean medicine or law.  I mean electricians, and manicurists and plumbers and appliance repair.  When I was in high school, we had a Vo-Tech school as an option.  By the time of high school graduation, my friends in the Vo-Tech were already at least half way to receiving a license, and had real-life experience in their chosen field.  Guess who is actually going to retire at 65?  

Kaley-Cuoco-hair-feathers A disclaimer - I wanted to go to the Vo-Tech and be a beautician. My parents forced me to go to college.  No argument that it turned out well for me, but there are many days when the thought of packing up my tools and going home holds great appeal.  Although, given me and my family, I would probably be running some kind of "Fantastic Kathy's" chain now, and worried about INS compliance.  I would also totally be wearing feathers in my hair, because they are very cool and you can wash you hair and everything with them in, but that is another story.

All kidding aside, I think education is important.  However, a college education has become much more expensive.  There are other, more efficient ways, to prepare for the workforce.  I'll be talking to groups of high school kids during the next several months about this (what were they thinking, asking me to do that?!) and I am going to try to explain it as a cost-benefit analysis.  Even if you have the financial means, an undergraduate degree no longer provides the same return on investment as it did in the past.

What do you think? And let me know - what else should I tell them?

 

 

 

 

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Comments

For not the first time and for not the last, I blame Ronald Reagan. He started the intentionally dumbing down of the electorate as a political means to getting people to vote against their own interests and follow demagogues.

I agree it's not for everybody! And I teach at the University. But I have fantastic students. I can't get over how smart they are. Perhaps I'm dumber . . . P.S. My mother wanted me to be a beautician. "Writer" seemed to dangerous. And it is!

That's TOO dangerous.

Tough, tough questions, and ones that need to be answered. I have personally known people who barely got out of high school who are among the smartest people I've known, and others who have a wall full of diplomas and should not be allowed out of the house unescorted.

An education is a tool, it's not a guarantee. And it doesn't endow you with super-powers, or elevate you. Like any other tool, it's what you do with it that matters.

My mother asked me recently why it was so difficult to get into college when I was applying, and why the majority of college students are women now and why colleges thrived back then, and I said, "Mom, the DRAFT!" When your alternative was carrying a weapon in the jungle, guys were much better motivated to study, get into a terrific school and stay there.

And, maybe, people were a lot more motivated to encourage their government to get the hell out of the war business.

You're absolutely right, Kathy. I know 2 brothers. One, a straight-A student and his father's darling. College. B.A. in Business Ed. The other, mildly dyslexic before it was automatically diagnosed, was considered by the father to be a lazy knucklehead. But he was good with his hands and went to a Votech school. 30 years later, the A student has had a nice white-collar life as an insturance agent, reaching middle management. The knucklehead has his own small (but prosperous) renovation company and an equally nice life.
Almost every job w/computers can be sent off-shore. Plumbers, masons, electricians and carpenters never have to worry about being outsourced.

Hey, thanks to Schoolhouse Rock, I can still sing the Preamble to the Constitution. Once in high school, we were supposed to write out the Preamble in class, and it became a sing-along as we all wrote. I think that parents need to hear what you're saying about college and education, and understand it, even more than the kids. Too many parents start preparing their child for college from birth, shaping their entire childhood and adolescence around what will get her into the right school, so she can have the right life.

I second this blog whole-heartedly. (And everything William said -- dead on.)

As an owner of a construction company, I can tell you that a lot of the jobs that require skills are going unfilled or are barely filled with people who know a trade. A lot of the Vo-Tech schools around here closed or consolidated, and for a long time, there was a disdain against blue-collar training, which puts those with training in the cat bird seat. Recently, we were trying to hire a couple of equipment operators, and had a hard time finding a really good one -- unless we wanted to pay $27 / hour (the going rate for top skilled operators here). I could go on and on with examples, but the thing is, this country survives on blue-collar work ethics; I think its time that we respect that.

