You would think that someone who describes herself as “Ferociously dedicated to the lofty principles and necessary practicality of higher education” would not be advocating that some people NOT go to college. But that’s exactly what I would like to say today.Just like @MikeRoweWorks, I believe that a college degree is NOT the best path for many if not most people. The mistaken belief that a Bachelor’s degree is the ticket to a happy life is leading thousands if not millions of people down a path that doesn’t suit them. And, as Seinfeld says, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
In fact, there’s a lot right with that.
Mike Rowe is not arguing AGAINST a college education. He seems to be furious, and justifiably so, that people are going into so much debt for an uncertain future and thinks there’s a better way. I agree.This obsession with a four-year degree is getting us into a lot of trouble.Half of all students who begin a degree do not finish it. And they take on debt to do it. Millions of students and their parents now owe money they can’t repay without a ton of hardship. We have an epidemic of college students who are homeless and hungry because they can’t afford to eat or pay rent, yet they are living on the streets or in abandoned buildings or cars and attending classes. If you really want that college education, there are ways to do it that don’t involve mortgaging a house or living without a roof over your head suffering from hunger pangs. Let’s be more imaginative about pursuing a degree in the first place.
And then there is another pet peeve of mine – the students who can afford college but have no interest in it. They sit in classes in a sort of malaise. They drink and drug and hook up, but contribute little to the classroom, much less to society in general. To teach them is drudgery, and they are taking up valuable spots in college dorms and classrooms that others wanted and could have put to better use. Life is too short to pursue a degree in a depressed and apathetic way. No one benefits from that.
I once had an advisee who is now an accomplished journalist, whose father wanted, no, he DEMANDED that his daughter become a doctor. He and I once had my only ever advisor/parent screaming match on the threshold of my office during which I said, “Your daughter hates pre-med courses and the idea of becoming a doctor. If you continue to force her and she manages to get a degree, believe me, if I have cancer, she’s the last person I want to treat me!” He eventually let her drop the pre-med courses and become a journalist, which ironically is what her father does for a living as well.
It’s the same with pursuing a college degree in the first place. If you are miserable, you aren’t going to learn much. Then you may look like a good candidate on paper, but what are you really able to bring to the work place? More misery. That makes you a bad worker, a bad friend, a bad partner, and an awful contributor to society. I think we should stop forcing our kids to go to college and be more imaginative in guiding them to a productive and gratifying future.
For many years, as a dean at three Ivy League colleges and now as an AVP at a university with an extraordinary mission, I have had a front row seat to the obstacles to success that college students and their parents confront every year. Even at so-called elite, highly selective colleges such as Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, where I spent some of my career, students struggle on a daily basis to remain healthy, happy, grounded, and to stay in school. I am dedicated to helping them.