Monday, January 11, 2016

Why I couldn't care less IF my kids go to college

I have written previously, albeit briefly, on my Blog about children and college.  I recently stumbled upon this cartoon:

And then, nearly the same day, this article popped across my feed: I Don't Care Where my Children Go to College.

People are often a bit surprised to find that JB and I really don't have college aspirations for our children. I think they are surprised because JB has an M.D. and I have my half of my master's completed.

I was a school teacher and he is a doctor. We obviously think education is important. Right?

The answer is yes.

And no.

It is our feeling that college is ... well ... overrated. If you want to be a teacher, like I did? Then yes, you need college. Our nation requires it. If you want to be a doctor, like JB did? Then yes, you need college. Again. It's a requirement.

But what if you don't know what you want to be? What if you aren't sure? Is spending tens of thousands of dollars to get a degree the best move for you?

We aren't sure it is.

And so we have told our children exactly that. College might be important. Eventually figuring out something that you would like to do that can generate an income is required. But we don't want them to be in a hurry to figure it out. And we especially don't want them to think they have to go tread water at a major University while they find their way.

My brother-in-law is a boat captain and mechanic. He loves his job. And he only had to go to school for about a year to learn how to do that job. And the money he is making is definitely what many people can make after going to a University.

I could list example after example. But you get the idea.

JB did a series of Blog posts over at entitled The Myth of the Perfect Job.  In fact, he was interviewed by a few different online podcasts to talk about this post after he wrote it. You can read one of those by clicking here. 

Here is, our view in a nutshell:
  1. We are going to encourage each of our children to take a year after high school to do something before just jumping into school. This may mean a mission trip, a year working, some traveling, or just staying here and farming. Maybe they'll shadow some people in different professions or try out an apprentice with someone who is doing what they want to do. We plan to provide for them an extra year at home, if they would like it, before nudging them out the door. It is our hope that this year will help them figure things out and hopefully allow them to know what they are getting into before they get into it.
  2. We are not going to pay for college. In Tennessee, the state provides two years of free "junior college" to all children in their borders. If one of our children decides they need college or would just like to go to college, we will encourage them to use these two free years. After that, as a family, we will help them make the best financial decisions for the years that follow. This may include helping to pay for something. But this is not a guarantee. Both JB and I received no financial help from our parents for college. Neither did our siblings. We do not feel college money is a requirement for parents to give.
  3. We are not going to encourage our children to attend college. Instead, we hope to encourage them to choose something they love that they can make an income doing, and pursue that. We do not think this is a one-time thing. They may change their mind in a few years. We want them to feel free to do that. My husband attended art school and became a graphic designer before returning to school pre-med. But as they make these choices, they must be prepared to do what it takes to handle the financial choices they make. My husband's decision to change careers meant joining the Air Force to pay for it. There were no parents who were going to pay for that in our homes. We had to do it ourselves.
  4. We want our children to find a job that is not a job. We think that the dream job is one that doesn't feel like a job. And it may not be traditional or just one thing. It may be a series of things that allows you to find contentment in work. While the nature of our society requires that we have some sort of income, we don't believe that we have to gear up our children, for their entire childhood, to get to college so that they can find a perfect job. 
  5. We will not raise free-loaders. My children will not be allowed to live at our house, free-loading for their entire adulthood. If they decide to remain here on the farm, they will be earning their way or finding a new way. We don't intend to allow our children to be lazy or not set priorities.
I'd love to hear from some of you on this topic! Please feel free to ask questions (kindly) or share your own insight. 


Jennifer said...

I so agree with you. We are the same way with our kids. The school district I work for has actually started to realize this too and has started an initiative to help kids learn trades if they want instead of pushing all of them towards college. I love it!

Kristen said...

This is an ongoing question at our house. In principle we agree with you and John. But. Many jobs do require college degrees and I would expect that my kids will go to college, although if they choose not to that would be a valid option. Both Aaron and I paid both of our college tuition and are still paying on it... I struggle to figure out if we are "buying into our culture" and not trusting God enough on this, or if it is wise and prudent to have some money saved for college (our intention would never be to finance all of college).

