Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is college worth it?

In Reconsidering the Value of College, Cathy Arnst quotes several recent studies and articles about students who are not prepared and not intelligent enough to succeed in college. The news isn't much better for the students who do succeed. After acquiring tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, they wind up in jobs that do not even require a college degree. We probably all know someone who is overqualified for a job. I know someone with a geology degree who works at Wal-Mart. I know another person with a public relations degree who tends bar and another with a journalism degree who works in a women's clothing store. The list goes on and on.

Arnst quotes a Chronicle of Higher Education article by Marty Nemko. He starts with this story:

Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: "I wasn't a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I'd be the first one in my family to do it. But it's been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go."

Colleges are businesses, and like most businesses, they have done a great job of "selling" their product. Americans believe that a college degree is required for success as much as they believe the sun will rise tomorrow. Even parents who make six figures a year without a college degree insist that their children go to college. Nemko goes on to say:

Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later.

These students sit in my classes every semester, and I try to tell some of them that they should not be there. They don't want to be there, and I try to let them know that it's okay to leave. They didn't enjoy high school, and they couldn't wait to graduate, and now they find themselves stuck in a world that they have never liked.

As a homeschooler, most parents hear the question, "But how will your child be able to go to college without a high school diploma?" Although many, many homeschooled kids do get accepted at top universities across the country, it's a shame that so many people measure success by whether or not a person can be accepted into a college. And if you read farther into the Nemko article, you'll see that it really is not that difficult to get accepted into a college somewhere. Nemko said that only 23% of the students who took the ACT in 2007 were ready for college-level work -- yet colleges accept them.

For almost two decades I've been saying, "Homeschooled kids have no problem getting accepted by colleges," but I should have been saying, "College is not synonymous with success." Bill Gates (Microsoft) is a college drop-out, as well as Michael Dell (Dell) and Steve Jobs (Apple). When I was a reporter in Kane County, IL, I interviewed the Man of the Year about ten years ago, and he had been kicked out of high school about 20 years earlier. He went on to start working in construction and to start his own construction company, and before he was 40, he was successful both financially and socially. He was a well-respected member of the community because he was a fair and honest business owner, and he had completed many construction projects in the county that were well done and less expensive than his competitors. Such stories are not all that unusual.

If people sat down and started making a list of people they know with college degrees and those without, they'd see that the college degree does not equate success. I used to know a mortgage lender who complained to me one day that she couldn't get a loan approved for a physician because he handled his money so badly -- $350,000 a year. But most people don't think. They just follow the script: go to school, get good grades, go to college, become a success. There just isn't a recipe for success that is so simple.

Since my children are all in college now, I probably won't be hearing the "what about college" question very often, but if I do, I think I'll be less defensive about their ability to get into college and simply tell them that my goal in homeschooling my children was not necessarily to get them into college. My goal was for them to find a passion for learning and to follow their passion, regardless of whether that led them to a college or a cosmetology school or a job in retail.


Bona Fide Mama said...

Thank you thank you thank you!!

pedalpower said...

This is a wonderful post...I almost wish it could be required reading for all high school students and teachers.

I have a son who is very intelligent but barely tolerated being in classes. Teachers were always after him to follow the plan. And I have to admit, it was frustrating for me too. Actually, he was following a plan. It just didn't mesh with the school system.

He did all the reading and learning and skipped the boring (to him) homework. Now, I'm not advocating that students purposely disobey the teacher's lesson plans. But the point is that he did learn. He ended up scoring very well on college entrance exams and writes poetry and reads all sorts of lit. After high school he entered an apprenticeship program for a trade and will make a nice living when he graduates.

In high school he was told by more than one teacher that he would be a failure in life if he didn't use his brainpower to go to college (the gall of some teachers).

I have a daughter who is in college now...and that seems to be a good fit for her.

Sorry this is so long. This is such an important subject and with the cost of college today, people should really think it through.

nance jaman said...
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