Always the Vo-Tech...

A very good friend of mine has a daughter who never did well in school. She has a minor learning disability and was coddled by Mom, Dad, and the schools. By the time she graduated high school, she had no ambition, drive, whatever you call it. She admitted that the one teacher who didn't let her slide was the one who taught her the most. She was encouraged to"follow her bliss" by her sister and she went to Beauty School. Her parents still, after 5 years, ask when she is going to college. I have told her that a couple of business classes might help her business, but that she will do better these days with her beauty license. My daughter has a Master's and is only making $12.75/HR.

Amen, Kathy.

Amen, indeed. When my middle daughter, who is now 27, was in her sophomore year of high school, and I realized I knew next to nothing about helping her with college choices, I volunteered to work in the college/career/counseling center at the high school. My job for an entire year was to clear out file folders from colleges and universities, and dump stuff as old as 20+ years from the files.

There were three walls of shelves, floor to above head height, filled with these files. And one half of a shelf, three feet wide, of non-college career info. Half of that was from the armed forces. I was appalled to see so little support for the trades.

Since then it's gotten even worse. When my girls were still in school NCLB had not yet been implemented, and there were still alternative routes to graduation than college prep. Most of those are gone now, fallen to funding cuts.

Starting salaries in trades like plumbing, welding, and carpentry are close to $20 an hour. It's hard work, yes, but it's work, and it's honorable. And as Margaret pointed out, not easily sent overseas. Who is going to pick up the trash, landscape the gardens, and bring us the packages, if everyone has a degree in fashion design or criminology? And those fashion design students? Most of them cannot even sew because the high schools stopped teaching it a long time ago. Appalling to think we won't even be able to clothe ourselves in less than a generation.

Theoretically, I agree with you, Kathy. But then I think of my dad who never went to college and who never got over his consequent feeling of social inferiority. I've known a few others, too, who just never got over thinking that they aren't worthy if they didn't go to college. In my ideal world, not only would people be free to choose other paths than college, but they would suffer no social opprobrium because of it. Also, I do think tons of kids who don't really "need" college, get a lot out of it just because of the space it gives them to grow up a bit and to try-out their independence away from their parents.

The truth for me is that I pretty much wasted the educational opportunities of college, but I totally loved it and there wasn't anything else I was ready to do anyway. College is a great (albeit expensive) "place-holder"for those of us who won't find our "calling" until much later in life.

I'm ashamed to admit that, while I knew what the branches were, I couldn't remember all of the names. I had to look it up to remember that it was executive and legislative (all I could think was "President" and "Congress") as well as judicial.

There is an important difference between "smart" and "ambitious." An ambitious person will do well while a smart person, without ambition, will get stuck in a dead end job (ask me how I know!). College or no college, the desire to achieve is the greatest indicator of success. Fifteen years ago I attended a seminar and the speaker talked about those bumper stickers that say "My child is an honor student at XYZ School." The speaker said he wanted a bumper sticker that said, "My child will be your child's boss in 15 years."

I've long believed that college is wasted on most 18 year olds. At 18 it has no real value to us, and many don't have the skills to make the best use of what we're receiving. I sure didn't. I knew the Pythagorean Theorem but I didn't know how to budget money (or time). How many 18 year olds (or 20 year olds) really know what they want to do with the rest of their lives? Unfortunately, it's a lot more difficult to spend a few years in the workforce and then go back to full time school. (Especially if you lack ambition!)

And Lisa, I had the same experience with the Preamble. I grew up with Schoolhouse Rocks, and in later years purchased the CD box set, a book with all of the songs and fun facts about the show, and even the videos. Most of the important stuff that stuck with me is thanks to that series.

When half the freshman class at Stanford requires remediation, we have a problem.

I'm all for sending kids into some kind of service. They need to see the world, learn a little about it and themselves, and then they can start to think about what they saw and did and what kind of education would help them get they want out of life.

