So, are you going to send your child to college? Whether your child is 18, 12 or 4 years old, you've likely thought about this question.
It's a good plan, right? Go to college, get a degree (or two) and get a well-paying job. That's the way it's supposed to go. For the past two generations, college has been the unquestioned best model for maximizing income and increasing career opportunities.
However, the problem is that a new generation has emerged from college after the Great Recession and this model has come into question. A new report states that almost half (48%) of recent college grads report not being in a job that requires a four-year degree.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics data still provides a correlation between a college degree and higher levels of income. Especially if your child gets a degree in one of the the Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) fields of study.
However, this raises the question of whether or not income level is the best criteria for deciding on a career path after high school. Should other factors be weighted equally, if not more, when choosing a career?
In addition, there is growing skepticism of the return on investment of a college degree. The cost of college has risen far more quickly than wages have risen. During the years between 1950 and 1970, it cost the average American family about four percent of their annual income.
Fast-forward 40 years and in 2010, it cost American families eleven percent of their income. In light of this, is college worth the time, expense and potential debt to maximize your child's income opportunities?
However, there's another, more dangerous, underlying issue most don't talk about. The underlying issue is what New York Times bestselling author Dan Miller described in his blog post:
The elitism is in believing that every occupation pursued by a path outside of college is somehow "lower" and not a worthy pursuit for our students. We have become a culture that looks down on labor and craftsman positions. So, really, in this graduating class we will have no Ferrari mechanics, no sculptors, no HVAC specialists, no one I can contact to design another water feature, no skilled carpenters, no stone masons, no welders and no piano tuners?
This mindset has young people and their parents feeling pressured to pursue college when it may set them up for a career path they are not suited for and will not enjoy. As a result, some are missing out on doing work they find fulfilling and enjoyable while our world is missing out on gifted and skilled people providing much-needed services.
So, how do you know if college is not the right choice for your child? Here are four ways to know.
1. Doesn't Align With Their Strengths and Talents. Everyone learns differently and some students thrive in an academic environment and others don't. This could be a clue as to whether or not college is going to lead them to a career they enjoy. Has your child done well in school thus far? Do they enjoy reading, listening to lectures or lab and group work? If not, they likely won't enjoy the college environment nor the types of careers typical college graduates pursue.
2. Puts Them in a Financial Hole. There is an assumption the upfront cost of college is going to pay for itself throughout the lifetime of the student. There is some data to support this claim. However, the average college student graduates with over $27,000 of student loan debt. That debt is hanging around during the 20 years when most people are making the least amount of money during their lifetime. So maybe after 45 years, they start to come out on top, but what about between the ages of 25 and 45? If college is going to mortgage your child's income in a way that limits their lifestyle choices for 20 or more years, it's wise to be certain it's worth it.
3. Doesn't Prepare Them to Work in Their Chosen Field. There was a study conducted by the consulting firm Mckinsey and Company of various issues reported by recent college graduates. The McKinsey study found that 40% of grads from the nation's top 100 colleges couldn't find jobs in their chosen fields. In addition, the study revealed that one-third of college graduates didn't feel properly prepared for their first job. So if college isn't going to prepare your child for doing work they want to do it may not be the best path.
4. They Can't Tell You Why They Want to go to College. Have you asked your child why they want to go to college? Is it because it's expected by their peer group or by you as the parent? Are they unsure of which career path to choose and hope to explore careers in college? Does it align with what they want to do in their career? Committing to a four year school with significant cost and the likelihood of student loan debt is not a decision that should be made lightly. Ensuring you've thought through the long term goals will help you know if college is the best route for your child.
College is still a great choice for many people, but it has never guaranteed a high level of income, nor has it ensured an enjoyable career. I coach many people with academic credentials who have a high income, but are miserable in their careers.
Creating an enjoyable career has much more to do with looking inward than it does with chasing high income levels. Understanding your child's personality, strengths and interests will help you influence their post-high school choices. Then you can be confident you're helping your child choose the best path for themselves, even if it doesn't involve a four-year degree.
Are you planning on sending your child to college?