I’ve been ruminating on an issue for a while.  As I see my return to college looming on the horizon I’ve often stopped to wonder about what I’ve gained from college in my previous experience.  Sure it was a great time of learning and character development.  I learned how to become independent and more adult-like, but was it worth it for my current line of work?

Is it worth paying the government $200 a month so that I have a piece of paper that says some body of educational officials believe I have the knowledge necessary to do my line of work?  Is this right when my current line of work revolves around using a sewing machine and washing a strangers dirty socks?

Luckily, I have a job using many of the skills I did learn while in college that qualified me for that degree; though I believe it was more to do with the work I did in the summers at summer stock and a nose to the grindstone type of attitude post college that got me the furthest.  However, not everyone I knew in my college graduating class has had the same amount of luck.  They are paying Uncle Sam the same if not more to skirt by on rather regular jobs, or have found that they do not want to or can not make it in their chosen field.  And so many have found that outside of the entertainment world their degree, even with its liberal arts background, is rather worthless.

Then I look around and see others with degrees in other fields in the same predicament.  So many of my generation were lead to believe that a college degree was a sure-fire way to a good job and a good life, but is that really true?

In many ways it is, we’ve become a culture that values higher education as a qualifier for someones intelligence – but don’t we all know brilliant individuals who never went to college and less than brilliant individuals who miraculously attained a college degree.

In many fields a college type of education and training is necessary – but past the lawyers, doctors and engineers do all fields need 4+ years of training plus a liberal arts core and electives?  I can think of many careers in which, past a basic set of knowledge the most important aspect of their future success is experience.

We’re lead to believe that everyone is ready and capable to leave the nest and fly at 18, and be successful.  However, how many of us can count any number of people who’ve gotten to college only to realize that’s not true.  We’ve all seen it, the kid that was in the top of the high school class moves away to college only to be overwhelmed by the work load, the subject matter or the new-found freedom.  The result is anywhere from the kid dropping out and moving back home (perhaps one day to return) or trying to stick it out while continually failing, skirting by or getting wrapped up in unproductive behaviors to cope.

I’m mentoring a high school junior right now and she’s certain she wants and needs to go to college, yet she doesn’t know what she wants to go to college for or even what careers she might want to go after.  Yet, she determined, in part with social pressure and from her parents, that college, without question, is the right course of action and I just want to say – No, it isn’t.  I want to encourage her to do other things for her first year out of school, to find her own direction and desire to go to college.  I don’t want to see another student going to college just because it’s what’s done.

I’m still trying to figure out my stance on all of this.  I welcome your responses – Did you go to college or beyond and if so was it worth the expense?  Did you choose not to go to college and was it worth it?  Did you find value in non-4year degree programs?  When you have college age kids will a 4 year program be the only worthwhile endeavor in your mind?