I went to a technical college and a big state university. I loved the tech school and learned everything I need to know for my job there and only put up with the university partially because I wanted to prove to myself that I could get a degree. I didn't even care what degree. I was just sick of meeting people who thought they were the shit because they had letters after their names.

When I graduated from MSSH (back when the earth's crust was still cooling)I wanted to go straight to NYC to dance. I wanted to sing and dance and act on Broadway.
My father had different ideas. So I went to FSU and majored in Dance and Theatre and okay...I knew the chemical formula for photosynthesis at one point.
My plants know I knew and they have always grown beautifully for me but I can't say all the information I had to learn has helped me in the arts any more than going to NYC.
And I did choreograph a show on Broadway 15 years later with dancers who had no college degrees. You think those "So You Think You Can Dance" kids have any desire to go to college?.
The only thing that I'm bummed on is that college teachers and university level dance teachers have to have PHD degrees or the school won't even look at their resume'.
Used to be the higher the degree the more money you supposedly made. Not any more.
Don't get me started on sports stars. They can't all be dumb as a rock to make millions, right?

The answer is different for every student. 18 really is too young for college as something other than party time. Many 18-22 year olds simply do not have a work ethic. As an example, none of the under 25 year old pizza people at my store worked Saturday or Sunday. It was a holiday weekend (PARTY!!!!)

One answer is Junior Colleges. Make sure the credits will transfer to someplace else. It is much better to find out you suck at Calculus at $45/credit hour than $145. It is also good to find out you suck at Calculus before deciding to be an engineer.

You should encourage students to get a degree. Many jobs want a college degree, and are not that picky about what it is in. It is a part of 'You learn to learn at college' thinking.

Be very, very, very, very, very careful when looking at trade schools. There are several stories (Google Kaplan lawsuit, Cordon bleu lawsuit, or trade school lawsuit) about schools ripping students off for $10k at a pop to "qualify" them for jobs that pay next to nothing. Ask any school about the costs, student loans, how long it will take to pay back a student loan, and not only the job placement rate but what the jobs are. I am sitting in a for profit college right now. We play by the book (my boss isn't into anything that leads to handcuffs) Some of my competition doesn't see it that way.

My current field of IT guy requires degrees and certifications. Be very careful when looking at computer certifications. You want the Microsoft Certifications, Cisco, A+ or Network+. Look up any certification and make sure any classes really do lead to a real can get you paid certification.

As someone without a college degree (unless you count the honorary doctorate the university here gave me), I have never felt inferior because of that lack. Inferior because my writing skills weren't as good as others? Yes. But never because I couldn't put a BA after my name.

Here is a comment via email from Baltimore Jack, who couldn't get past Typepad today. As a note, Jack taught high school for years:

Kack, I rarely disagree with you (surprised?) but I’m from the opposite school of thought. I think college should be for everyone who wants it. The problem lies in the fact that we’ve come to think of college as career training, which of course, it’s not. Businesses should take on the responsibility for training its future work force. (Think of Major League Baseball vs. the NFL) College is a place to learn the critical thinking skills needed to contribute to society. Making college more accessible and affordable might be a better way to go. Making high school s more efficient at preparing students for higher education is also a challenge that needs addressing but would a well-trained but uneducated work force leave us with a country full of “Joe the plumbers”? It’s High School that might require an extra year or two and both High Schools and Colleges might need an extra buck or two (billion?). This country had its greatest leap in its living standard after the post WWII G.I. bill. Even though the Philosophy firms aren’t hiring like they used to, I let my son choose that as his major because I’m confident that his experience of life will be better because of it. He’ll be smart enough (I hope) to get his job training later on; hopefully (in part or in whole) at the expense of his future employer(s).

I agree with both Kathy and Baltimore Jack, based on 15 years of college teaching and advising thousands upon thousands of college students over the years.

