What is the Obsession with College?

Seriously guys, what is the obsession with college?

“Everyone should have the opportunity to go to college!”

“You can’t get a good job without going to college, ya know.”

“Where are you going to go to college after you graduate?”

“You don’t have to know what you want to study.  Just go ‘undecided’ and figure it out as you go along!”

“College isn’t about getting a job. College is about becoming a critical thinker.”

I bet you’ve heard all of these things.  Maybe even said some of them.  Because they were said to you.  And, I mean, only some kind of complete jerk would discourage someone from going to college.  College is Good!  Right?

Now before you skip the rest of what I have to say, jump to the comments section and write something about how, you know, I must be a complete jerk or something, give me just a minute.

Some people enjoy things or have an aptitude for the kind of career that doesn’t require a degree from a four year institution.

Some people graduate from high school and have no idea what they enjoy or even have an aptitude for and shouldn’t be expected to start pursuing a career or training for a career right away.

Some people enjoy things and have an aptitude for the kind of career that does require a degree from a four year institution.

Some people believe that college has nothing to do with careers and poo-poo the idea that one should expect their university education to be directly linked to their future employment.  And to them I say “Great.  Where can I purchase clothing for my children using smiles of gratitude?”

What I’m trying to say is this- all sorts of people mean all sorts of abilities and tendencies and strengths.  We NEED all sorts of people in the work force.  We need plumbers and electricians and lawyers and contractors and tow-truck operators.  We need teachers and artists and physical therapists and midwives and farmers.  We need store managers and those dudes who repair shoes (see?  See how entrenched we are in “college major” careers?  I can’t even think of the word for shoe repair guys!) and that guy who designs the packaging for your favorite video game.  And surgeons.  And moms.

If someone would make an excellent X and being an X is best achieved by some sort of apprenticeship and vocational training instead of by going to a four year college and while they may never be “wealthy” by American standards as an X, at least they’ll be peaceful and happy and not have any student loans and be able to earn an honest wage in a way that they enjoy, what is wrong with them being an X?  

When I was little, I was told I had to be a doctor or a lawyer.  I am neither, by the way.  But every time I would bring up any other career or stare dreamily off into the distance and say something about how it would be so FUN to be a Y someday, I was immediately told that I needed a lot of money to be happy and the best way to have a lot of money was to be a doctor or a lawyer.  That I was too smart to be anything “less”.  As if all people who are successful at careers with less prestige than doctor and lawyer must be stupid.  And as if all doctors and all lawyers are brilliant.

Guess what, folks.  I’ve met a whole lot of miserable rich people.  Oh yes I have.  Miserable.  And I’ve met a whole lot of pretty happy people who would be considered poor by American standards.  And I’ve met joyful people who are rich and miserable people who are poor.  And I’ve met financially successful people who didn’t go to college and financially successful people who did.  And those  aren’t that didn’t and those aren’t that did.

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Dwija Borobia lives with her husband and their five kids in rural southwest Michigan in a fixer-upper they bought sight-unseen off the internet. Between homeschooling and corralling chickens, she pretends her time on the internet doesn’t count because she uses the computer standing up. You can read more on her blog house unseen. life unscripted.

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  • Amen!

    The 4 year college experience has become such a ‘business’ — truly. 

  • I have a liberal arts degree in which I majored in history and religious studies. I wanted to just get a degree in religious studies because that was my true passion, but no one offered that as an undergrad except fancy private schools that my single mom couldn’t afford. College was never a choice for me. Everyone in my family (including my great-grandmother who didn’t have her first child until 36 and was a teacher) had college degrees. If I had forked up the extra money for the private school, I would have had a more expensive degree but $10 (or $40,000 in debt) says I would have at least used the darn thing after I graduated. As it is, I work in data entry, listen to a lot of Catholic podcasts and dream of getting my Master’s so I can be a Catechist. C’est la vie. 

