It’s no secret that college costs are rising to ridiculous levels. Kids are graduating with huge debt loads. Even if their parents have saved for their schooling since birth, costs are rising so fast they’re still likely to have to take on debt or work during school. In the last twenty years or so we’ve come to believe that college is a non-negotiable necessity. We’ve started thinking that college is the end-all-be-all of education and a guarantee of success. But is it really?
Obviously some fields require college. If you want to be a doctor, lawyer, scientist, engineer, teacher, or architect, for example, college is the only way to go. Other fields value skills that can be taught in college, but not exclusively. Many tech jobs are more about programming skills, for example, that can be mastered in your garage just as well as in a college classroom. The same holds true for many trades, design fields, communication fields, or even sales and marketing. College can teach these things, but they can also be learned in many other ways.
Our world is changing and in a lot of ways it’s going in reverse. In days gone by, it was your skills that mattered. If you could turn out a product, grow a crop, or repair something, you would never have trouble finding work. Then things changed and we began to value the cerebral. When you went job hunting, the hunt was less about concrete skills and more about whether you could be taught and molded to fit what a company needed. The company could teach you the skills; what they wanted to know was could you be taught and could you apply yourself to a goal. Getting a college degree became a barometer of your ability to be educated, rather than a path toward acquiring a specific skill set. The field of your degree didn’t even have to be in the field you were working in. A degree in philosophy could land you a sales job at a tech company. All the company needed to know was: Can we educate this person in our ways?
Now things are changing. Many employers value the skill set more than the demonstrated ability to be taught. They want to know: Can you make this product? Can you create this design? Can you program this application? Can you write this copy? Employers no longer have the time or the money to invest in taking an intelligent kid and teaching them the specific skills they need. Employers want people who can come in, hit the ground running, and start churning out products from the first day on the job. College degrees may carry a certain cachet, but beyond a few specific fields, they don’t teach the concrete skills needed by employers.
To that end, higher education is changing. No longer is a two year degree considered “settling.” A two year degree in web programming may be more valuable than a four year degree in liberal arts – and cost a lot less. An online degree that results in a useful skill may be more valuable than classroom learning. Higher education may not even be necessary, beyond rounding out some skill sets or just gaining a different perspective on the world. The kid who can create a video game in his garage at sixteen may be more valuable than the kid with a four year degree in “Communication.” There are places in today’s work force for the self taught and highly motivated kids. Some employers are even taking on skilled kids in directly out of high school and putting them into paid positions and giving them a mentor to flesh out the necessary skills.
College will always have a place, but before you plunk down hundreds of thousands of dollars, ask yourself whether it’s really necessary. Maybe your kid already has a marketable skill that he enjoys and is only in need of a two year degree to learn the finer points of that skill. Maybe your kid can develop a business idea into a full fledged venture without college. Maybe your kid can get hired on at a company as a highly paid intern. Maybe a combination of work experience and an online degree will get them further than four years in a classroom. And don’t pop for a private school unless you know the degree will earn more than you will pay. Chances are a private school won’t grant a better skill set than a state university and the state school will cost a lot less.
There are a lot more options today in education than ever before. College is no longer the ultimate prize. The ultimate prize is to develop a skill set that employers drool over and want to have in their organizations. That doesn’t automatically mean a college degree. It may mean a two-year degree, an online degree, practical work experience, self-teaching, or a combination of all of the above. These may end up costing a lot less than college and yet grant a better entrance to the work force. There’s no need to take on crushing debt loads for college if it isn’t necessary for the field you want to work in. Think before assuming that college is necessary.