By Sam Coren
The following editorial reflects the opinions of the author and not all of those at StudentAdvisor.com.
A New Backlash Against College
Recently, Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of Paypal, awarded 24 $100,000 fellowships to students who vowed to take a 2 year sabbatical from college and start their own businesses. His goal isn’t to foster the next Mark Zuckerberg. He wants to prove that higher education is the next “bubble” that’s about to burst, and that some students may be better off turning down a college degree. By the way, Peter Thiel graduated from Stanford with degrees in philosophy and law.
So why all of a sudden is there this backlash against college? America is still pulling itself out of a major recession. The average student loan debt is climbing as tuition costs skyrocket. Employers in certain sectors are still reluctant to hire new grads. To top it off the Pew Research Center’s recent study revealed that a significant number of college presidents feel that America’s current higher education isn’t even up to snuff.
Are We Victims of a Numbers Game?
Of course all this is happening after the White House issued the goal to make America first in the world for college completion rates. Well chicken little, you might think the sky is falling, and it very well could be if you aren’t careful about planning your future.
So as the manager of a blog that’s focused on helping people find their best college match, you might think I’d be onboard with this pie-in-the-sky “let’s churn out more college grads” dream. Believe it or not, I think this notion of forcefully inflating our nation’s college completion rate is a terrible idea.
More often than not, politicians on both sides of the aisle measure the effectiveness of our education system on numbers alone. Because of this our country’s public school K – 12 teachers are forced to tailor their curriculum to prepare students for standardized tests instead of adequately preparing them for life after compulsory education.
That being said…
College is not for everyone.
I don’t believe that everyone should go to college. I believe everyone who wants to go to college should go to college. If you’re self-motivated enough and want to peruse a career in something that doesn’t mandate a college degree then college will be a complete waste of time and money for you.
However, let’s be honest: how many 18-year-olds do you know have the motivation and maturity to do something that ambitious right out of high school? That’s where the college environment can be beneficial even if it doesn’t mean a high paying job is waiting there for you when you graduate anymore.
Understanding the True Value of College
College exposes you to cultural elements and career options you might not even have considered. Additionally, the networks of connections you make at college can pay off immensely down the line. Even Zuckerberg wonders how many more incredible people he would’ve met if he had chose to stay at Harvard. And if you’re the inquisitive type, college will provide you with the resources you need for research projects or student groups for just about anything your heart desires if you take the initiative.
And let’s not forget that there are some people who just love learning. College gives you the opportunity to learn what you actually want in a structured environment with people who are experts in their field. How awesome is that? Sure, you can sit on Wikipedia and Google search for what you want all day. You can even listen and watch lectures from America’s top universities on iTunes U, but they’re not a substitute for in-person interaction.
All of these would be experiences would be very difficult to find on your own outside the college environment. But it’s the unfortunate truth that several students merely go through the motions and treat college as a vacation rather than spend their time seizing on opportunities to expand their minds and build valuable relationships.
Not Going to College: There ARE Other Options
I graduated from a highly ranked suburban public high school. A big part of that ranking had to do with the large percentage of graduating students going on to 4-year colleges. If you were a student who expressed a disinterest in going to college they would throw every pamphlet they could your way to scare you straight into thinking that college is the only option for success in life. I can’t help but think how many American college grads are now up to their eyeballs in debt because they’ve been brainwashed into thinking that going to college was the only option after high school.
Even if you don’t think you’re ready for college yet there are plenty of alternatives to fill your time with before making up your mind: Volunteering, taking a gap year, learning a skilled trade, working for your family, traveling, focusing on more creative or personal projects etc. There’s no shame in admitting you’re not ready yet or that it’s just not the right choice for you to make in light of your future goals.
Now more than ever before, college is becoming a big, expensive commitment. If you’re only going because you’re in it for a job then chances are you’ve made the wrong choice. After all, there is more to life than work and money.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts on the issues at hand in the comments.