  • 1. cobbler is the word you’re looking for.  Someone who repairs shoes, rather than making them, is a cobbler.  
    2.  I didn’t even use my fancy-schmancy 7 years of higher education and two degrees to figure it out.  I used Google.
    3. Rachael Ray, Mary Kay, John D. Rockerfeller, Winston Churchill, and Walt Disney didn’t go to college.  Like, not at all.  I won’t even list the guys who went for a while then dropped out.  Again, Google search.
    4.  In this technological age, people who want to go to college to learn about architectural styles in Egypt’s Middle Kingdom don’t have to.  They have a world of information, both in written form and human contact, thanks to the Internet.
    5.  I think a lot of the frustration that we sensed with the Occupy movement would have been alleviated if more people were willing to let go of the universal college obsession.  That gigantic specter of student loans that you’re so upset you’re never going to pay off with your job at Starbucks?  You could have gotten an education in Political Science or Philosophy or even Architectural Developments in the Ancient World a lot cheaper by referring to my previous point.

  • Lisa Wynne

    I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study in college, so I considered going to community college for 2 years to get my basics out of the way while I figured out what I wanted to do.  I was told I was “too smart” to do that.   So I listened to “them” and spent the next 3 years bouncing around from school to school.  I finally transferred to a private university and spent 2 years there finishing up a degree in political science.  I intended to go to graduate school and pursue a Master’s in public administration.  I also walked away with $30k in loans.  God had other plans for me, and I never went to grad school.  I worked as an office manager for 5 years before quitting when I had my first child.  I’m now homeschooling my 5 children instead.  I’m also teaching them that they need to pray and try to follow where God is leading them, rather than just blindly going to college for the sake of going.  Thank you for this article!

  •  Oh man, I hear ya.  I thought that since my verbal score on the SAT was higher than my math score that I couldn’t be a “math” person, so even though economics was interesting and easy for me, I certainly couldn’t be an *economics* major.  I mean, that’s for businessy, math types, right?  I’m, like, one of those artsy types, right?  Sigh.  Not so much….

  • I love hearing all these stories- people clearly who value knowledge and education but who see the value in *waiting* and *praying* and *discerning* and not just going along with what has been, for some reason, deemed the most socially responsible thing to do.  This is conversation that I’m so glad to be having!

  • Yeah, when *everyone* has a degree, we suddenly have an over-abundance of people who feel that they deserve to make a certain amount of money and that jobs which don’t pay as much or that don’t utilize the degree they just spent four years getting aren’t worth their time.  Or they truly NEED to make a certain amount in order to pay off their debt and also their living expenses, and again, jobs that they could do and might even enjoy doing, are no longer an option.

  • I’m glad to see this post, albeit 23 years and major anxiety, depression, debt, despair, avoidance, confusion, darkness, anger, damaged family relationships and hodge-podge of seemingly random “career” moves too late. Luckily, God is the master of drawing straight with crooked lines. It’s near impossible not to look back with regret and disgust at going down so many blind alleys, but I came back to the Church, have a wonderful girlfriend and even a few belated triumphs to my credit. Now to get out of the $20K/yr and immovable debt spiral! I’m thinking it will involve late hours and plenty of overtime doing soul-sucking labor, while working in viewing distance of all the guys who did what I wanted to do out of high-school and now have 20 years seniority on me. Maybe they’re wishing for what I tried and failed at….

  • I am the 4th of 7 children.  Every single one of my siblings is highly successful. Only one has a college degree.  We are a family of business owners, carpenters, construction workers, taxidermists, groundkeepers and stay at home mothers. I will never be convinced that the only way to be successful is to attend college.  I am convinced that to be successful we only need to develop our God-given talents and to take a risk every now and then, if only to remind ourselves that we can.

  • You’re right, Stephen.  God DOES draw straight with crooked lines.  Who can say how many people you might help now that you have the knowledge that you do and have had the experience that you’ve had?  And look- back in the Church, lovely woman by your side…so much hope!

  • Amen, amen!!!

  • This reminds me of a great book I read, ironically sent to me by brother who is working on his PhD. It was about a young man who got his PhD in philosophy, seriously philosophy, but ended up a motorcycle mechanic. He found more satisfaction in repairing motorcycles and building things than he did in teaching college. (He also made more money). I agree with you college is not for everyone. I tell that to high school students every day. But they do need to have a skill that will earn them enough to support themselves. Btw I have 3 college degrees, and I teach part time, not even full time, but I am happy with that because it works for me. 

