Our society today says college is a must for everyone but is it really our goal or should it be an option?
When we first started homeschooling in 2005, I had the mindset that, aside from raising my children with a strong biblical foundation, my main goal for homeschooling was to prepare my children for college. In my mind, college would be that holy grail that would validate all my efforts at homeschooling.
But I don't think that anymore. Not even close.
Over the last few years I've come to realize that for us, college should be an option, not necessarily the goal. College is simply a means to an end.
If my children want to pursue a career field that requires a college degree, then I'll absolutely make sure they can go to college well-prepared.
But if they are interested in pursuing a different path for which a degree isn't necessary — perhaps being an entrepreneur programmer or photographer — then I am completely content with them preparing for their career without college.
With all the learning opportunities now available outside of the typical college classroom, they have access to almost unlimited resources they can use to learn and prepare. And the knowledge they can gain through experience in the real world can be so much more valuable than that learned in a classroom.
Now I know many have strong opinions about the subject of college, and I used to hold some of those opinions too. But I take issue with some of the pro-college reasoning. In my opinion, the argument is not as black-and-white as some would like to believe.
Does a College Education Provide Greater Knowledge?
According to the U.S. Department of Education, a college education "will increase your child's ability to understand developments in science and in society, to think abstractly and critically, to express thoughts clearly in speech and in writing, and to make wise decisions."
This can obviously be true in some cases, and I'm not disagreeing that a college education can do all those things. However, I take issue with the idea that a college is the only place those skills can be learned. I would contend that real-world, hands-on experience can also be a sufficient (and perhaps superior) learning environment for those same skills.
(And as for students learning to think critically in college? That's possible as well, but it doesn't always seem to happen in many of our mass-education, cookie-cutter, 'liberal' arts colleges and universities.)
Do College Graduates Really Make More Money?
On their website, the University of Texas claims the following (citing statistics from the always-accurate U.S. Census Bureau):
"Experts who have researched the performance and job success of college graduates have concluded that, nationwide, college graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn 74 percent more per year than those who only complete high school."
On the surface, this seems to be pretty strong evidence about the value of a college eduation. After all, "experts" have concluded that people make more money when they have a college degree.
But overlooking the fact that colleges use statistics like this for the sole purpose of increasing their enrollment, does this quote mean that a person with a college degree will make 74 percent more than a person with a high school diploma? Obviously the answer is no. We're talking averages here.
And it's important to realize that this number would include college graduates who make six-figure salaries as well as those college graduates who work at McDonalds.
Are the college graduates cited in these statistics working in the same field for which they earned their degree? As I'm sure you do too, I know a great number of people who are working in fields outside their degree. So I can pretty much guarantee that no, not all college graduates cited in this quote are working in the field of their degree. And I'm fairly certain as well (judging by the people I know personally), that some of these careers they're now working in don't even require a college degree.
Was it the college degree or the work ethic of the college graduate that determined what kind of salary they earned? I don't have any statistics to back this up, but I tend to think the work ethic probably had much more to do with it than people think. Yes, the degree had an influence, but a degree without a work ethic isn't going to take anyone very far.
So while statistically, college graduates do make more money on average, the idea that a college degree is the only way to a successful career is completely false in my opinion. A college degree does not, in any way, guarantee that you'll make a higher salary, because there are many more variables that come into play. So 74% sounds like an impressive number, but when you understand the nature of averages, you see that it's not really saying much.
Show me a college graduate that makes $66,000 a year working for a corporation, and I'll show you an entrepreneur without a college degree that makes that same amount working for himself.
Does a College Education Offer Greater Potential and More Job Opportunity?
It's definitely a fact that some career fields require a college education. For those careers, yes, college is an absolute necessity. And in some career fields, employers favor college graduates over high school graduates, even if the degree is not in the same field as the job.
But there are many, many career fields in which a college degree isn't necessary. These jobs often require specialized knowledge that can be gained through independent study, by completing specialized courses, through enrollment in a trade school, or by on-the-job training.
And if a child wants to be an entrepreneur, college isn't always the best route to success.
The bottom line is that some careers require a college degree. Others don't. And while a college degree can definitely be an advantage in the workplace, the idea that all the good-paying jobs require a degree is not true.
So What Does That Mean For Our Family?
What that means is that before they're even in high school, we encourage our children to explore their interests. To discover what they really enjoy. To investigate how they might transform that passion into a future career, regardless of whether it would require a college education or not.
I firmly believe it's not too early for them to think about career choices, even at the ages of 9, 12, and 14. Sure they might change their minds a million times in the process, but they'll at least be thinking about it and learning more about their interests at the same time.
And hopefully they won't be caught off guard at age 18, having graduated from high school, but not having given the slightest thought to what they might want to do.
So until then, we're still homeschooling with college in mind for the future as an option, but not necessarily as the goal.
UPDATE [AUGUST 2016]: All three of my children will be attending college (two are currently enrolled), but with different goals, from certificates to associates to a bachelor's/master's degree.
- My oldest is currently in his second year at the community college pursuing three certificates in audio engineering.
- My middle child is in her first year at the community college working on her general education core. After she completes that at the community college she'll be transferring to a local university where she'll pursue her bachelor's degree and then a master's degree in Occupational Therapy.
- My youngest (she's just starting high school this year) has plans to be an RN so she'll likely enroll in the Associate Degree in Nursing program at our community college.
What about you? What are your thoughts about college?