College is *not* for everyone, for reasons everyone has already pointed out. But it should be accessible to anyone who wants to give it a shot, for whatever reason. We should most definitely *not* look at traditional 4-year college programs as the default method for educating our future workforce, except in the case of professional schools (engineering, computer science, health sciences). And we need to do an infinitely better job at educating high school students - not just in skills and knowledge, but in understanding what real jobs are out there, what skills and training those jobs require, how much that training will cost, etc. Finally, we need a much better integrated system of education that takes kids from elementary school through the right combination of high school, vo-tech training, and academic training to get good jobs that suit their talents and interests.

My advice to parents who think their kids should go to college? Figure out *why* you want college for your child. Find out whether or not your child is truly ready, and be prepared to let him/her do something else if s/he is not fully committed to making the most of his/her educational opportunities. Then find a good in-state 4-year college and hope for the best :)

Yep. I agree. I was in higher education (teacher, then as an Assistant Dean) and I hated seeing students I knew shouldn't be there, wasting their money and the instructors' time. And don't get me started on the number of freshmen who had to remedial coursework to BEGIN to get them up to doing college level work.

I heard the other night (on the National News or one of the morning shows) that we (as a nation) have a severe shortage of trades people (like plummers, etc)

I see what others are saying about college being a place where students are taught critical thinking skills but at what financial cost?

The answer may lie in competent high school counselors who can help students plan a realist live plan for a career.

The costs are criminal for the future of education. Yes, teaching. All my daughter and sons' peers who are not teachers are now making twice what she is and finished with paying off loans-----to teach you now have another two or three years of certified schooling for most states.
And yes, Karen, she just did K thru 12 sewing projects with her art students last year and will be doing a workshop for other art teachers next year in NYC----big demand to learn how to sew---who knew? She does work in an 11 month art and music emphasis charter school or she might not have a job because we are abandoning so much of the K to 12 education that the future starts at about age 3 now and college????? Who knows where we'll be?

I woulkd tell those kids to read, learn, laugh and listen because you will have more than one career in the future.....or follow your bliss!

In one of my previous jobs, I used a website that had the figures for jobs/small businesses versus number of households necessary to support them. (The only one I remember off the top of my head was florist; that needed about 3,500 households to make a go of it. And I am guessing that it would need many more during a bad economy!) I wish I could remember where I'd found it--it would be interesting in light of this topic.

When I teach freshmen, I ask why they are at college. The majority say to get a good job and make lots of money. I tell them they are all heathens, that the purpose of education is to become a fully-rounded, educated human being who can contribute to society. (They laugh at me.) Education influences such a huge number of things; for instance, the health, education, and general welfare of children are directly impacted by the educational level of the mother. So, although I agree that not everyone needs college for their job (I call it the Great American Myth), I think we all benefit when people have a college education for other reasons.

Okay, I knew Executive and Judicial, but couldn't remember the word "legislative," although I knew it was Congress and the Senate. So I need Schoolhouse Rock. Can someone explain to me exactly what it is and where I should get it?

I have no Bachelor's degree, but I have the equivalent of a Master's degree (I know, it makes no sense) because the vocational school I attended was the School of the Arts at NYU. I never felt inferior, but I have spent my adult life trying to acquire the knowledge that I assumed (probably incorrectly) that everyone else learned in college. I grew up in academia, thanks to my mom being a professor, and it was always clear that Higher Education was a lovely thing, but it wasn't going to make you wealthy. At the University of Nebraska, the message was, if you want to be wealthy, be a football player.

Excellent points, and some things to think about when I start speaking to high school students.

Here is a question a friend posed via e-mail (apparently Mr. Typepad didn't get anything good over the holiday weekend because he is being bitchy about comments today.)

Does your local high school still have a Career/Guidance Counselor? Many have cut those jobs and shuffled the responsibility off to other administrators, as if it's the same as running letters through a postage machine.

Kathy! This is my job! Don't you be telling them not to go to college!! Kidding...mostly...

