Tuesday, April 24, 2007

More Thoughts About College

I pruned my raspberry bushes in the beautiful spring weather this afternoon. Working in the yard is one of the best ways to get my brain going, when no one is around to interrupt my thoughts.

That’s where I was when I began reflecting on my recent posts about college, and specifically about my own kids and college. I’ve written before about the struggle my eldest and I went through once she told me she had no interest in going to college. That was several years ago. In fact, it’s been six years since she finished homeschooling. She has worked full-time ever since, and while she has not yet found the kind of work that makes her happy and pays its way, she loves living on her own, which was one of her primary goals.

Meanwhile, in the five years since my son finished homeschooling, he has been working towards his college degree, and we are all happy for him because he graduates in a few weeks. This is not the end of his formal education, however; in August he will enroll in a Lutheran seminary, where he will begin three more years of classes (plus a year of vicarage).

So we’ve had a wide range of college viewpoints going on in our family, from adamantly opposed to college to thriving in the college atmosphere. The past six years have taught us a lot about the whole college issue. Boiling it down to several salient points:

College is not for everyone. Many young people, including my daughter, want to experience life outside of the classroom, not within it. Often, the work that interests them does not require a degree. Also, many are autodidacts like my daughter. She inhales books of all kinds because she wants to, not simply because they were assigned.

College is just what some people need. My son has thrived in the atmosphere of the small Lutheran college he attends. He has made contacts he will need as he goes about his life’s work. He has learned a lot, which was the whole point. And he cannot reach his goal of becoming a Lutheran pastor without a bachelor’s degree.

College is incredibly expensive. I say this as the mother of an intelligent and outgoing son who earned a lot of money in scholarships and grants and yet is graduating with a frightening amount of debt….and may have to rack up more before he’s finished with seminary. My daughter works with people who graduated owing thousands and who were unable to find work in their major. They earn the same money as she does (some earn less), but they have to pay back that debt in addition to all the usual monthly expenses.

College should not be the only option considered. In the years since I attended college, the way our society views college has gone from “nice if you can afford it” to “an absolute necessity.” This is patently untrue, but the result of this change in outlook has resulted in kids who have no business being there being pushed into college. That’s why so many colleges now have to offer remedial reading and remedial math.

College does not equal success. There are plenty of people in this world who have done very well for themselves without a college diploma, and many others who turned out to be failures despite having one.

Attending college is not an indicator of homeschooling success. Young people who have trouble understanding what they read or putting two numbers together are getting into colleges these days. Homeschooling parents should set their sights higher than merely bringing up future college students; raising young people with moral character, a concern for others and a wide range of abilities is a worthier goal, and if said young people decide to go to college, they’ll be a good influence on the other students they meet there.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Wow, your family is going through a lot of the same ideas about college that we are. We had told our kids all along that they couldn't go to college because we couldn't afford it and because they were perfectly capable of teaching themselves. Six years ago, we graduated our oldest homeschooler from high school, and she's been in the workforce ever since -- at a bookstore, drinking in the loveliness of books books books.

Second kid went to college, not because he needed it to learn, but because he needed the diploma to get into a Lutheran seminary. When it came time to apply to sem, though, he didn't. Now he's working full-time at a job that certainly needs no college degree. But he's paid off his debts and is now looking into possibilities for using his degree.

Third kid went to a college in Mequon for one year and got an AA. Gotta love those CLEP tests!

Now it's time for the fourth kid to be making those decisions. I'm seeing more and more how it's tremendously difficult for people to get jobs without college degrees. And yet, who wants to rack up tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and still have to be responsible for teaching yourself anyway because the colleges spend more time on indoctrination than on education? It's just buying a piece of paper.