  • AGREE. – This is all so very much what I believe on the whole college front. We have going on 10 children here on earth. I too was raised with the belief that I MUST go to college. Go I went. Graduate I did – 60K in debt. Which I still owe all of, 14 years later, as I took my degree, and went on to become a very successful wife and mother. Which does not require a degree, last I checked. Yes, I do have a job, I work for my brother’s very successful web development firm. My brother,(not a college graduate) the owner, who owns a gazillion dollar house to be home to his very well educated stay at home wife and 6 kidlets, does not hire folks on what degree they do or don’t have. He hires based on skill set – however you managed to come by that skill set is irrelevant to him.
    We have two college age daughters. One is set to graduate with a degree in education – she needed a degree to be the teacher she wants to be – awesome! The other is getting ready to graduate from a beauty school after flunking out of the college I begged her to rethink, as I didn’t think she was a college student, I thought she was too free spirited and artsy for that. Now she is loving her new skills, sharing them with everyone she knows, and is actively looking for a job, all the while owing about $40k less than her sister in loans.
    Every word here makes complete and total sense to me – you have to follow your dreams, and allow your kids to do the same, and get the training and skill they need – no matter what form that comes in. Good one, Dweej.

  •  “Some people believe that college has nothing to do with careers and
    poo-poo the idea that one should expect their university education to be
    directly linked to their future employment.  And to them I say “Great.
     Where can I purchase clothing for my children using smiles of

    That’s the typical liberal arts undergraduate education theme. My husband is a college professor. We see kids trained in ‘useless’ degrees (liberal arts, humanities, history) graduate and not be able to find jobs. They are not trained to “do anything” and so waste money and rack up loans.

    I got a “useless” degree: history and music. When sending kids off to college, please remember the professors/adminstrators in all these various disciplines get money for their departments based upon the number of students who major in their fields. Whether or not the student will get a job upon graduation is not their concern. Their concern is whether or not they retain their job(s). Many professors really love their fields as well, but that doesn’t mean their area would make a good major.

    Please use due diligence when deciding upon a major. Study the jobs outlook / reports, not just for the US, but worldwide, since whether or not someone can do computer programming cheaper in Asia will affect your job security! Some “majors,” such as mine, are great hobbies but poor fields for finding a living wage or supporting a family.

    Unfortunately, many private christian colleges offer sub-par educations, dollar for dollar and knowledge for knowledge, when compared to their secular counterparts. If you want preparation for the ‘real world’ to go a real college with appropriate accreditation (and find out what that is for your discipline), and don’t get saddled with astronomical college loans for a useless degree from a sub-par ‘college.’

    I often heard one of my music professors say “do what you love and the money will follow.” I disagree.

    Read and you will be educated, but for technical skills for the job market find appropriate training. That could be a vo-tech, 2 yr, a 4 yr or a multi-year graduate degree.

    Making money is hard work and it’s getting even harder.

  •  Paige, why do you need a Masters to be a Catechist? I don’t have one, and I teach CCD at my parish – I am almost 100% certain that many of the catechists don’t have degrees at all. We do have to attend inservice days to keep learning the faith so we can pass it on, but we don’t have to have degrees? Maybe you should check around to see what is required?

  • I was really worried about posting this because my husband is really the only person I’ve talked to so far who has been saying this, so hearing from someone like you who is LIVING these exact scenarios is so wonderful.  Really gives me some firm hope that we won’t ruin our kids if we agree that a 4 year degree isn’t really the right fit for some of them!

  • drea916

    Thank you for writing this! My mother drilled into my head as a child that I needed college. I stopped and started college over the years. I wasn’t able to pay living costs and go to college (traditional 4 years) I really, really thought the only way I could be truly educated is if I went and got my 4 year degree. Seeing the Occupy folks showed me that there are lots of people with 4 yrs degrees that are struggling.  Now, I’m in paralegal school and feel pretty gosh darn smart! I’m striving to be the best darn paralegal I can be. I feel lucky that I have knowledge that others would like to have. I also read as much as I can (especially in studying the Faith.) As long as a person does their part in choosing a good trade, works hard, manages their money how God wants her to, HE will take care of her (him). What really matters is becoming a saint and spending eternity with God.