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

Many jobs require college but more and more, I think we are finding that a trade school can accomplish the same income potential. By all means, I will encourage them to attend college if that is what their dream is. But I think taking an extra year to make sure is not a bad idea.

And while I know some people don't agree, I just think that it is not a parents job to pay for college. It was my job to figure out how to pay for college and that meant SO much more knowing I had to do it myself. I think about my husband. If a parent had paid for medical school, he wouldn't have joined the military -- and that defined him. I don't really think it has to do with trusting God. I think it is allowing that responsibility to be on the child.

But very interesting discussion!

Diana Bartch said...

I love the idea of taking an extra year. So much growth happens in that 18-24 yr old range, we can't expect our kids to make decisions that affect the rest of their lives without some thinking time!

Our goal is to have our son take some college courses during his last couple of years of high school (up to getting an associates with his high school diploma) but if he truly feels led to go a different direction, then we will support and encourage him to go that direction.

I think going against the grain has become more normal (created it's own grain?) so it's not impossible to find a good job w/o college or trade school!

Thanks for the great post! I love this conversation because there are so many different ideas and experiences!! {My own college experiences could have been left to someone else!}

Katie dubrutz said...

Haha, Eddie(without a 4-year degree) still makes more than me with my degree! Tech school/a trade is definitely a better option for some.

Momma, PhD said...

I see both sides here. I definitely know we need skilled tradespeople and agree not everyone needs a college education. My dad is welder and was able to provide well for our family. However, that meant hours of backbreaking work in all weather, outdoors, etc. He always said he didn't want us to have to work as hard (physically).

I think if you have the means to go to college just for the learning and growth that can happen there (meaning you don't endanger your financial future/chain yourself to unending student debt) it's worth it even you don't wind up using that degree in your line of work.

I expect my kids to go to college. Not sure I would force them if they had some viable alternative plan. I also expect them to make wise choices about their major, taking on undue debt, etc. keeping in mind future employment opportunities.

My husband and I are basically willing to help pay for college as best we can without risking our financial well-being (i.e. retirement). If it matters to my kids they will find a smart way to pay for it (some help from us, some responsible loans that they will be able to pay off, working, etc).

I graduated with a responsible amount of school loans that I was easily able to pay off over time. The paying off even helped me to establish a good credit rating. So, smart debt can be good. College was necessary for my chosen career (science), but I also chose a field that would pay for me to go to grad school while deferring my loans.

Pebblekeeper ~ Angie said...

I have a son that will be 18 in February 2016. (yikes). He had many things he was dreaming of doing when he was 15. EMT. Camp Director. Child Counselor. Marine Biologist. So he started learning how to do those things. He got his Life Guard and American Red Cross First Aid certification, as far as an under 18 yr old could go. He's been working at camps in the summer and has been a volunteer youth group leader for middle school boys. He got on at the Local High School for the first period of the day - Middle School Boys PE as a teacher's assistant. He works at a Community Center with a gym and pool. Meanwhile, he started taking classes at the College through the local School District and will have almost have an Associates of Arts Transfer Degree in May. He is working on getting a one year paid internship to start in the fall at his favorite camp. He has ideas of traveling to other countries. I figure - after the next two years, when he decides what he wants to do to support himself, IF he needs to continue and get a bachelors - then he'll do it then. He has several scholarships and offers of admission to local Universities, and all of them want him to take the gap year for the 2016/17 year. Homeschooling Rocks. Having a kid that wants to explore the world first - is awesome. Let them decide. It's their life. (God has totally provided EVERY tiny little detail he has needed so far. I'm pretty sure he won't turn off the tap when he hits 18 or 21, as I'm in my 40's and he takes care of me.)

Anonymous said...

I like your outlook! Clearly, this is all just my opinion, but I think that people with liberal arts degrees have saturated the market, and many of the jobs requiring them (general degrees, BAs, etc) no longer exist. While it is possible that one can still get a job with a liberal arts degree simply because you have a degree, I think you get a far better return on your investment right now with a technical / trade education.

