You may already be wondering, “what parent in their right mind would not want their kids to go to college?” I half expect the Child Protective Services to beat down my door just for writing this. It was not that long ago that I myself would have shunned this article, and concluded that its author is an unfit parent. But a measured look at the reasons why college may not be the best choice reveals another side of the story that most parents aren’t usually exposed to.
I must state upfront that if our children desire a profession that requires college, of course we will encourage and support them to follow their dreams. However, they will definitely know the consequences versus the benefits.
First, let’s examine the traditional path that was ingrained in all of us.
Do your homework. Get good grades. Go to a good college. Get a job. Work for 45-plus years to pay off all debts. Save for your kid’s college and your retirement. Play by the rules. Success will be yours.
We’ve all heard this mantra from family, teachers, employers and the TV, as if it’s the only path society provides for success. For many, as the economy worsens this myth gets echoed even more loudly. “We need more education to compete in a weaker job market,” society says. But is it really true given the current economic situation?
I understand that for some people college will be a necessary step in pursuing their dreams. For instance, those who want to become certified doctors in the US must study at an American Medical Association approved university.
But first they should ask themselves “why” they want to be a doctor.
Is it to help people? To make a nice income? Is it for prestige among family and peers? Then, it may be wise to ponder if becoming a doctor is the best way to accomplish those goals. Certainly there must be other ways to help people, make good money, and gain respect from loved ones without accruing a quarter-million dollar debt before working life begins, right?
Either way, college may be necessary for some to achieve their dreams. But let’s be sure our children know that there are other paths, other innovative ways to attain their goals, and certainly other ways to spend 4-8 of the best years of their lives.
Here are eight reasons why college will not be encouraged in our household:
1. It is Obsolete
Why does a nursing student need four more years of English Lit or Algebra? Likewise, why would a business major have any need for Anatomy and Physiology? I know, I know, back to that whole college-is-teaching-kids-to-think argument. Or maybe the “well-rounded” school of thought? I don’t buy it. After 13 years of schooling prior to college, most subjects outside of a degree’s focus seem to be a waste of time and money.
Additionally, the world is changing at lightening-fast speed, but the education system is still moving at a snail’s pace. At the exponential rate of change in science and technology, by the time someone graduates from 4-6 years of college what they were forced to learn the first couple of years is most likely obsolete, requiring even more schooling. What a racket!
What’s more, with a smartphone and Internet, all of the world’s knowledge is literally in the palm of our hand. Incidentally, advanced knowledge is not confined to the brick-and-mortar walls of universities anymore.
2. Horrible Job Market
In this poor economic climate where America’s job market has entered a prolonged drought, college graduates are no longer guaranteed a job. In fact, only 53% of recent college graduates in the U.S. have full-time employment. And even global youth unemployment has been labeled a “crisis“.
According to the New York Times analysis of recent unemployment numbers:
Employment rates for new college graduates have fallen sharply in the last two years, as have starting salaries for those who can find work. What’s more, only half of the jobs landed by these new graduates even require a college degree, reviving debates about whether higher education is ‘worth it’ after all.
So, the myth that kids must attend college to get a job is proven false. Kids today need more than the standard education to stand out in a crowded field of cookie-cutter graduates.
3. Prohibitive Cost
The cost of going to college versus the benefits make it a terrible investment. Entrepreneur James Altucher breaks down the numbers quite accurately:
The average tuition cost is approximately $16,000 per year. Plus assume another $10,000 in living costs, books, etc. $26,000 in total for a complete cost of $104,000 in a 4 year period. Some people choose to go more expensive by going to a private college and some people choose to go a little cheaper by going public but this is an average. Also, a huge assumption is that its just for a 4 year period. According to the Department of Education, only 54% of undergraduates graduate within 6 years. So for the 46% that don’t graduate, or take 10 years to graduate, this is a horrible investment. But lets assume your children are in the brilliant first half who finish within six years (and hopefully within four).
Is it worth it? First, let’s look at it completely from a monetary perspective. Over the course of a lifetime, according to CollegeBoard, a college graduate can be expected to earn $800,000 more than his counterpart that didn’t go to college. $800,000 is a big spread and it could potentially separate the haves from the have-nots. But who has and who doesn’t?
If I took that $104,000 and I chose to invest it in a savings account that had interest income of 5% per year I’d end up with an extra $1.4 million dollars over a 50 year period. A full $600,000 more. That $600,000 is a lot of extra money an 18 year old could look forward to in her retirement. I also think the $800,000 quoted above is too high. Right now most motivated kids who have the interest and resources to go to college think it’s the only way to go if they want a good job. If those same kids decided to not go to college my guess is they would quickly close the gap on that $800,000 spread.
There is not much more to say. It’s is a bad investment for parents, and student loans seem financially irresponsible as a burden to place on our children before they start their professional life.