I've been working for 3 months now with a program that attempts to prepares high school students for the college application process via SAT/ACT prep, academic tutoring, and essay workshops. I find that I spend most of my reflective time thinking about how much I've learned in the past 4 years of my life. The lessons my students have yet to learn, the life they have yet to experience, and the confidence they will discover somewhere in the next few (decades) years of their life. Since I make my livelihood (barely) coaching students into college it hurts to think maybe that is not where they should be but I agree that it has to be a student-by-student decision. I begin ever session of new students with a quick history lesson about why the SATs have come to rule the admissions process and it revolves are two simple things: around the mid 1940s a larger percentage of the population began to consider college as an option (GI Bill, coeducational opportunities, minorities) and colleges began to focus their energies on a 'professional' skill set rather than an academic one. I teach this primarily to emphasize the type of thinking that the SATs are testing but every time I teach it, it strikes me that in the past 75 years very little has changed about the collegiate mindset. Getting into college is a race, a competition, a process so complicated that people (me) make a living helping students through it. Something about this does not feel right... Everyone should have the opportunity to learn the lessons college offers. Both in the classroom and out, college taught me more about myself, both good and bad, than I would have thought possible and I'm only 23! I know I am a different person from the one I was when I was the age of those I stand in front of and teach but is it because of college or could I have learned what I know in some other way? Fascinating question...

Ask me another time if I think high schools are doing a decent job preparing students for college... and then get ready for a 6 hour rant...

I applaud those who follow their aspirations, whether that takes them to college, or technical training, or elsewhere . . . There are no guarantees, but if you do what you love, you will be happier and more successful (and it won't feel so much like work).

I didn't love college. At all.

What it did for me: Made me understand deadlines, and that you have to do things you don't want to. (I didn't always do them, but there were consequences.)
The world isn't always fair.
Difficult things can sometimes be fun.
If you eat anything you want, you will gain weight.

HOWEVER: I barely studied. I was TERRIBLE and just read whatever I wanted.

If I had it to do over: I would. Yes, mos def. BUT I would study like mad. And maybe actually learn stuff.

Another comment via e-mail. This is from a man who did NOT go to college straight from high school. He waited several years, then started out part-time. He now has a masters in Safety Science.

This is a great blog that I can really relate to!

Here are a few things that I tell parents and students when the subject comes up:

1. Kids don't have to make the decision to go to college their Senior year.
2. It's ok to go into the workforce, or go into the military, after graduating until they decide they are ready to commit to an education. I know I wasn't mature enough to attend college right out of high school. It wasn't until I experienced real dirty work and crappy hours before I realized I was ready to commit to an education and to better my position in life.
3. When kids decide they are ready to get an education, they don't have to select a major their first semester. The should take their time and take general classes, until they understand their life's calling.
4. Regardless, whether they go to college, go to a technical school, or go into the workforce, kids need to know that the world owes them NOTHING and they need to work hard to attain the good things in life and to live the American Dream.
4. Kids need to take a world religion and a sociology class, or classes, so they understand other cultures, religions, and other peoples. This will give them perspective!
5. Lastly, kids need to learn to abstain from judging others, learn empathy for their fellow man, and learn to treat others with dignity and respect. Learning and applying these principles will help them succeed and it will make this a better planet!

Sandi,

You took the words right out of my mouth! I believe that high school grads ought to work for at least two years after HS graduation before applying to colleges. Among the reasons: they can save money for college tuition; they will need to learn to discipline themselves regarding money and time management; they will need to learn how to get along with all sorts of people. If they cannot handle the responsibilities of being in the work force, it is not likely that they can handle the responsibilities of going to college. (Oh, and her major has nothing to do with dance!)

I went to college right after HS but I often wish that I had postponed it for a couple of years. I think I would have had a better idea of what direction to go in. I have a niece who is starting college this semester, eight years after HS graduation and a career as a dancer. She is more focused and disciplined than most people I have ever known, and I believe it is because of what she has learned from being on her own out in The World. I have complete confidence that she will be a responsible and hard working student.

