I’m the first person in the history of my family to earn a college degree. A first generation college student. I’m the only one to have a doctorate degree. I also work in higher education, and my job, in large part, is to help students be successful. We talk a great deal about student retention and graduation rates in my professional world. I value higher education in a very personal way and on multiple levels.
But I won’t raise my kid with the expectation that she must go to college.
There were times in the not-too-distant past when vast numbers of people were barred from having equal access to higher education in America. Women. People of color. People with disabilities. People with limited financial means. We’ve fought the long, hard battle to change this, and we’re immeasurably better for it. Here’s the new message, though:
Everyone needs to get a college education.
And I just don’t buy it. I, being so grateful for my education, and who is passionate about helping college students succeed, will not teach my daughter that a college education is a necessity.
You know why? Because it isn’t a necessity for everyone! As parents we know that every kiddo is different. Each has her own strengths, her own passions and interests, and yes…her own weaknesses. This isn’t about weaknesses, though. This is about guiding our children to think for themselves and to take the path that makes the most sense given their own uniqueness. I will honor my daughter’s dreams enough to lay aside my own passion for higher education and help her see what’s best for her. And that may not be college.
Collectively, college graduates are sagging under the weight of unemployment, underemployment, and millions of dollars in student loan debt. While I’m happy every single one of those students had access to higher education, and I’m personally thankful that I did, maybe there was something even better out there for some of them.
In my career, I’ve worked with students who didn’t succeed in college, despite the myriad resources that are now available to support students on campus. They were usually experiencing one of two things: They either weren’t ready for college OR they didn’t know why they were in college. Learning for learning’s sake is a nice ideal, but gone are the days where that’s a feasible singular reason to be in college. Students are expected to graduate in four years and find gainful employment. The funding of public higher education is even becoming tied to these measures. That’s a lot of pressure if you don’t have the maturity, social skills, or passion and purpose to focus and succeed.
Here are some scenarios where college (either right now or at all) might not the best option for my child:
- If she has no idea what she wants to do for a living
- If she wants to embark on a career that does not require a college degree
- If she lacks the motivation and self-direction to do what it takes to be a successful college student
What’s the alternative to college right out of high school? Working full-time and paying her own way. What might that do for her?
- Inspiration about a career path
- The development of skills and responsible behaviors
- Starting a career she’s passionate about, without delay
- Motivation and will to want an education that results in a better career
- Working for a company that will pay her to attend college if, and when, she’s ready
I’m not going to lie. It will be hard for me if one day my daughter doesn’t go to college. But it’s her decision, and I will do my best to take my own ego out of the equation and help her find her own best path.
It’s no longer about telling our children they can’t go to college, like we used to have to do in days past if they didn’t have the “right” gender or skin color. It’s about teaching them that they don’t necessarily have to. And, ultimately, it’s about being okay with ourselves, as parents, if they don’t.
I’m a Florida native who is thrilled to call Knoxville home for more than two years now. I love the four seasons and the fabulous people of East Tennessee! I’m a proud wife and mom who has also had the privilege of working in higher education for over 15 years. My favorite things are God, family, football, and Pearl Jam.