This week President Obama unveiled his Higher Education student loan relief program. The program has nice sound bites. Lower interest rates, an extension here and there and so on. I’m not going to get into it here. I’m sure you can find more than enough on the subject elsewhere.
In my humble opinion, it’s like bringing a box of band aids to the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The problem is fundamental and rooted in behavior – no band-aid is going to stop the bleeding. The problem and solution lie well beyond the pearly gates of our esteemed institutions of higher learning.
The problem lies at home … with us.
A big part of the “American Dream” is going to college – and even more so having your children go to college, especially if you didn’t. Every parent envisions standing in the audience, watching their child walk across that stage receiving their college diploma in full cap and gown. After all, what parent wouldn’t want that experience. And plus it gives them standing with their friends. “The better the college my kid went to (i.e. most expensive), the better the parent I must be.”
That’s the problem. It’s their dream as much, if not more than their offspring’s. It’s a dream that is rooted in tradition. How could someone not want a college degree. Unfortunately, that revered degree comes with a price … and often that price is more a liability than the asset generated by the degree itself.
The cost of a college has become exorbitant at best, and some cases outright crippling. Stories of graduates coming out of school $100,000 in debt are not uncommon. And with this debt – there is no guarantee of a job to pay it off. And on top of it, school debt is one thing that cannot be dismissed in a bankruptcy. In other words, there is no key to unlock that ball and chain you will care around for years, and years.
Now let’s assume there are no parents in the picture, no grandparents either. No societal preconceptions on what you should, and what you shouldn’t do. The only thing that matters is you, the prospective student – your well-being, and your future.
Let’s break convention, and let me give you some alternatives.
- Don’t go to college. Or if you do, wait a few years until you have some experience in the real world. Contrary to popular belief, not all careers require a college degree. This is the route my daughter took. Well able to get into, and do well in college, she chose to take a job with Apple out of high school. Now, just turned twenty-two, she is about to become certified – which will pretty much punch her ticket to wherever she wishes to go. Being a voracious writer, I’m sure she’ll go to college sometime. But now she better, and productive ways to spend her time. We also have to take into the financial obligations, of which she has none.
- Go, but wait a year. Get your feet wet. Find the path you want to take. High school is not the real world. Only the real world is, well … the real world. Too often we enter college with no idea why we’re there in the first place. Maybe we listened to some, average at best, high school guidance counselor – but that’s about it.
- But if you’re hell-bent on going to school, go to a community college for the first two years. The first two years of college, especially in a major university, consists of taking entry-level classes with three hundred of your not so closest friends taught by a teacher’s assistant not much older than you are. With a community college you get smaller classes taught by a real professor, probably one with real world experience (unlike most universities). With any other purchase, getting more and paying significantly less – pulling the trigger would be a no brainer. But with higher education, ironically we lose our minds.
None of these options will saddle you with tens of thousands in debt, at least not before you can actually start paying it off. Obama’s trying to help you, but his efforts are misguided. Debt, restructured or not, limits your options. It limits your mobility – mobility that very well take you to the opportunity, that great opportunity that you went to college for in the first place.
But with the ball and chain … you go nowhere, literally and figuratively.
Now there’s certain professions where you must have a degree, and for several an advanced one. In these cases, medicine, law, engineering, etc., you’re just going to hunker down take initial financial hit and hope it comes around in the long-term. If you want to go into business or become entrepreneur … you’re an idiot if you go down the traditional route.
Now everyone has their own “Perfect World” and their path will be different than the person sitting next to them. But the education taken should be the education appropriate for that path. But understand there are options … the four-year university degree is not the only avenue to success. In fact it very well could your barrier to success.
The “American Dream” of a college degree and a white picket fence may have been right for your parents … but is it right for you.