The Internet has been a great equalizer, a catalyst for change in nearly every industry. Education, in particular, higher education has been heavily affected by the proliferation of the Internet. While higher education has never been more accessible, there is a growing number of people who question the necessity of a traditional four-year college degree.
Traditionally, obtaining a college degree was advantageous because it provided unique opportunities. A four-year degree was a requisite step for any aspiring young professional. However, the landscape is now changing. While there is indeed no disadvantage to obtaining a college degree, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success.
Society is shifting to a performance-based system, and I believe this is directly related to the diminished role of traditional gatekeepers. For example, thirty years ago an aspiring author needed a conventional publishing house to be a recognized and published author. Today anyone can self-publish a book or start a blog. The same could be said of any aspiring musician. A YouTube channel with enough traffic can generate buzz and a self-sustaining income. Do you want to start a business? All you need is a web-page with an online store. While I would argue a formal education to bolster business expertise is beneficial, it’s not required.
Career and Technical Education
In July 2018 Governor Mike Parsons addressed a group of Missouri school superintendents. Parsons specifically addressed the issue of career and technical education (CTE) by stating, “40% of the young men and women in this state start out in college to go get degrees. Less than 30% ever complete that degree.” If only 30% of students get a college degree, what type of jobs will exist for the remaining 70% of Missourians?
If you have ever written a check to a plumber, electrician, or HVAC specialist, you know that there is plenty of money to be made as a skilled laborer. I think we as parents are leery of career and technical schools because we fear it will reflect poorly on us. It sounds more prestigious if our child is attending a flagship university instead of a two-year or technical school, but we must decide what is best for our kids. If a program outside of a college degree is a better fit, then we should embrace and support this option.
Recently, there has been a lot of pushback about the cost of obtaining a college degree. College is a significant expense, and selecting a school is an important decision, but I would like to frame the cost of higher education in the right context: it is a life-long investment. We are a nation that sips five dollar lattes in $50,000 SUVs. Holistically, we do not demonstrate frugality in our everyday lives, so I’m somewhat bewildered why the cost of obtaining a degree with perennial value is suddenly a concern.
Don’t get me wrong, as a parent I’m cognizant of the rising costs associated with college, but I’m hopeful a critical examination of options will mitigate these expenses. If a four-year degree is in your child’s future, then an exhaustive review of options is a necessary step.
In Missouri, the A+ Progam allows qualifying students to attend a two-year program for free. The program benefits college-bound students by enabling them to complete basic, required courses with the A+ Scholarship. I think this a terrific option, especially if a student is unsure of their major.
If a student has a clear understanding of their future aspirations, then this should be leveraged when selecting a school. A regional university might be an appropriate and affordable fit for their future occupation. The goal of attending college should be a quality education, not to accrue a massive amount of debt.
Attending a four-year institution provides intangible skills and experiences with substantial benefits. I enjoyed meeting people who were nothing like me during my college years. They shared different backgrounds and beliefs that forced me to challenge my assumptions about many things. In short, it helped me become more open-minded and accepting of others.
It also gave me and my roommate opportunities to order Papa John’s pizza at 12:30 a.m. and talk about life while playing NFL Gameday. While my college experience was ladened with long hours, dedication, and sacrifice I also remember it as a carefree time. I can remember grabbing a coffee between classes and walking through campus on a beautiful fall day. I had no real adult responsibilities and largely did what I wanted when I wanted. Ultimately it allowed me time to bridge the gap between adolescence and adulthood. It was an opportunity to develop my own identity and opinions before officially entering the world of full-time “adulting.”
College helped me develop a life-long passion for learning, and maybe that is the most critical aspect of this discussion. I’m borrowing this epiphany from Don Wettrick of the StartEdUp Podcast. In a recent episode, Wettrick and guest Gary Brackett discussed the importance of life-long learning, even in a world with fewer gatekeepers. Knowledge has never been more accessible than it is right now and it is imperative that our students appreciate, harness, and utilize these opportunities when they leave high school. It is essential they understand that learning is not relegated to the boundaries of a 2-year or 4-year institution, instead, it is a life-long pursuit.
I can’t tell you if your child should attend college. It’s a decision that only your family can answer. In my own home, I hope my daughters follow their passion and embark on a career that provides purpose and pays the bills. I hope they enjoy their job and don’t dread going to work each day and I’m in favor of any institution that makes these hopes a reality.