This is such a sticky topic.
Let me start here.
I went to college. I did pretty well – much better than I thought. I got very good (not the best) grades, but I wasn’t achieving at the level I wanted. I wasn’t sure if it was because I just didn’t have what it took…
Turned out, when I got out into the real world, I did. I realized pretty quickly it wasn’t that I was inadequate, but that while I was still in college, I was comparing myself to the wrong people. I think I didn’t have a clear idea of how to measure my own progress, and I’d watch others who were accomplishing the quality of work that I was after… and I’d come away with just knowing I wasn’t in their league. Getting out into the real world, I learned that, yes, I wasn’t in that league of high achievers… yet. But I’d gone to a very, very well respected school for my field, and it turned out I’d learned my lessons well. When I was the only person to rely on, the only person to get the task at hand completed, I did it, and usually well. Those times I didn’t do so well, I learned fast. Later, I went to grad school, and with my new sense of my own ability to learn and achieve, I did extremely well, carrying extra heavy loads, working in addition to my studies, and making connections in the community.
On the other hand…
I remember, one summer when I was working in Italy, I met a tenor (as in, opera singer) who had gone to a bunch of colleges… and had degrees from none. He knew what he wanted to learn, and he’d go find the person he wanted to study with, and when he was done, he moved on. He had a thriving career.
My husband (who is not an opera singer) followed a similar path. He had some technical training in the navy, then went to college a few semesters here, a few there… and then he just started hiring himself out. He has excelled in his field, and continues to learn avidly in areas that he develops interest.
So, the thing is – all three of us have something in common. We went after what we needed to pursue our careers of choice.
- I went into education, so I needed a degree as well as passing scores on very specific standardized tests to qualify for certification in the states where I wanted to work.
- The tenor, he was a performer. He needed certain skills to produce the performance the audience wanted.
- My husband developed both the technical skills and the marketing skills (to get himself hired).
Two of the three of us didn’t need college degrees. Here’s the crux: both the tenor and my husband made more money than I did. In fact, I remember when my future-husband took a change in work, and he was working half the hours I was… and making twice the money I was as a teacher with a master’s degree.
This isn’t to bemoan the comparative low salaries of teachers – it’s to point out that getting a college degree isn’t necessarily to having a career that is in demand and that will serve you – and society – well. Because let’s face it – if you aren’t serving society on some level with your work, pretty soon, you’ll be out of work.
In recent years, I’ve become a huge fan of Mike Rowe’s work in highlighting the depth of the need for skilled labor in the U.S.
I was fortunate to have a good liberal arts education – not liberal in the current sense, but in the former sense of learning to think critically and with clarity. Having homeschooled our children, I know they have had the chance to be exposed to lots of examples of well-expressed thinking, and time to contemplate that. I know they can think on their own (although they don’t always remember to…!). I know they know how to seek out new information when needed, and they are learning how to vet those sources.
I have to say – knowing they have a good start on those thinking skills… I would be 100% comfortable with each or any of them coming up and telling me they want to be a plumber. Or a welder. Or work in some other “non-academic,” non-white collar field.
I know a lot of people – including family – who don’t feel the same way (which is all right) but also who, on some level, think I’m doing my children a disservice.
We have plans in place to address college if they decide to attend.
One of our boys is clearly on the path to a “college” education – although, forty years ago, when vocational schools were prevalent, it’s not a field one would have gone to college for.
Another boy is leaning heavily towards a more heavily academic field.
The decisions they make about their lives are theirs to make. So long as they are actively working towards their goals, we’ll support them in it.
And that also means we’ll support them if their path leads away from college.