Question: I’m pretty sure you do not have kids, but I thought maybe your readers could help me. My teenager daughter is dreading going to college. She was not the best student in high school (like me) and does not want a professional, “cubicle” job. She wants to open her own fashion boutique or join the Peace Corps or something like that. She does NOT want to go to college. But I am still of that school of thought that a college degree is worth something, even if you don’t work in that field, you can use it to “fall back on” later. Am I just being old-fashioned?
Answer: Well, I can answer at least one of your inquiries: No, I don’t have kids. But — you’re in luck — I do teach at a community college, so I know a little something about the college atmosphere and what students go through, to a certain extent.
Honestly, I think if you ask college students — and I just might today! — even they don’t know why they’re there. Some of them know they need a degree in a particular field to get the job they think they want. But a lot of students — at least the ones who sit in my journalism classes — aren’t really sure what they want to do with the rest of their life — and they don’t really want to think about it.
College isn’t what is used to be — a place where people study hard to earn degrees to get jobs. Nowadays, campuses are places where students interact, network, date, meet and, when they feel like it, attend classes and graduate.
A recent report by two economists at the University of California found that over the past four decades the time college students spend in class and studying has decreased substantially, from 40 hours a week in 1961 to 27 hours a week in 2003. And another study found that colleges are spending less on instruction and more on recreation and student services.
Well, it’s partially our fault.
The best-paying jobs aren’t often the ones that require college degrees. And master’s degrees — let’s face it — are as commonplace as folks with realtor licenses in the ’90s. I don’t get paid more because I have a master’s degree. But I’m paying off a hefty student loan for it. So why bother?
On the other hand, I’ve never subscribed to the belief that everyone needs or should go to college. Some people just aren’t cut out for it. And some just don’t need it. I don’t want my mechanic to have a master’s degree in American studies; I’d like him to be bad-ass at fixing my car.
What students these days care more about is finding a job they actually like — and that’s our fault, too. They’ve heard us — parents, older siblings, bosses — complain about everything from 10-hour workdays to annoying workers — and hating every minute of it. So now they want what we should have wanted, too: a job they don’t mind going to, a career that’s fueled by passion than paycheck.
So if your daughter is really serious about opening her own boutique — I mean, really serious, not just living out some “The Hills” fantasy — then let her do it. A college degree might be worthwhile — but frame it like this: she could learn a lot of finance, accounting, marketing and social media, not to mention make connections that could help her later in life.
What say the rest of you?
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