Thursday, January 12, 2017

Degree or Diploma?

by Paffi S. Flood

Since my kids will be in the thick of their college hunt soon, I’ve had a question swirling through my brain: Is getting a college degree the only way to succeed in life? 

This might be an odd argument for me to make. I, who majored in Computer Science, when my main affinity was Journalism. I was good in math and science, so this made sense, especially when I considered that with a four-year degree in CS, I wouldn’t have to struggle to pay back my student loans. 

Does this mean each of us has to major in a STEM degree? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love technology and the sciences, and my degree did more than just help me pay back student loans. It allowed me to work abroad for a few years, to put some money away so I could stay at home when my kids were born, but I can’t help wondering how many students are not attaining their true potential, because they’re bogged down by debt. 

In the big scheme of things, maybe we should be asking, “Why is college so damn expensive?” A main reason is cutbacks from the federal government. And, to bridge that gap, universities are passing the cost to students. Another reason is that some graduates aren’t able to find well-paying jobs, causing them to not pay back their student debt. Although the heaviest burden lands with those who pursue graduates programs, attend for-profit institutions, and college dropouts, an average person who manages to graduate from a four-year public university these days will end up owing about $30,000.00.

That’s a lot of money. On this path, we’re pretty much telling those who can outright pay for college (kids with rich parents) that they can major in anything, that they can follow their passions, while the rest of us can go suck it. When these “lucky” kids get out, they’re already way ahead of those of us who had to pay our own way. 

Do we want to go back to the times where mainly the well-to-do could get higher education? It was the wealthy or ones with wealthy families who could run experiments in their homes, like Darwin, whose father was wealthy physician, travel to Paris to paint, like Monet, whose family owned a grocery business, or invent a literary genre, like Edgar Allan Poe, whose father was a wealthy tobacco merchant. 

No, I hope not.

Maybe one of the ways college could become less expensive is if we revamped our high school, as suggested by the Gates Foundation. Our current system was created during the Industrial Revolution when having a high school diploma put you in middle class and got you a fantastic job. But not so much in the past few decades. 

High schools need to become pre-universities, especially in this age of technology since even the lowest level manufacturing job requires advanced math skills. In the schools that offer AP classes, they already are, but it isn’t as prevalent as it should be. If the main argument for starting college too early is the kids’ maturity levels, why not offer college courses in high school? Especially for those who are ready to take those advanced classes but need the comfort of being around their friends and family?

And, keep in mind, college isn’t for everyone, and just because you go to one doesn’t mean you’re smart. I know plenty of dumb people with degrees. 

Anyway, my point is, for those who don’t have an inclination toward academic studies, community colleges and apprenticeships can play a role. These two choices shouldn’t be an either/or. They should be more symbiotic. Maybe apprenticeship teaches the trade, while community college teaches business courses that help with keeping the books for the trade.

At the end of the day, find your affinity, that one something you have an understanding of and can find fulfilling, because when you do, chances are you'll succeed in it. See, I didn't say follow your passion. Passion can be hot or cold. What if you're in your third year and realize that you don't like your major anymore?

So, I guess my answer to my initial question is a no, but we all know one thing, a high school diploma just doesn’t cut it anymore.


Paffi S. Flood is the author of A Killing Strikes Home. You can also find her on twitter and facebook.

1 comment:

  1. Many people in my family succeeded because of apprenticeships and trade schools, and I wish we had more support for those (and more preparation in high school -- like the wood, auto, home-ec, and other more skills-focused classes) so that young people had more options. People are going to college, racking up debt, and still not getting a job that will lead where they want to go. It's a tough situation.