Monday, October 31, 2011 Is College for Everyone?

Disclaimer: I don't think college is for everyone. However, I do think people overuse the "college isn't for everyone" mantra. This post expounds more.

I don’t ever remember thinking “What will I do after high school?” As early as I can remember, it was inevitable that I was going to a four year university or college afterwards. All that was left to figure out was which one would it be and who was going to ante up the funds. Considering that neither of my parents graduated from college (they opted for the military) - it’s actually pretty impressive that college attendance was so ingrained in me.

Now that I’ve been out of college for a few years, I wonder if I would have chosen to go to if the decision hadn’t been made for me. I’d like to think the answer is yes, primarily because college was one of the greatest experiences of my life (in and out of the classroom). You may be thinking, “Well it worked out for you, smarty pants, but what about people who weren’t meant to go to college? College isn’t for everyone.” I can agree that college isn’t a purse full of rainbows and Hello Kitty smiles for everyone. Nevertheless, I think this College Isn’t For Everyone (CIFE) theory is overstated, and I’m here to refute 3 pillars that the CIFE argument stands on. 

  • “I hate the classroom setting; I learn better when I’m actually practicing my craft/talent/passion.” So lectures/taking notes/taking tests/etc  isn’t your cup of tea. You prefer to make pottery, rap over beats, portray Othello, etc. Duh, everyone prefers that. However, taking some time to really sit down and study something gives you the opportunity to learn from people’s mistakes without having to make them yourself. You aren’t the first person who wanted to paint for a living. Why not learn the history and nuances of your field alongside future colleagues versus out on the streets? If you’re going to be stuck eating Cup O Noodles anyway, why not at least be learning at the same time?
  • “College is for people that know what they want to do. I’m not sure yet and want to try out some other stuff first.” Most people enter college at the age of seventeen or eighteen. Very few people know exactly what they want to do and even fewer end up doing what they set out to do. I know many prospective doctors/lawyers/teachers turned IT analysts/marketing consultants/fundraisers. Does this mean it was a lost cause? No! The great thing about college is that it gives you four years to be in a setting where your job is to learn not only about your chosen major, but also to learn about yourself! In college, you learn what you don’t like, what the competition is like in your field, and about more careers that you may have never considered prior to.

Two great schools. :)

  • “I don’t want to waste money paying for a degree I probably won’t even use.” This might be the easiest argument to defeat. College is more than 4 years spent studying communications or liberal arts. It’s an opportunity to meet people from different walks of life. It’s an opportunity to network with folks who may end up being your future bridesmaids or physician or psychologist. It’s one of the few places for adults where your job is to learn. Eventually, most of us will have to get a formal full-time job. So why start earlier than you have to? I went to school for psychology and theater. I didn’t end up becoming a psychologist or an actress, both career goals I thought I wanted when I enrolled at Howard U. But I use my degree every day. When talking to potential funders or angry parents, I’m using my acting and psychology skills. When volunteering with kids, or attempting to understand how I can best market to folks, I’m using my psychology degree. An infamous requirement to graduate from the College of Arts & Sciences is the swimming course. And yep, I’ve certainly used that skill. Most of the jobs I’m interested don’t care about the specifics of my college degree; they just care that I got one. While it’s not necessarily fair, a college degree in just about anything says a lot to a potential employer. It says that you dedicated four (or five) years to your education and that you’re invested in your future. Even for folks that want to be an auto mechanic or cosmetologist, college has a business class for you. Maybe eventually, you’ll want to own your own body shop or salon. Maybe you’ll create a hair product that you’ve fine-tuned over the years and you need some marketing classes to show you how to get it out there. College has a little something for everyone.

In closing, the biggest problem I have with this argument is the following:

  • It typically comes from people with hindsight vision: those who have already attended college. It’s easy to say that college was a waste of time if you got the chance to experience it. It’s not fair though to decide for someone else that it would be. It’s almost like you’re stunting their potential.
  • My other issue is… the CIFE theory is probably most harmful to minority males, who already don’t seem to be sold on the idea of pursuing a higher education. Despite the well-known fact that college graduates earn on average, a million more over their lifetime than high school graduates, only 10% of Latino males have earned their bachelor’s degree and less than 3% of students at large public universities are Black men. I’m not sure that the minority community is in a position to act as if “too many of us are unnecessarily going to college all willy nilly.”

The stories of people who don’t attend college and go on to be lucratively successful are few and far between. Attending college is simply a smarter gamble. I’m not suggesting that you’re a failure if you don’t attend. Nevertheless, the CIFE is an overstated and somewhat dangerous argument to toss out there. Consider what I’ve suggested before you decide it’s a lost cause. Thoughts? Leave a comment!

Feel free to read these articles for Even More Words:

1.     College remains elusive for Latino men.
2.     College graduates earnings vs. high school earnings
3.     Black men missing from college campuses