I saw a news report over the weekend that said there are jobs crying to be filled in manufacturing where people can make decent money. They can't find the skilled people.

When I was growing up not everyone was encouraged to go to college. Vocational schools were unknown but the UNIONS had training and apprenticeship programs that were widely used (unfortunately in that place, boys only). Some unions still have watered down versions but the destruction of unions has also destroyed another educational path.

I strongly believe in vocational training as an alternative to college. Not everyone is inclined to sit in a classroom and study books. Our gifts are far-ranging and widely distributed, and we need all of them. If you force a kinesthetic learner with a gift for mechanics into a classroom, everybody is miserable (including all the people who need her skills to build decks and fix their cars).

The problem is in rating work-styles along the continuum of education: more education = smarter = better pay.

It is also hideously expensive, and unless you need/want that degree to pursue your vocation, it's not worth it. Education can be found outside the walls of academia.

The fact that high schools almost uniformly try to groom kids for college is one of my pet peeves. It's shortsighted, both from the perspective of trying to build a whole, balanced society, and from an economic one.

I was a history major, and married a philosophy major; we are both doing well, working in a technical construction-related field. But I don't regret those years at college at all: I can communicate my ideas in writing (crucial in this email etc age!), I can think; I can puzzle stuff out. That last bit is probably equally important to the others: it's how we learned at our rather esoteric / technical jobs. You don't know where you'll end up while you're in college, but you need to learn the tools to thrive wherever you land. On the other hand, that was in the days of merit scholarships etc: if I was saddled with a bunch of debt, I don't know that I'd be as enthusiastic.

I have to admit though, I'm really interested in the tangent: feathers in the hair? That can be washed? I might need to do that as a bonding activity with DD. What are they called? Where do I get them?

I agree that cost shouldn't be a factor. If we supported schools (and health care and general well-being) as we should, students could freely follow their interests, and we would all benefit from their talents and subsequent hard work in chosen fields. In the middle of a discussion with a friend who is in favor of vouchers for private schools (which I fear would further hinder our public education system), I realized that if we were generous with education, rather than punitive through testing, there would be resources for both.
That said, I still wish to encourage the technically oriented as well as the academics. Some of my high school students went half-days to Lewis & Clark Vocational and learned to build and fix things. I let them know that I was just as proud of them as of the Advanced Placement college credit students, and I reaffirm that feeling every time I need the car or the A/C fixed. Civilization would not be possible without those skills.

SusanB - check your local salons. But be careful -not all of the products are really feathers!

Amen! If you've ever had to build anything requiring water and electricity, you know how vital these services are. Electricians and plumbers cannot be outsourced to India. You need them now. (Hopefully not at 2 am on weekend overtime.) Totally agree that not every kid should go to college.

But, that said, I cannot believe how my daughter's brain/self confidence/capabilities have been rewired after 2 years at Bryn Mawr. Other experiences help, too, though - but I won't go into THOSE!

Great blog, Kathy!

Well, I see that in my earlier reply I made a major editing error! "(Oh, and her major has nothing to do with dance!)" was supposed to be the FINAL sentence! (This is what comes of typing/editing responses on teeny little devices with 62 year old eyes!)

If Gaylin is on line today, I have a question for you: The summer that I graduated from high school (1967)I attended a youth conference where I met lots of kids my age from Canada. A couple of them told me that where they came from, high school students who did not plan to go to college could take an extra year of high school to learn a trade, so that they would be employable upon graduation. Is that still going on in Canada? Does it perhaps depend on the province in which one lives or is it dependent on the local school system? I thought it was great back when I first heard about it.

Another one who did not finish college here, but I had my own business(es) for nearly 30 years, and it was never an issue for me. On the other hand, my husband's English Lit degree from Brown has helped his self-confidence factor immeasurably. He had the degree; I edited his writing and corrected spelling and grammar errors. So go figure.

