I had to buy a car last year. After listening to my friend talk about his Ferrari, I thought it might be a great choice. I’d look awesome, get cool points, and make a lot of friends who wanted to ride with me in the other seat. It would be fantastic. I could put The Boy in the trunk or under the dashboard curled up when we went on family dinners–he’s only 40 pounds. I think he’ll fit. Surely the experience of riding in a Ferrari would make him forgive the cramping. He’d impress the ladies, who, if they were under 40 pounds and training to be little contortionists, could squash in there with him.
As I considered asking my bank account for permission, I got slammed back to reality. Stupid pothole–no matter how much I pay in taxes, Rhode Island won’t fix them. They’re our state symbol, right there on the official state seal. We love them. They allow for faster trade with China.
In addition to the potholes, it snows here–Ferraris are rear wheel drive. If I bought the Ferrari, I’d be sad the first time I lost an oil pan or fender. In all honesty, my bank account was too busy laughing at me to answer the question properly, so I took that as a “no go.”
Maybe a Ferrari wasn’t in my future. I got a Subaru. No, it’s not the sporty little stick shift zipping around the corner. It’s not my husband’s former GLI or my souped up little Beetle that provided free entertainment–even though I’m a Gandhi-loving pacifist, I have to admit that I enjoyed watching groups of teens punch each other out every time I drove by–the peacemobile as the quintessential “vehicle” for violence. It’s an irony even Alanis couldn’t explain.
Anyway, I needed to defeat potholes, I needed to drive in bad weather, and I needed to eat, so I bought the Subaru, named it Forrester Gump and have been happy ever since.
I didn’t want to write about cars today, I wanted to write about college. A friend of mine recently posted that he is ready for his son to go to college. He will just need to fork over $55K/year. I think that’s insane. That, my friends, is a Ferrari.
I’m dealing with the same thing at school. It’s college season–I ask students, “What are you doing next year?” Many don’t know if they are not part of the slit-your-throat-to-go-to-Harvard lifestyle. They aren’t aware of the deadlines and expenses. In many communities, it’s a given that you should decide on a college by age five and have an uncle buy you mini-college sweatshirts from his alma mater. You will then be taught to hide the notes to the math tests by age six so your peers will bomb subtraction facts, and you’ll be well on your way to busting the curve and becoming stand out for valedictorian by third grade. College is never a doubt in the minds of these students.
Ed reform is pushing college, and pushing it hard. I’d love for all my students to be able to go to college (truth is, I’d like scholarships for all), but sometimes I feel that the push toward college at all costs fails to respect students who might have other plans. TeachThought just featured an excellent article on this subject written by Dr. Grant Wiggins, and authority on curriculum and education.
In his article, “A Nagging Doubt about Common Core Standards,” Dr. Wiggins argued that though college is an excellent goal, the current system of standards is failing to consider many students with alternative aspirations. Their goals are as valid as attending college. He argues that many technical and entrepreneurial paths do not always require university and that “standards” do not mean “standardization.” A great many schools are getting this concept confused selling college prep tracts to the point that they are failing to listen to their customers–the students.
Author, investor, and commentator James Altucher stated the same in his book 40 Alternatives to College. He argues that the cost of college is, in fact, outpacing the benefit–that what he learned in life, on the job, and just playing chess was invaluable when compared with the staggering cost of college. To be fair, James is an ivy-leaguer. Full disclosure: I also have a couple of degrees for which I’m still paying. Perhaps it seems disingenuous for people who are college-educated to discuss this subject, and it would be easy to misinterpret the point. The point is that we must listen to students and help them analyze their goal in regards to the “return on investment” in attending a certain school to reach that goal.
I am grateful for my education. I studied under famous historians and learned that any passion can be translated into a career with proper motivation. When I tell my students that my graduate advisor wrote about baseball history–and got paid–they begin to see that vision can pay off. You just have to execute that vision correctly.
College is expensive. I often see students looking at schools that will put them in debt forever. Forever. With a capital EVER. The emotion of choosing a college makes it difficult to say no–it’s exciting. Ego comes into play. We need to step back and help students make decisions based on the full picture.
What is the return on investment? Will this college get me where I need to go? Is there another school that is more affordable and will advance me toward my goal equally well? Do I have a goal? Will I simply enjoy some parties or am I ready to take full advantage of this opportunity? Where do I want to be in five or ten years? These are the tough questions that must be asked.
If you go to Yale for social work, you will be paying the tuition of $58,600 x 4 years–approximately $234,400, assuming that it takes 4 years to graduate. It usually takes more these days. High school reform tracks graduation rates. College does not. You can stay forever switching majors and paying the bill. Add on the cost of beer, ramen, and pizza, and you’re looking at a debt that can easily eclipse the national deficit or certainly buy you a house. I’m not even going to get into the interest on that loan or the repayment schedule–all I’m saying is that the medical field must be coordinating with the field of higher education because doctors will have to increase life expectancy by ten years so students can finish paying off their debt. Assuming you graduate with a degree in social work, you will be making $30-$40K a year. You will not pay off that debt, even with the help of the AMA.
College is a business built on emotion. It’s hard to say no to Brown, Harvard, Georgetown, or Yale when they are willing to accept you into their elite club. Many students feel pressured to attend college when they have aspirations somewhere else. I had a student who started pushing lawnmowers at age twelve, bought better equipment when he could drive, and by junior year–the height of the Recession, we were talking about whether he should sell one of his three boats–he had a full business, made more money than me I suspected, and had several employees. He is currently still creating jobs in the economy. Sometimes the “School of Hard Knocks” is the best investment of them all. But for the rest of my students, the ones who want to go to college, I’m rooting for scholarships and sending them to buy the Subaru.
[Note: I am editing this post to call attention to the comment marked “TH” with the empty gravitar at the bottom of the page–this comment, I think, speaks to this issue better than I did, by someone who has been an amazing success–for the sake of convenience, we’ll just call him “Tim.” Because that’s his name. I’m grateful to him for these truthful comments, which, had I anticipated, I’d have just had him write the post. Thanks again, Tim.]