Is College Overrated and Outdated?
Updated: Mar 26, 2019
Where I live, here in Williamson County, TN, the majority of high school students seem to all embrace the idea that one should attend college after high school. The implication being that college is necessary for success in life. But is that true? If it is true, is it absolutely true?
What if it's not absolutely true? If college isn't necessary for success in life, then what needs to change in the way we prepare the next generation for life as an adult?
In defense of a formal college education, it has been the gold standard for continued learning for centuries. In America, Harvard University claims to be "the oldest institution of higher education in the United States," having been established in 1636. In the U.K., the
University of Oxford, which began teaching as early as 1096, lays claim to being "the oldest university in the English-speaking world." So, for at least the past 900 years colleges and universities have been the gatekeepers of knowledge. Even today, if one desires to pursue a professional career as a doctor, lawyer, architect, or some other licensed profession, they would need to attend and successfully graduate from an institution of higher learning. But, what about everyone else?
Starting in the 1700s, with the introduction of the first public library in the United States, the stronghold universities had over the control of knowledge slowly began to dwindle. Then in 1991, the world wide web became publicly available, instantly creating the opportunity for free flow of knowledge from any single individual to the rest of the world. Now, here we are nearly 27 years later. If you or I want to learn how to do just about anything, we could find that information in a relatively short amount of time. All it takes is a quick search in a web browser. So, if access to knowledge is practically ubiquitous, what reason do the majority of Americans have for attending a formal university?
Is a college education or its resulting degree necessary to earning a "good job" or a "large salary"? According to a 2017 article from Forbes, "The top-paying bachelor’s degree, by the numbers, is electrical engineering." That electrical engineering degree, on average, garners a salary of around $62,000. So, even with the highest-earning bachelor's degree, a person could only reasonably expect to earn about $15,000 more a year than the average wage-earner in the U.S. Even if that $15,000 is considered a substantial increase, that doesn't take into account that the student debt in America sits around $1.4 trillion or $28 thousand per student borrower. So, even if you hold the highest paying degree in America, the financial benefits of a college degree may not really be worth the time, effort, and money you put into it. On top of that, "only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major." Therefore, 73% of graduates likely didn't even need that degree to help them in their current role.
Is success in college an indicator of success in the work force? According to a fantastic article from Dr. Tim Elmore and his team at Growing Leaders, the five greatest predictors of student success are:
Getting connected to the right people
Possessing adaptability and resilience
Developing high emotional intelligence
Targeting a clear outcome
Making good decisions
If you take a quick look at that list, it's easy to see that attending colleges and universities aren't required to gain those skills and attributes. Sure, one could make connections, and strengthen any of those other abilities listed above while attending college, but those skills and abilities could be earned a whole lot quicker, and much more cost-efficient, without ever stepping foot on a college campus.
So, what should we do?
First off, don't arbitrarily push students down a path to college just because that's what everyone else is doing or that's what has always been expected. That path may not be right for them. I strongly encourage those of us either leading teens or parenting them to encourage students to pursue alternative career choices that are most suited for each individual. For example:
Develop a natural skill
Learn an interesting trade
Begin working in an area that embraces natural strengths and abilities
Consider a military career
Seek an apprenticeship
Get employment experience in high school in a position that aligns with strengths and passions
Have interest meetings with people who are doing what it is the student wants to do
Learn by doing! Just research how to do something online or in a book and go do it.
Attend industry-related conferences and workshops
Use your imaginations here! There are an infinite number of possibilities, each of which are as unique as the young man or woman considering them.
If you're a parent to or leader of teenagers, Equipping Teens could be a phenomenal resource for equipping teens with essential life skills; which are actual predictors of future success. If you'd like to make sure your son or daughter has the skills necessary for life as an adult and avoids the costly mistake of paying too much time and money for college, then enroll your teen in Self-Leadership Academy today!