Monday, March 4, 2013

Education Bubble

As much as I try to enjoy the journey, I can't help but feel that childhood is about preparation for life.  I try to fill my girls' heads now with life values that I think are important "get married, buy a house, then have a baby" or "save, save, save, pay yourself first, think hard about how you spend money, don't live above your means" or "don't do drugs, don't smoke and if you ever drink too much, call me to come and get you".  I figure in a few years they will think they know more than I do and I might as well try to brainwash them now before they get to that point.

I keep asking them what they want to be when they grow up.  It changes often.  I could see them both doing something with some kind of design-interior, graphic, fashion, etc.  I try to look at their interests and how they spend their time.  I want to help them find a way to turn what they love doing into a way to earn a living when they are older.

Things are so very different now from when I was growing up.  I grew up in a fairly upscale community, but if moms worked, they were secretaries or receptionists and most of the fathers were blue collar.  It wasn't until I was in high school that the pharmaceutical companies started moving in and there were more white collar jobs.  Most of our parents told us to go to college, it was sort of expected that if you went to college you would get a good job.   Now, people who are ten years younger than me say that a college degree is like a high school diploma and a master's degree is the equivalent of what a college degree was.  An education bubble was created.  There were so many people with undergraduate degrees that you needed a graduate degree to set you apart.  Now there are so many people with student loan debt and not enough jobs to pay it back.

Penelope Trunk does not believe college will be necessary in ten years.  She makes a lot of interesting points.  A Forbes magazine writer wrote about kids who are not college material.  NPR did a piece on too many kids going to college.

The Case for Community College

I want my kids to go to college.  I get all the reasons for not going, but I think the experience of going outweighs all of them.  But, at what cost?  Jason and I will do all we can to help our girls pay for school, but we have talked about this a lot and we don't think it would be in our girls' best interest for us to pay the whole thing.  They will have to help.  I am brainwashing them now about community college.  My brother, sister-in-law and I all went to community college first.

My good friend who is a professor at a big university has stated many times that community college is great for those core classes. In a large university you will pay twice as much to take a core class in a lecture hall, something that may be overwhelming to the vast majority of college freshman and sophomores; in a community college you can take the same class in a classroom, among 30 or 40 other people, where your professor knows your name.

You more than likely live under your parent's roof when you attend community college.  As much as I want my girls to have "the true college experience", I also want them to call me if they are at a party and shouldn't drive home and I want to be able to hop in the car and bring them home safely.  I want to know that they are home in their own bed alone.  The idea of an 18 year old going from their parents home and curfew to complete independence in a sea of other 18-22 year olds with little responsibility and a lot of time can be a recipe for disaster for many young people.

A Change in Thinking

I told my friend the other day that I want my girls to at least get their associate's degree.  "Oh, that's a mistake," she said.  "They need to get their bachelor's degree."  

Maybe.  It depends on what they want to do.  I can see my girls getting associate's degrees in business and opening up a design studio or other small business.  Maybe after getting an associate's degree it will make more sense for them to go to a trade school or an institute for design.  Their associate's degree, at the very least, will be something to help them should they decide they want to pursue their bachelor's degree later.

Maybe my girls will want to teach, in which case a bachelor's and perhaps even a master's degree will make sense.  Maybe they will want to get into social media and a bachelor's degree will make sense.  Who knows?  Maybe they will want to run for political office and a bachelor's and a law degree will make sense.  

We need to shift our thinking away from everyone NEEDING a college degree.  I have talked to so many high school teachers who have said that not all kids are college material.  You only need a college degree if what you want to do requires it.  Maybe your kid wants a low stress job where they can live modestly and have free time to enjoy their hobbies.  Maybe they can work for UPS, in which case they don't need a degree, but they will be paid well and get good benefits.

 We need to start changing how we feel about what a good job is.  Is it a good job if it can easily be shipped overseas where someone can do it for much less money?  Many of the jobs that were considered "good jobs" when I graduated from college are being shipped overseas.  I don't consider those "good jobs"anymore.  

"Maybe you can make money at it, but nobody wants to do those jobs." I hear that a lot.  It has been decided that blue collar work is beneath the vast majority of Americans.  Or retail is beneath them.  Or jobs such as hair dressers are beneath them.   We need to change how we think of these jobs.  These jobs can't be farmed out overseas, they will always be in demand.  I've heard a lot of liberals use the "nobody wants to do that job" argument for not cracking down on immigration, but if we think that way and we have people new to this country doing these jobs for less money and we have other corporate jobs and manufacturing jobs farmed out overseas, what will be left?  There is not enough need for lawyers, doctors, teachers, policemen and CEOs to employ the vast majority of Americans, some of whom think they are above being an electrician or a carpenter or a plumber or a store manager.  If we keep looking down on these jobs, no one will want to do them and they are important.  Sure, it may not be something that you want to do, but when your power goes out you are pretty happy that the tree guy cut the tree off the line and the lineman reconnected the power.  Why not give the people who like to work with their hands or who love physical challenges or who have a passion for something that doesn't require sitting at a desk some respect?  Why not acknowledge that their jobs are important and worthwhile?

The Times They are A-Changing

My grandfather worked in a factory that made copper tubing his entire working life.  He advanced through the levels until he was in upper management.  Those days are gone.   My parents told me to go to college and get a degree and I would get a good job.  Those days are gone.  You aren't going to work in one company your whole life and going to college won't guarantee your kids a good job.  How do we proceed from here?  How do we advise our kids?

  • We need to start thinking differently about essential service jobs, such as electricians and plumbers and store managers.
  • Encourage entrepreneurs.
  • Don't go to college just for the sake of going.  Go to college if it makes sense for what you want to do with your life.  Go to grad school for the same reasons.  Don't look down on those who choose another path.  You are just going to add to the bubble.
  • Encourage your kids to find their own interest.  Give them un-directed time to pursue these interests.

The Resume

One of my online friends said they agree with Penelope Trunk, but they are afraid that their child would be overlooked for a job if college is not on the resume.  That's my biggest concern, too.  I would really like to see my girls both get at least their bachelor's degrees, but not if it means going into debt and not if the job market is dismal.  I am hoping that by getting at least the associate's degree they will only be two years away from the degree and they can finish it if they find it really does limit their opportunities.  I've also been reading, however, that a lot of corporations are starting to think differently about college.  Steve Jobs didn't finish college.  Mark Zuckerberg didn't finish college.  You don't need college to have a great mind.  Corporations are looking at other things as a measure for how well a person will do in a job: maybe they were part of a successful startup, maybe they launched a successful website, maybe they organized significant fundraisers as a teenager or volunteered or interned somewhere.  It will take time, but people are starting to see that experience is worth more than a piece of paper saying you have a degree.