I got into trouble a few years ago on a radical unschooling group when I came out wholly in favor of college. The question was "do you want your children to go to college?", and I answered - at that time - yes, I wanted them to. I endured an immediate and extremely harsh backlash from people who told me it was none of my business to "want" anything for my children except their enduring happiness, and if they were happy living in a cardboard box and eating cockroaches, it was my job to be supportive of that choice (assuming it's a choice and not an unhappy result of poorly executed choices).
The irony is that I wasn't pushing any particular educational ideology on my children. We're unschoolers, which means our basic philosophy is that living is learning and requires no formal education. It was just talk among parents, and I thought it was okay to voice my (perhaps, misguided) opinion. While, certainly, my beliefs often seep into my actions - as do everyone's - I work very hard to allow my children the freedom to explore their own interests and minds.
That was a lot of years ago, though. Since then, a lot has happened, not just in my own little bubble existence, where everyone is a pony and they all eat rainbows and poop butterflies, but also the world at large.
Unemployment, even (maybe especially) for those with college degrees is still pretty high, and those degreed people are, invariably, not working in their chosen fields, and they also aren't making the kind of money they were promised if they finished their college degrees, which would allow them to pay off student loans. The result is that we have a lot of highly educated people who are heavily in debt and can't find a job.
It's worse than just high unemployment, though. The problems facing our youth are going to go much deeper than just not being able to find jobs. As the economy continues to buckle, globally, even those with traditional kinds of jobs will find it more difficult to sustain the standard of living most of us have come to enjoy.
The price of gasoline is bouncing between $3/gal and $4/gal here in the US, and it will continue its trending upward in price with big bounces up and little bounces down, until it reaches a point where most people just don't even bother trying to afford it anymore and really start looking for other options.
The cost of food has continued to explode. I saw some figures the other day that seemed to indicate that feeding a family of four is double what it cost a decade ago.
The reality for many folks is that making more money is just allowing them to keep their heads above water, but it's not improving their overall lives.
The reality is that those with college degrees aren't, necessarily, in a better position than those without. In fact, the jobs that I, now, do (blogger, author, transcriptionist) don't require a college degree, and I could have done any of those jobs without my educational credentials.
That's not to say that my college degree has been worthless. Because I was a college grad when I enlisted into the US Army, I was immediately promoted to E-4, Specialist, which means I was paid, from the beginning, an average of $500 more per month than a brand new recruit, which equals $2000 more pay in the first four months of service.
Because my degree is in education, I was able to apply for and receive a provisional certification, which allows me to perform portfolio reviews for area homeschoolers, but, more importantly, for my own children, which has saved us between $45 and $150 per year on the cost of having someone do it for us.
Having my degree might, also, have gotten my foot in a few doors that would have, otherwise, been closed to me, but I don't know that for certain.
The question is, are those few things worth the kind of college debt most kids are getting into these days? Is it worth $50,000 and half a lifetime of debt-servitude to be able to wear that badge that declares I'm educated?
When the discussion came up recently, and I was asked a similar question do I want my children to go to college, I answered differently, this time, because it's no longer a black and white, this way or that way, question. It's no longer the same argument.
Back then my response was based on the belief (and it was supported by a great deal of evidence) that, on average, a person with a college degree makes more money than a person without. The core of my argument, at that time, had to do with the very middle-class supposition that the ability to earn money dictated one's future happiness.
My core belief has changed, and I no longer believe it's about the money. I've come to realize that having a job to make money does not guarantee comfort, safety, or happiness. Those things only come with a sense of knowing that one is capable of caring for one's self. Those things come with being self-sufficient and independent from the violent fluctuations in our economic system. Dependence on needing to earn money is the trap I hope to help my children avoid.
My answer to the college question, these days, is that if they want to go to college, then I will support that decision IF they can do so without accruing any debt. I won't help them into an indebted future just so that they can hold that piece of paper, but be saddled like a beast of burden with a debt they can't easily repay.
The problem with asking the question regarding college, though, is that, as a society, it seems like there's only one answer. Even with the economy buckling like it has been and kids with college degrees protesting around the country because they can't find jobs that will support them and pay off their student loans, we still seem to be having the same dialogue about our children's futures, as evidenced by the question: do you want your children to go to college? To me, it's the wrong question.
The question is, what are our children's passions, and how can we help them cultivate those passions in building their futures?
The question isn't should they go to college, but rather, what do they wish to do/explore/know/learn, and is college necessary in the pursuit of those interests?
For those who don't know what they want to do, college is a good place to explore and discover, but with the cost of a higher education, might there be other, cheaper, options that would provide the same opportunities?
When I was twelve years old, I knew two things about my future: I knew I was going to go to college, because that's what we did, and I knew I wanted to be a writer.
I believed that college was not just paramount to a successful future, but a guaranteed ticket to the land of Dreams-Come-True.
But, really, I just wanted to write, and throughout junior high and high school, write is what I did - poetry, short stories, journal entries - I filled notebooks with the stuff that teens are made of.
And, then, I went to college, and while I continued to write, mostly academically, any dreams of actually writing for a living were, pretty much, squelched with the need to make money.
I wonder, occasionally, what if, instead of going to college, I had been given the opportunity to hone my craft? What if, instead of paying for a four year degree in English, I had been able to take a few writing classes at the Adult Ed center or signed up for some writing workshops or had a subscription to Writer's Digest or entered writing contests? What if, instead of going to college, I had just been allowed to write? Might I have not had to wait twenty years to realize my dream of carrying the title "Author"?
I'll never know the answer to my "what if", but what I do know is that we need to change the question for our children, and it needs to not be about how they're going to earn money, but about how they wish to live. We need to have the dialogue centered around what they want to do, and not what they want to do to earn money ... because the most fulfilled people in the world have found a way to do both.
The rest of us are still muddling through looking for answers.
=================================How to Help Your Children Earn a College Degree and Keep Them Out of Debt
As I said, though, if my children do choose to go to college, they will do so with my blessing *only* if they can find a way to do it without getting into debt, but I do have some ideas for ways my children can earn a college degree - if that's what they wish to do - without accruing educational loans.
The Ultimate Plan would include my helping my child purchase a fixer-upper that, once it was remodeled, would have a lot of equity, and my child could, then, borrow on the equity of the house to finance her college.
If this were 2002, when the housing bubble was just beginning to expand, and it was easier to get housing loans, this might be a workable idea, but in today's climate, even people with good credit scores are finding it difficult to be approved for housing loans. As such, unless I can pay, outright, for the house (not likely), this idea probably won't happen.
So, the back-up plan is, simply, that my children live with me while they study. Deus Ex Machina and I will continue to pay their room and board, and they will find ways to earn money to pay for tuition. At most public four-year colleges, tuition is not expensive. It's being able to afford to live while studying that results in the exorbitant costs associated with a college degree. In fact, information in this article while principally about the rising costs of tuition, shows that room and board is almost double the cost of tuition.
Going to school part-time, taking some courses at community colleges, and living at home could greatly reduce the overall cost of getting an higher education and, really, make it affordable to anyone ... with parents who are willing to live with their adult children.
===========================Blake Boles, author of Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree, does a really interesting talk entitled: What You Can Do With $20,000.
I wish I'd taken more time to think about these other options back when I still had the freedom to do something besides following the usual path.