  • Gosh, I am loving all these comments and personal stories.  Thank you!

  • Great post, Dwija!  My husband and I are definitely of this mindset and had a good talk yesterday about how to encourage our children to pursue their dreams.  We’re still paying back college loans, and will be for awhile. 

    But I will say that my husband had a very hard time finding a suitable job to provide for our family until he completed his degree when we had 2 kids.  There are many jobs that just want you to have the degree, even if it has nothing to do with the field, as in his case (animal science degree but has worked in management for construction and oil & gas). 

    I love hearing about those who are able to pursue a specific career without a degree.  A good friend’s son (oldest of 13 kids) just started work today as a commercial underwater diver on an oil rig after many months of specialized training.  What a unique job! 

    I look forward to helping our children discern that unique calling which God has for them.

  • Ramblign Follower

    This topic fascinates me. My husband and I are both baby boomers who grew during economic boom times. We never questioned the need for a liberal arts degree; all our parents had one and all were gainfully employed in professions (business, teaching, medicine) Our sons, in contrast, both told me they want to do learn something practical; they fear leaving college with a degree and a parttime job as baristas. Oldest son said he wants to be licensed as a plumber because “people will always need someone to fix their toilets.” I wonder if a generational shift has occurred; our children are growing up during a Serious Recession and are much less pieinthesky than we were.

  • I’m hoping one of my kids shows an interest in welding for the same reason your very practical son states about plumbing- people are always going to need metal stuck back together.
    For the cost of training, a truck, and a mobile welding machine, a person could have a small welding business that would support a family just fine.

  • Colleen

    My parents had 6 kids.  We all worked and loaned our way through college and beyond.  One is a lawyer, two are doctors, one is a nurse, one is an IT person, and I am an accountant.  Education was VERY important to my parents who didn’t go to college.  And it became VERY important to us as well. We are all sort of over-achievers.

     My mom used to tell us we could be anything we wanted to be, but we would be an educated whatever that was.  Based on the career paths we all chose, we definitely needed our degrees.  In today’s career world, a college degree is almost meaningless, you have to have a Master’s or specialized degree to out-interview the other people in your field.  I know I have gotten all my jobs based purely on my degrees.  So, I do think college is important.  And I think everyone should have some sort of ability to make money if they find themselves in a situation where they need to do so.  I don’t think any mom is “wasting their degree” if they choose to be a SAHM, I think they are smart to have that degree in case their husband is out of work or gets sick and they need to be the main breadwinner.  BUT my husband and I have been paying $700 per month since we graduated to pay off our debt…which is ridiculous.  ALthough if we hadn’t gone, we probably never would have met each other.  So really, that’s priceless 🙂

    I agree with you 100% that I do not think college is for everyone.  If my children decide they want to be a trash collector, than I want them to be happy trash collectors, but if they choose to be a doctor, than they will have to work hard to get those degrees on their own, just like I had to.  So when someone says “How are you going to afford tuition for your kids?” I say, “I’m not going to, they can get scholarships and jobs and loans if they want to go.”  You should see the crazy looks I get as they nominate me for worst mom ever. 

  • Micaela

    My parents (who have 11 kids) never told us we had to go to college. The first 4 of us did enroll in 4 year universities, purely to get out and experience the world. When my younger sibs starting with community college I was horrified! They would never finish! They would be jobless, or worse, have low-paying, blue collar jobs! GASP! So far one is in grad school to be a chiropractor, 1 is a major retail manager, 2 are still finishing school, and 1 is studying to be a priest! The others are still to young to tell, but I’m guessing they’ll be alright too. It took a lot for me to shift my thinking, but I think you are spot-on. God gave everyone unique and beautiful talents and encouraging the fruit of those is more important than some rigid idea of what steps we have to go through to be “complete” adults. Thanks for sharing.

  • I have tons of thoughts on this topic.  I’ve got five kids.  I would never limit family size due to be unable to afford college for them all.  It’s always been assumed that they would get scholarships and financial aid and attend with minimal support from us, because we have so many kids so we are financially strapped and can get lots of aid!  So far for #1 that has worked out.

