Why the hell are we here? Don’t worry, I’m not getting existential with you. What I mean is, why are we here in college? I’m sure most college students (myself included) have relentlessly questioned what to study, but rarely do students, especially at an elite university like Michigan, question their decision to go to college in the first place. If you have the money and the high school diploma, going to college has become the natural path. There isn’t much of a decision, especially after you’ve been told again and again by counselors, parents and peers that if you don’t go to college, you will be a poor, sad loser.
In a recent article for The Atlantic, Professor X (an anonymous professor teaching at a private college in the Northeast) challenges this attitude. He details a number of recent studies on college graduates. “Some Say Bypassing a Higher Education Is Smarter Than Paying For A Degree,” reads a recent headline in the Washington Post. Last month, the Harvard Graduate School of Education published a study on a growing proportion of students for whom internships, apprenticeships and vocational training are much more beneficial than college.
These studies make one thing clear: college isn’t for everyone. I’m not saying that going to college should be discouraged. It’s certainly true that higher education is required for most high paying jobs.. But maybe we should stop shaming those who don’t choose college. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy, stupid or worthless. High school students should feel free to make an informed decision about college.
The growing cost of college should also make students think twice. In this New York Times article, Jacques Steinberg explores whether or not it’s worth it to go to an elite, expensive private school. He concluded that yes, it will usually make you more money, but it won’t make you any happier in the long run. In fact, the stress and student loan debt—the Federal Reserve now estimates the nation’s total to be around $830 billion—associated with prestigious schools may make you less happy.
A college education is extremely valuable for reasons unrelated to money. College teaches you to communicate well and think critically. But if all you’re looking to get out of college is a well paying career—and this does seem to be the only goal of most students—you should seriously consider where you go and whether or not you go in the first place.
(Image by cogdogblog used under a Creative Commons license.)