I take issue with those who say 18-year olds are too immature to do anything but party in college. If that's the case, that's their parents fault. Kids who get that far without life skills are hampered considerably, in my opinion. They should be taught money skills, laundry and housekeeping skills, cooking, household maintenance, and other stuff, long, long before they are out of high school. I'm appalled when I hear of college students coming home to have their moms do their laundry. Good grief.

No wonder we have young people wasting time--and a considerable amount of their parents' money--for five and six years, if we don't train them to have any more ambition than that.

Deb, those kids you met were probably from Ontario. In Ontario high school goes to grade 13 and that counts in a lot of other provinces as first year college/university credits or can be vocational as well.

I have my regular grade 12 and did an apprenticeship for typesetting but didn't start that until I was 31 (32?). When I finished high school I didn't even think about college, I was so completely done with taking tests that the idea of working to pay for college so I could take more tests didn't appeal.

In Canada as well unions aren't as strong as they used to be and don't offer the apprenticeships they used to either. I know there is a big plumbing company here in Vancouver that hires grade 12 graduates to be drivers for a year or two and if they show consistent good work ethics this company helps them go to vocational school to become a plumber.

I really shouldn't respond to this question. My college experience was in my mid thirties and there was no purpose to it except to have more of an education. Since I was paying for it I did very well; I wanted my money's worth. I loved it until a car accident made classes impossible for a while. I never found the time to go back. Now I use Great Courses for mind stretching but I miss the feedback of a class.

It seems to me much of education is a scam. Even in college. Too much teaching to the test rather than feeding a need to understand. But then I spend entirely too much time watching highly, though questionably, educated people spouting nonsense on TV.

College exists to free you from thinking like your parents.

If I understand the British educational system, it seems to me that they try to give kids a basic knowledge of social studies, literature, science, and math -- the kind of practical math that teaches you how to balance a check book and understand the interest rates on credit cards, not physics and geometry. You go on to the university level to "read" your subject, be it math, philosophy, Chaucer, chemistry, or Piccasso, etc. If you passed the necessary levels to get in, there is no "core curriculum" per se that makes people with no bent for math or science take those courses, just as no one with an interest in math and science has to take "Literature Through the Ages." Seems like a sensible system to me....even if I've misunderstood and it's not one the Brits use.

As a recent college graduate (May 2009), this is all too true. Most of the people I met in college ended up dropping out or failing out. Also, I found that once I was looking for a job, the areas I was interested in ranked experience over education (and same for advancement opportunities). The only good thing about a college degree is that employers actually took time to look at my resume. Other than that, I have not seen any real advantage....

I also agree it is not for everyone. My niece went for 3 years then couldn't decide on a major and quit. That is another porblem, if you are going just to go don't wait a year or 2 to decide what you want to be when you grow up. Then said niece ended up goin to a vet tech school, finished and is now working at a job she loves. Oh and for the record I have a feather, thinking I should get a red and black one for homecoming??

I work in the UK at what you would probably call a Community College. I work with Apprentices in Admin and IT. Some of the youngsters I work with left school at 16, some at 18, some with good grades, some with not so good grades. But they go on to get jobs where they gain experience and attend college to get qualifications. Some progress into higher ed courses and can go on to do a part time degree, while working and not racking up huge debts.

The UK has followed the US lead of trying to shoe horn kids into the "you must go to college and get a degree" route and many high schools don't even tell the students about the Apprenticeship route. But with the ever increasing fees going up yet again, more and more young people are realising that they would be better off doing a course of structured training instead of sitting in a classroom doing a course they're not sure about with no real idea what they want to be when they grow up.

Now all we need is for enough employers to understand the programme properly and recruit the youngsters.

