Is College Worth it? Why I don’t want my child to get a degree
College isn’t as affordable as it used to be, so why aren’t we telling kids about all the other options?
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Sometimes I miss the days when my son was little and mostly asked questions I could answer. Where do babies come from? Is Santa real? Will you read to me?
Back then, I was ingraining into him the notion he would go to college for many years after graduating high school. I tried to establish the mentality that, the more college you do, the better. The pro-college mantra continued when he entered elementary school and increased in cadence with each passing grade.
Fast forward to today—my son is turning 14 this month and choosing a high school to attend in the fall. He has a number of choices. The school closest to home has an international baccalaureate program, which is oriented for students who are highly academic and thrive with intellectual assignments. My son isn’t really considering this school as he feels this program wouldn’t be aligned with his strengths and interests.
The school for which our home address is zoned, offers a magnet program in the areas of construction planning and design. It offers hands-on courses for building trades, engineering, environmental services and related fields. This is his second choice for a high school.
His top choice is an arts school. He’s a violin and cello player with an interest in film-making, which is why we weren’t surprised that he’s drawn to this option.
Life planning starts at High School now, not College
Reviewing all the possibilities for high school has been a reality check for our son that, in just four short years, he’ll need to figure out his next chapter. So, he’s already asking us, and himself, “what should I do after high school?”
To tell you the truth, I don’t actually have a cut-and-dried response for that. Instead, my husband and I are encouraging our son to explore as many occupational possibilities as he can in the coming few years. We see how he thrives doing hands on, creative work versus having his nose in a book and preparing for test after test and doubt college would be a great fit for him.
Yet, our local school system—like others throughout the country—beats the drum that anyone who wants to achieve their potential in society must attend college.
We beg to disagree. Our son yearns to trade the classroom for a hands-on environment, which has led us to explore non-college related career opportunities.
In addition, non-college related careers also come with well defined training and education paths toward employment, often involving costs that are significantly lower to non-existent.
Alternatives to college that can lead to financial freedom
It just so happens this open minded approach in finding a career path is more conducive toward achieving financial independence and even early retirement. The sooner he finds a career path that opens the door to a living wage and puts him on track to financial independence, the sooner he’ll be free to pursue what makes him truly happy.
This makes a lot more sense than pressuring him to “figure out” a profession he could do “the rest of his life.” After all, if he’s going to go to college and into debt for an occupation, he should know up front that he’ll really, really love it.
Average cost for tuition and fees for in-state public college is $10,116, compared with $36,801 at a private college, according to U.S. News.
The levels of college-related debt in the United States are staggering. As of this point in 2019, Americans owed about $1.5 trillion in student loans, according to Pew Research. Among adults ages 18 to 29, 34 percent say they have outstanding student loans for their own education.
More than half of young adults who went to college in 2018 took on debt, according to a CNBC story. About 69 percent of students from the Class of 2018 took out student loans, graduating with an average debt balance of $29,800.
Sadly, 36 percent of millennials report feeling like the lifetime financial costs of their degree outweigh the benefits, Pew reported.
Expecting our high schooler to figure out a career path/college strategy that checks every box—financial security, personal fulfillment, opportunity growth, etc.— seems like a lot of unnecessary pressure. Why are we placing our children with the burden of figuring out “what could I possibly do that I would enjoy for the rest of my life?”
Instead, we’re emphasizing the benefits of landing on ideas for types of good-paying work he could enjoy for at least a decade or so.
This way, he has the potential to find a career path that doesn’t put him in a hole of debt from the beginning. This is better footing for becoming financially independent while he’s still in his 30s.
High paying jobs without college degrees have always existed
We certainly aren’t advocating he end his education with high school. Of course, any job that pays more than minimum wage is going to require post-secondary education, experience, or training.
Programs that provide education and training necessary to be competitive for these non-college degree jobs cost far less than college tuition. Some cost nothing, depending upon industry demand.
Jobs that pay well without a college degree include:
- Power plant operator, median wage of $79,610
- Elevator installer and repair person, median wage of $79,780
- Detective and/or criminal investigator, median wage of $81,920
- Radiologic technician, average wage of $61,240
- Computer security analyst, average wage of $98,350
- Computer programer, median wage of $84,280
Relying on college to determine your future is dangerously antiquated
I now see that a “college is the only way” mentality is terribly outdated. It’s tied to a paradigm from the “olden days” when college students mostly enrolled to receive the intrinsic value of being exposed to liberal arts ideas and expanding their intellect. Back then, college was where you figured out what you wanted out of life. Some ended up with professional degrees and almost all were guaranteed a job after graduating.
Having a college degree isn’t necessarily a good indicator of employability and hasn’t been for at least a generation or two. Some people say college is almost pointless if you don’t end up with a degree that qualifies you for a specific occupation.
College is always an option
While we are making a case for exploring lots of options, we’ve kept college among the possibilities. If he works hard and continues to get good grades and if he dedicates his time to playing violin and cello all through high school, he’ll likely be a strong competitor for scholarships. They often don’t require majoring in music, just a willingness to play with the campus orchestra. His music teachers are encouraging along those lines.
If he doesn’t get any scholarships but still has a burning interest to attend college, we as a family will figure out how to make it happen.
But if he isn’t inclined toward higher education, we’ll rally around him and support him in whatever direction he decides to take his one great life, come 2024.
Did your parents pressure you into college? Are you telling your kids about the other options they have when it comes to higher education?