The college delusion

University of Texas Main TowerI have been a college professor for 16 years, and I often ponder how the benefits of a college education exceed the costs.

First, the costs:

  • Four (or more) years of your life.
  • A lot of money, especially in a private University.
  • The opportunity costs – money you would have made if you had been working instead of attending classes.

The benefits really depend on a student’s school and major.  Many majors (such as accounting and engineering) yield financially plum jobs after graduation.  I see the benefits.  Many other majors (such as social work, education or nursing) yield emotionally rewarding jobs after graduation.  Again, I can see the benefits.

But many students wander through college trying to find themselves, trying perhaps to discover some passion that they didn’t know that they had, be it for teaching, the sciences, or the arts – such passion could lead to extraordinary achievements and a very fulfilling life.

However, from my experience a large number of students don’t “find themselves” in college.  They squeak through with whatever major they like or can tolerate, they graduate, and then they continue to wander.  Student loans often force them to accept jobs and start unfulfilling careers.  I often wonder if they would have found themselves in other places – less expensive places – than college.   Peace Corps, travelling, learning a trade, or building a business?

Students pondering college need to ask themselves: Why am I going here?  What do I want to accomplish?  Will this be worth the time and money? Or is there another path that will help me achieve my goals?

One more thing: Parents, don’t bribe your child to pursue your goal.  Many students are told that their parents will pay for college (or buy them a car, etc.)  if they major in [fill in the blank] or if they go to law school, medical school, etc.  Many of these students never complete their degrees and those that do usually wind up changing careers anyway.

[Image: University of Texas Main Tower by rutlo, on Flickr]

0 thoughts on “The college delusion

  1. i recall hearing on NPR an interview with an author who had written a book guiding how to go through the process of applying for financial aid for college. He told the interviewer that first two of his children went to college and the other two started Dunkin Donuts with the money they would have spend to go to college. He said that those owning the Donut franchises were doing much better financially.

    • Thanks Art. It’s funny because my father ran an auto paints business for 40 years or so, and I think that he and my mom always aspired that I should “do well in school so I don’t have to go into business.” How things change!

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