Sunday, August 1, 2010

A while back I wrote a post about college. I was interested in college at that time for reasons explained in that post and I also wanted to illustrate that it is possible to go on to college after unschooling. However I did not address a fundamental tenant of unschooling philosophy- not everyone needs to go to college.

I can hear the gasps and see the heads shaking now. There is a prevalent myth in our culture that college is necessary for success and happiness and that without a college education your children will end up 'flipping burgers' for the rest of their lives. As tuition costs continue to rise faster than the rate of inflation many universities are banking on you believing that myth; but what are the facts?

The cost of a degree varies significantly depending on the school chosen. Earning a degree at state school costs about $30k on average and averages about $100k at a private school. The amount of time spent earning a degree also varies by school and course of study but on average it takes about 55 months.

That's a lot of time an money, so what's the payoff? Well, lets look at some statistics on earning potential:

Level of education/ Median salary
Advanced degree/ $69,056
Bachelor’s degree/ $53,300
Some college/associates’s degree/ $37,752
High school diploma, no college/ $32,552
Less than high school diploma/ $23,608

At first glance it seems pretty obvious that earning a degree is worth the time and money invested. However statistics can only show us part of the story. I have a bachelors degree and after ten years in education my salary was hovering near the top of the median for those with only a high school diploma. My husband on the other hand, who has no post-secondary training, has always earned more than me. Obviously, the field one chooses can play just as significant a role in salary as level of education. So, when analyzing this data keep in mind that these are MEDIAN salaries- so half the people in these categories are earning more and half are earning less.

In the recent economy it also seems wise to consider how level of education affects job stability.

Level of education/ Unemployment rate
Bachelor’s degree or higher/ 5.0%
Some college/associate’s degree/ 8.0%
High school diploma, no college/ 10.5%
Less than high school diploma/ 15.6%

Again, compelling statistics that show job security increases with level of education. Higher salaries and lower unemployment rates- college should be a no brainer, right?

Not so fast! After looking over these facts it becomes quite clear that while a degree offers statistical advantages for a higher earning potential and job security it is neither a guarantee or a prerequisite for either. Furthermore this data can only measure tangibles such as level of education and income. Intangibles such as drive, passion and job satisfaction are ignored. The statistics also can not take into consideration that while most people finish college for the same reasons (in pursuit of a specific job, income level or status) the reasons NOT to go to or finish college are vast. When it is an educated and well thought out decision it doesn't have to be a hindrance at all.

You may be wondering at this point, what are some educated, well thought out reasons not to go to college? A few instantly spring to mind though I'm sure there are many, many more:
-a passion or drive to pursue a career that isn't offered as a major course of study
-a learning style that isn't conducive to a college setting
-a unique opportunity to learn a trade in a non-traditional setting

What does this mean for unschoolers?

It will mean various things for various unschoolers. For us it simply means that there are many paths to success; including but not limited to college. When the kids are older and ready to start making decisions about their career paths we will guide them in the process of asking some important questions:

1- How do you want to earn a living?
2- What type of schooling and/or training will be necessary to make that happen?

Sometimes it will become clear that college is necessary and if that is the career path chosen then it is the responsibility of unschooling parents to assist and facilitate their child/ren in making that goal attainable. Other times it will become clear that an apprenticeship or entry level position with a company is a more realistic path for the goals chosen. Still other times practice and small scale freelance work might be the first practical step on the path to success (such as with a writer, photographer or musician). The important thing is to approach the process with an open mind and be ready to continue challenging the status quo. As an unschooler you probably already have lots of practice at this. ;-)

Source for statistical data can be found here.


Hidden Jewel said...

The one thing that we have found is that although a college degree may not give you the tools you need to be successful in your job, it sure can be very helpful in getting an interview. If dh can get an interview he can usually get a job offer. However, we have struggled time and time again with rejection letters all because dh doesn't have a degree on his resume.

Hope said...

That is a good point, our society has so bought into the myth that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. However when I think in terms of not needing a degree I'm really speaking more of non-traditional jobs such as in the arts or entrepreneurial endeavors. If someone wants to pursue a more traditional career path then they should use more traditional means to arrive at those goals. Different goals require different plans and my point was that one should know their goals when formulating a plan, not just blindly choosing college because it seems like the next thing to do.

Vanessa said...

It's so funny that I happened to read this blogpost today. I was just telling my recent high school graduated (from homeschool) daughter that she need not go to college just because it is expected or because everyone else says she should. She needs to take time to figure out what she wants and who she is a little before she plunges head first into all that student debt and responsibility. I learned the hard way and wasted many years and many dollars before I figured out what I wanted.

We were at the library researching careers to see what she might actually be interested in. She can't make up her mind, all she sees now is $ signs. Anyway, she's looking at dental hygiene, 2 yr associate degree, salary range of about $50,000 (high end) while her cousin who just got her masters is looking at a teaching job making about $10,000 less with 4 more years of school and debt invested. Money probably isn't the motivator behind her cousin wanting to teach, and one should do what she is passionate about. But I'm wondering if the lifestyle her cousin is used to can be funded on a teacher's salary, and how many years it will take her to pay off that student debt. I also wonder if she will decide that she chose the wrong profession and need to go back to college to "be' something else. Gave my daughter some things to ponder.

I really enjoyed your blog. You always get me thinking!!

Hope said...

Thanks Vanessa! I think its great that you're encouraging your daughter to think things through and not rush into anything. Its a big world out there, full of possibilities and its so easy to miss out because of doing what you 'should' instead of following your heart.