I know I should be hanging my head in shame. Society-at-large thinks I'm a failure... and I've raised a failure of a kid. He'll probably be sleeping on my couch until he's well into his thirties. Or maybe he'll just leech off the state for a while. Or flip burgers for eternity, just suffering through a miserable and unfulfilling life until the end of his days. I mean, everyone knows the only road to success and happiness runs straight through a four-year university.
Or does it?
My son doesn't have any desire to go to college and it's not because he's unambitious, or lazy, or stupid, or his career plans involve asking customers if they want fries with that. No, my son is just one of the lucky few who hasn't been programmed to believe the only way to success is with an expensive piece of paper. He doesn't want to be crushed under the weight of expensive student loans to pursue an education his family can't afford to provide, just to come out and be as unemployable as he seemed to be when he started.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of college graduates working minimum wage jobs is up 71% higher than just ten years ago. The Economic Policy Institute reports roughly 8.5 % of 2014 college graduates are unemployed, while another 16.8% are underemployed (Which means they may be working only part-time or holding temporary positions but are looking for full-time work). More than one third of recent college graduates are working in positions that don't require a college degree. Meanwhile, student debt tops one trillion dollars.
That's TRILLION. With a T.
I know that it may seem like I'm on some bitter anti-college rant, but I will remind you that I have a college education. And my husband has a college education. And it is largely because of his that we have a roof over our heads and food to eat and a computer for me to type out my passionate yet cynical rants about modern society. Mine... well not so much (but I majored in Music Performance... sooooo... ).
I also happen to think a college education is a great thing... depending on what your life plan might be. If you plan to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or an engineer, or some other super-specialized career where knowledge in your chosen field needs to be extensive... please, please, PLEASE go to college. Or if you want to pursue a career in academia where you can "educate" other poor schleps who have bought into the system... go ahead and go to college... and go to college again... and again... for years. But most kids who enter college aren't on a track to medical school, or law school, or distinguished positions in the scholarly world. They are there because they've been told that that's where they should be if they don't want to be a perpetual loser. And they are pursuing fairly useless degrees in fairly useless fields while wasting Mommy and Daddy's money on booze and junk food and engaging in questionable and dangerous behavior.
With colleges and universities churning out more and more college graduates every year like conveyor belt factories, employment opportunities for individuals who hold "just" a bachelor's degree are very limited (see the above statistics). Which means those graduates will either join the unemployed masses, or settle for a barista position at the local coffee shop, or head back into the university factory for a higher degree and even more debt.
But what if those same beer guzzling slackers instead of wracking up student loan debt for a fairly worthless bachelor's degree, had instead invested time in a trade school? What if they had invested time learning something useful like welding or basic machining or automobile mechanics? Right now employers seem to value skilled labor over educated labor.
And there will be jobs waiting for the trade school graduate the day after graduation (if not sooner). Employers are seeking workers with high precision skills, so trade school graduates (depending on their field of study) have little trouble finding employment in their chosen field... unlike the girl with the BA in History that's serving up their morning coffee. There is no shame in pursuing a career in a trade field. None.
Still (since we're talking numbers and success and other bs), statistically speaking the average college graduate will make more money over his or her lifetime than the average trade school or high school graduate. But first, the wide-eyed and dreaming young freshmen have to actually graduate from college (and eventually find a job, but I've already made that point I think), and that might not be as easy as their high school counselor made it out to be. According to a 2012 Harvard study, only 56% of students who enter America's colleges and universities manage to graduate within six years. And tragically, without that magic piece of paper, there is no difference in lifetime income from the lowly high school graduate. A partial college education is pretty much meaningless in the real world of adulthood. But congratulations on the debt, and good luck finding a creative way to it pay back.
Do you want to know what's really ironic? Too often, college is seen as the only road to a successful future. But most high school students aren't really thinking about the future at all (shocker, I know)... at least not far enough into the future. The focus tends to be on getting into a good college. Not how to finish or, more importantly, what they want to do when they complete their degree. Too many go to college "because they want to make more money". And that's just the wrong reason.
College isn't for everyone and it shouldn't be marketed as such.
I personally loved college. I loved late nights of study and the dusty smell of books in the library stacks and the solitude of a School of Music practice room (which is where I spent most of my time). But my son is not me. He's ADHD and dyslexic (although homeschooling largely saved him from those often damaging labels). He likes to work with his hands and be outside. He enjoys physical activity over studying. He's actually incredibly brilliant and artistic and mechanically inclined. But he would be miserable in a traditional college setting.
And he's not alone. There are thousands of kids every year who enter the system, not because it's what they really want to do, but because it's what's they've been told they should do (They don't want to be labeled losers). Many of them don't even know what they want to do if they happen to struggle through and receive that shiny degree. There are plenty of kids who hate school and who struggle to maintain C averages who will still end up enrolling in a four year program. Why are they there? They probably aren't going to make it out successfully. It's a set-up for failure.
What better way to start the experience of your adult life except with a big fat glaring failure?
Sure the numbers prove that college graduates make more money, but correlation does not equal causation. Just because college graduates make more money does't mean the degree is the sole cause of the increase in income. People who graduate from college are likely to have characteristics like perseverance, dedication, and a willingness for hard work. Guess what, folks. Those characteristics are bigger factors in determining success than the actual degree.
And while a degree may make you more marketable as a potential employee... a job isn't the only way to make money (although the masses seem to want you to think so). A wonderful and brilliant friend of mine once told me, "You don't need a job. You need an income." And there are plenty of ways (far too many to list here) to make money if you're willing to think outside of the very limited employment box.
Besides, how terribly sad that the world seems to define success based solely on how much money a person makes. What about fulfilling personal relationships and physical health? What about community involvement and happiness and the third metric?
So no, I'm not devastated that my son is choosing not to go to college because I know that he understands perseverance and dedication and hard work. I see him embody those virtues almost everyday. And I also know he understands the importance of loving people and having fun and standing up for a worthy cause and that life isn't just about making money. I know that he will define his own success and not blindly accept what society is attempting to spoon feed him. He's his own person and he's fabulous and he's definitely NOT a loser.
I know he's going to be just fine.