We've thought for some time at the bookstore that all teens need to spend at least a year in retail or two years serving their country in some capacity. Both teach a course in real life that colleges don't, and the teens will probably have enough time to consider their options. The joke is that the military will never have to institute the draft again once the horror tales from retail experience make the circuit, but in reality a 20 year is more likely to have narrowed his choices by doing different things. My parents had to leave high school to support their families so the younger kids could continue in school, so college was very important to them. I went, but I'm not doing anything in my field at all...never did, since I married right out of college and started in banking. (To this day I hate numbers, bu I'm good at them. Go figure) Now I'm selling books and writing. My one piece of advice? Take your time and make decisions that will let you enjoy what you do and use your talents to their fullest.

Carol R: on the scam part, I have a bit of unusual insight into that aspect of education.

As I said, I've had my own business, one or the other, for about 30 years, and as such have worn many hats: Writer (written five books and countless articles, plus edited several books and additional countless articles); business consultant in several fields; full-charge bookkeeper for one business for the last 30 years; and I also designed and was general contractor for a major addition to our home.

When my oldest daughter finally got her nursing degree after 13 years and a couple false starts, she started urging me to go back to college for a degree. Another friend has several degrees, including a couple masters and a doctorate, and she urged me to look into using all my life experience to get one. Well, here comes the scam part.

I could certainly qualify for and receive a couple of degrees for life experience equivalency. However, once you pass all the tests and submit the written proof of competency THEN you just have to PAY for the degree. In other words, if a degree program would have taken 60 hours of study, paying the college or university 60 X whatever their course hour rate happens to be equals a degree.

Maybe I'm jaded, but that seriously changed the way I viewed educational credentials.

My father was a strong supporter of vocational schools, because nobody wants a dumb plumber.

10 years ago my oldest nephew graduated high school, his class size was about 70. At least 30 of the girls wanted to be esthetician's . . . by the time the last girl was doing her walk-up introduction it was getting kind of silly, how many esthetician's does a town of 4100 people need?

My other nephew got a scholarship to culinary arts training. He did really well and is now working 2 jobs as a sous chef. Now that he has been doing that for a few years he would kill to be doing anything other than cooking.

You're absolutely right that not everyone needs a college degree. My son went to trade school to be an auto technician and has been very fortunate to be employed ever since he graduated in 2004. I have several degrees and I'm not using any of them right now. I do janitorial work right now making $9.00 an hour and my son has been making more than that for some time now.

I did go to a trade school but I majored in graphic design and unless I want to be a tattoo artist right now, there's not much of a market for a designer.

Yup, my student loans will never be paid off. My plan is to just stay in school till I die which can be too long off. I've already hit the 1/2 century mark LOL. One of my pet peeves is the number of scholarships that are handed out to incoming freshmens. What a waste of money. It's the upper classmen who need it and can't get the money.

I think colleges started their great down-slide when they came to be viewed as job tickets. With that came the downgrading of secondary education and the rise of community colleges in the takeover of the techinal/vocationl sphere from the unions and the high schools.

In the US, if your children enter the military they can come home (if they don't get themselves killed) and, if they fulfill the required service, spend their educational funding on the false promises of an employer in league with your local community college or private vocational . . . um . . . "college" to take your child's one financial shot at their hard earned GI bill funding.

Our students are no less smart than they ever were. They have been sacrificed to the idea that college is a job search.

Gaylin, thanks for refreshing my memory. It was some students from Ontario who told me about Grade 13.

I think that people who were one,two,or three generations ahead of me were better prepared to enter the work force upon graduating from HS than any generation since. My parents and aunts and uncles had jobs that would now require college degrees. At a law firm where I once worked as a title searcher, there was a secretary who had been there for over fifty years,ever since graduating from secretarial school. The managing partner had her train most of the new law school grads that they hired. He told everyone that if she did not know something, then it was not worth knowing! She was an invaluable asset to that office!

So far, college has been the best years of my life. I've found friends whom I will cherish always. If you really want to be a beautician, you can pursue it after college.

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