Recently, I was at dinner with a group of friends, several of whom were mothers. As is often the case, the conversation had turned to the education system. We were discussing testing and home schooling and teachers, when another friend -- who does not yet have children -- asked me a question that caught me off-guard:
"Let me ask you a question. Will you tell your children they have to go to college?"
My response surprised me almost as much as the question. I told her five, even two years ago, I would have said "absolutely." I wouldn't have hesitated. Yet, here I was hesitating and giving a different answer.
"I don't know."
First and foremost, I worry I will not be able to afford it. I recently used an online calculator to determine how much my husband and I need to be saving in order to pay for our children's college education.
$612 a month for Griffin. $607 for Amos.
I'm sorry. I need to save $1,200 A MONTH to send my children to college almost 20 years from now?!? That is insanity.
I don't know many people who have an extra $1,000 every month to dedicate to college savings. In fact, the reason my family doesn't have extra income is related to why I am hesitant to recommend college to my children.
Our extra income goes to student loans. Between my husband and I, we have almost a mortgage payment every month in student loans from law school. In fact, if we continue to make minimum payments, we will still be paying on these loans when our children begin looking at colleges.
This is an insanely depressing thought.
I do not want my children saddled with that kind of debt. I cannot stomach the thought of my boys starting adulthood owing thousands of dollars in student loan payments.
I took out those loans. I made the decisions and I made them at an older and more informed age than most. However, I can't honestly tell you I understood the full impact of my decision. When I was signing those papers, I read the numbers and I understood them logically, but how does a 21-year-old truly comprehend the impact of six-digit debt?
No one lied to me, but no one was telling me the full truth, either.
Clearly, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Recently, I posted an interview with Mike Rowe, who has started a movement to promote the idea that college is not the right choice for everyone. He advocates avoiding debt and promoting good old-fashioned hard work. His position was praised by both my most liberal and most conservative readers.
We all know that this system does not serve the next generation. In fact, there is increasing evidence that this system is not only inefficient, but might even be corrupt.
However, I believe my hesitation to recommend college goes well beyond my reservations about the cost. I loved college. I loved law school. I learned to think. I learned to analyze. I learned to write. I learned skills I use every day. I met people who have changed my life.
I now work in a field that didn't even exist when I went to college. I couldn't have majored in social media marketing in 1999. The world we live in and the economy that runs it change too quickly for the education system to keep up with it. We all know the stories of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropping out of college. Heck, the kid who just sold Tumbr for $1.1 billion dollars dropped out of high school!
Of course, the problem is that as college educations have become more expensive and perhaps less valuable, a degree has seemingly become indispensable. A college degree is now seen as "the new high school diploma." I know that if my children do not have a college degree there would be entire career paths off-limits to them.
This difficult disconnect is the source of my indecision. I cannot in good conscience tell my children to pursue a degree at all costs. I also cannot in good conscience tell my children they don't really need a college degree, either.
Maybe the answer is delaying college. Few are the freshmen who can handle unfettered access to alcohol, much less handle deciding the course of their entire lives. Choosing classes. Picking a major. Starting down a road that doesn't end until your mid-20s when you STILL might not know what you really enjoy doing.
I don't want that for my kids. I hope they find work they love. I hope they develop skills that make them happy. I hope those passions present themselves at 10 or 15. If they don't, if the journey to discovering their proper path takes a bit longer, that's ok.
And if that journey doesn't include college... maybe that's OK, too.
What about you? Do you think college is a requirement?
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that the author would have to save $1,100 a month to send her two sons to college.