4. Debt Serfdom
As the cost of living continues to outpace pay increases, it’s difficult enough just to survive week to week, let alone get ahead financially. When young people begin their adult lives saddled with hundreds of thousands of debt, it almost ensures that they will be locked into a lifetime of debt serfdom. In other words, they’ll be trapped into working whatever job they can find just to pay this obligation regardless of their passions. Add on the pressure and manufactured prestige of “owning” a home, having a nice car, starting a family or dressing a certain way, and you have all the makings of wasting a life trying to pay for these things. I’m not sure this was part of the original American Dream, but, sadly, it is indisputably what it has become. Surely, there are more fulfilling ways to spend our limited time on this planet than running on the same hamster wheel our entire lives.
5. Knowledge is Free
It’s important to highlight the difference between school and knowledge. These things do not go hand in hand. Many people go to college and never achieve any useful knowledge, while many people who never attend school are some of the wisest and most successful people in the world.
In the 1700s, knowledge was limited to those with the resources to buy books, or those who could afford to send their kids to school (most stayed home to work the family trade). Ben Franklin understood that in order to have a level playing field in society, everyone must have access to knowledge. So he founded the first public library in America (which later became the University of Pennsylvania). Now that the Internet acts as a global open-source library and is giving away knowledge, everyone has the ability to learn about what they’re most interested in for free.
No need to waste money just to get a piece of paper saying you “officially have gained knowledge”. What is the goal; the piece of paper, or the actual knowledge? If it is the knowledge, as I hope it should be, then college is not the most efficient way to reach that goal anymore.
6. Wasted Youth
To all those who said they had the time of their life in college, I ask, “Couldn’t you get drunk and flirt with the opposite sex without college?” We likely had the time of our lives because we were young, healthy, carefree and it was the first time we were out of our parents’ control. College just happened to be the place where we lived this experience. But it’s a tall price to pay, since all of those factors don’t change in the absence of college.
Furthermore, how many of you went to college purely out of obligation? My parents never gave me the option, even though, in retrospect, I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate my overpriced education. So, I dropped (flunked) out. It wasn’t until later in life when I knew what I wanted to be, that I began to appreciate school. Then, I got straight A’s in route to becoming a Registered Nurse.
In these most amazing years of life, transitioning from child to adult, imagine what could be experienced or achieved when you’re not locked in a dorm out of obligation (See the countless alternatives to college in my final point). Finally, college will always be there for your kids no matter when and if they decide to go.
7. Limited Life Choices
Many people that we meet say they’re envious of our permanent travel lifestyle, but they feel too trapped by financial obligations to attempt an alternative lifestyle. This is the result of the debt serfdom cycle explained earlier that begins with student loans. Because of the debts incurred while at college, and a host of other reasons, many young adults end up limiting their options in life. We are usually told the opposite, but once a student commits to a certain major they may feel obligated to only pursue that career even if it falls out of favor with them. Most kids usually don’t know what they want at 18 years old.
Life should be a collection of experiences, not a collection of shiny trinkets that mean nothing on our deathbeds. If we seek a life outside of the proverbial box — a life of travel, of passion, of adventure, of independence — then societal pressures and college debt become a prison that locks us into a narrow range of experiences. Once we step out of the box and realize this, the floodgates of alternatives to the “normal” path open wide.
8. Countless Alternatives
This is the other side of the story that parents aren’t supposed to see, or even contemplate for their kids. First, it begins with wanting something for your child that’s far more important than societal success — happiness! This can only be achieved if we allow our children to live their passions. After all, this life is theirs for the making, and we view our job as a guide to help them follow their own path, not to dictate some societal fantasy.
Even our parents are still bitter that we gave up on the traditional definition of success to pursue an alternative lifestyle of homeschooling and extensive adventuring. Our happiness seems to take a backseat in their mind compared to the anguish they feel about missing their grandkids, and our rejection of the dreams they had for us. Although this has been somewhat painful, we’re grateful to them for helping shape what we believe is important for our children.
So what alternatives are available instead of going to college? First, they can take online courses through OpenCourseware or iTunes if they want to accrue college credits. They can learn a skill by becoming an apprentice. They can volunteer for a charity or even a big company to learn about how those organizations work. They can travel by picking up odd jobs along the way (or obtaining ESL certificate to teach English abroad). They can start a business, a nonprofit organization, or monetize a blog. They can find a mentor or become a self-taught expert in whatever field that moves them. They can create something beautiful; art, music, handmade crafts, write a book, or build something. This list is endless, and they will gain great knowledge with each of these examples and more.
Finally, they can just get a part-time job and enjoy their carefree youth until they discover their passion. We must stop assuming that a “lack of direction” equals failure. It doesn’t; not if they’re happy. We get one go around in this life and it shouldn’t be wasted doing something that others expect us to do.
At this point, our boys learn what interests them and is pertinent to their lives. Some would say they “world school“. We all learn better when we’re inspired. And we have great confidence in this approach to prepare them for life. The universe has a funny way of giving people what they desire. Sadly, most people are too busy complaining about their situation to even define what they want.
In conclusion, we teach our boys that they should do what they love. That happiness is far more important than any status symbol or paycheck, no matter what anyone thinks. No dream is too big to achieve. The college-job path is only one way to achieve certain goals among a host of other perhaps more rewarding experiences.
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