I am "old school" enough that I think some higher education is worthwhile, and I do think that some "reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic" in technical education is well worth it, particularly when many of our students graduate high school without adequate skills in those areas. But, it is getting more and more difficult to advise young folks to get a four-year degree as an investment in their future. If our job situation changes, maybe. If someone has a specific employment goal and knows exactly what education is required of that employment, then sure. But a general, liberal arts education... I'm not sure that's worth the time and money invested these days.

It's difficult to change that mindset that "education pays", but I'm not convinced that it really pays anymore. Sad, but I think true.


Wendi Kitsteiner said...

Firstly to Shannon, I actually do agree that a little bit of education is good. I think, especially with the two free years here in TN that using them is a good idea and that education is never a bad idea. I think college is obviously not a bad idea but that it is obviously not the end all.

To Mama PhD I really think there a lot of trades that aren't terrible labor. I also don't think labor is bad and if you enjoy it, you can be happy doing it. In my sister in laws comment above she went to get her bachelors and masters and couldn't get a job in her field while her husband was employed immediately out of boat mechanic school in a job he is passionate about.

annette @ a net in time said...

makes a whole lot of sense to me. Why accumulate debt that you don't need? Figure out what you want to do and go on from there. :)

Bonnie Leigh said...

Great discussion! In general, my husband and I agree with you and JB. We both have graduate degrees and went to an elite private university (his parent paid for his, I paid my way through working/scholarships - and I always love to tell people not to be afraid of big name universities because they often have much better financial aid!!!). I do think there is great value and motivation in figuring out how to pay for your own college, figuring out where you want to go, and making it happen. Obviously, we value education but also know that it depends greatly on the child's dreams and 'fit'.

Our five-year old son talks about wanting to be a farmer, a street-sweeper, a pest control guy, etc, and we encourage him that to be a farmer he might have to go to 'farmer school,' or whatever that week's occupation is. We expect that he will pursue the learning he needs to do the job he wants and to do it well. We know that likely this would involve college but might not necessarily, and we'll help along the way (we do save a bit), but it's a joint venture and his future so he is ultimately responsible. And he will definitely be working to help support himself.

Side note: my husband and I both got liberal arts degrees - he is now an attorney and I work at a university (also free tuition for my children, so it's an option but I want them to go where they want to go!). I do think there is great value in a liberal arts degree, teaching critical thinking and writing and analysis and well-roundedness. I understand but hate to see so much focus these days on a 'marketable' degree like STEM fields and business. I think our future is such that we need THINKERS and PHILOSOPHERS, not just engineers and accountants. But, sure, it's not for everyone and it can be done in a financially responsible way.

Finally, my husband and I have a great love for our university and its tight-knit community. It was a place we met, made lifelong friends and memories, where we felt we 'belonged' and found ourselves in a way we wouldn't have otherwise. As JB's military experience, it defined us, in the best way possible, and we have a continuing relationship with our alma mater. I would love for our children to experience that same belonging and lifelong relationship with their school and community; a way to be part of something bigger than themselves, though obviously it can come from things other than a school. But on, say, a college football Saturday it sure is fun to be part of something you are proud of. :)

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

Bonnie, I don't think you and I actually disagree that much. I, too, want to encourage my kids to get the education they need for the job they want. I want to encourage them to take classes and get an education "just because it is good for you." But I don't think it has to be stressed to the point that they come out with a degree that is useless and is not landing them any better job than before. I think that telling them to take their time, think about what they want to do, and make an educated decision is valuable.

In My husband's case, he genuinely FELT that after high school he had to go to school SOMEWHERE. Why? Why can't he take a year off, evaluate, think, and wait. Growing up a little is not a bad thing.

And while I do understand about the "college experience" I think that many, many people have a college experience filled with poor choices. I want their experience to be a mature one when ready!

Great points!

BL said...

Yes, absolutely! I meant my comments to be rambling and agreeing with you almost entirely. :) Agreed about 'good experience' versus 'poor choices,' whether at college or elsewhere. Incidentally, my hubby and I both ended up taking a 'gap year' of sorts AFTER college, and before graduate school, which was awesome. We taught English in France for a year, and it was a great way to spend a year doing something fun and different, with no pressure of career/jobs, and still supporting ourselves. I think that kind of year can be valuable, before or even after continuing education.