    I agree that college isn’t for everyone.  Also that it doesn’t always lead directly to employment.  I continue to think, though, that it is a valuable experience personally and provides a safe environment for the transition from childhood to adulthood.  My 18-year-old is brilliant but challenged by a traditional academic environment at this point in his life.  He does not plan to go to college next year.  I would feel much better about him if I knew he was making the typical stupid teenage decisions in the relative safe environment of a campus instead of out loose in the world.

    Of course college is not necessary for critical thinking.  But I find that the number of parents I know who are having the kind of discussion of ideas that you describe with their kids to be astonishingly low.  We’ve been having such discussions since our children could talk.

    But I would not be so quick to dismiss the value of college–or as one of your readers above mentions, of liberal arts degrees (like mine) that don’t lead to a specific money-making career.  I would not trade my Georgetown education for any amount of money or financial success and I know my husband would not either, even though money and financial success would be nice.  There’s an indefinable something to be gained from an education at a good university.  Not that it’s necessary, but it’s nice.

  • I agree that college is not for everyone and shouldn’t be assumed as such. If secondary and elementary education in every sector – public, parochial, religious – taught such things as grammar, rhetoric, logic, languages and philosophy, much of what college teaches today would be unnecessary. Unfortunately I never read any philosophy until college (despite attending good Catholic schools) and had no idea how to approach these texts without the guidance of a professor. To question our assumptions, consider what ‘justice’ means, think about the difference between being and seeming, these are not useless skills but utterly essential  to being a good citizen and faithful Catholic. If a 19yo can read Plato and Aristotle, surely an 18yo could make it through these writers as well – in high school.  College was originally intended for those who desired to be educators and professionals in their subjects, not a gateway to a job. No wonder we are so disillusioned with higher education.

  •  And how many colleges actually teach these things anymore anyway?  Would we even need both hands to count them on our fingers?  For the most part, because of the societal assumption that college is what everyone ought to do straight from high school, getting a B.A. or B.S. is like the new high school diploma.  Just show up enough to know enough to get a C on your multiple choice exam and you’ve got your degree.  If that’s what it takes to get the job you want, by all means, go and do it, but the perception that that’s a more worthy way to spend your time at that age than learning, say, how to fire beautiful pottery from the artist who lives down the road, is a mistake.  I’m eternally
    grateful for having gone to UD….but not so much because of the
    educational aspects but rather because it helped make up for what my
    life lacked up until that point spiritually. If my kids truly want to
    go there, I will completely support
    them, but I’m also hoping to give them foundation I didn’t have so that
    they won’t have to rely on college to build the side of them that I
    think they can get from their families 🙂 Obviously I wouldn’t have met
    Tommy either, so there is not a drop of REGRET, just a new perspective
    on how a girl or boy *could* be by the time they’re 18, the kind of girl I
    certainly was not.I also think that someone can be a faithful Catholic without honing the rhetorical and analytical skills that we (you and I specifically!) hold in such esteem.  The Church is for everyone, not just everyone who has the capacity or aptitude to appreciate that kind of thought process.  Apologetics is good and necessary, but people can love God, go to Mass, pray, care for their families, and show the face of Jesus to the world without ever proving anything to anyone in a philosophical argument.  If someone has gone to and loves their Liberal Arts college, it’s all too easy to attribute some inherent holiness to that type of education, but I worry that making people who haven’t and won’t acquire such an education feel that they’re missing out on a crucial element of their faith is doing them a disservice.

  • hillbilly

    Okay, I am in agreement with almost all posted here. My problem is convincing my wife of this line of thinking. How do I approach this subject?

  • Well said Dwija.  It seems those who espose that everyone go to college are really following pop thought and not thinking logically/critically.

  • Robin

    Dang girl!  You took the words right out of my mouth.  I have been thinking about this a lot lately.  My oldest son is bright, but hates school and loves to do things with his hands.  I asked myself, ” What would be so bad if he chose to be a carpenter or a mechanic or a plumber.”  Nothing!  Nothing is the answer.  We need holy men and women in this world in all trades and professions.  I want to take my car to an honest and trustworthy mechanic.  I want to have an honest and trustworthy plumber come into my home to fix my toilet and not have to worry about not “knowing” what kind of man he is.  God calls us all to different avocations.  A college education does not necessarily make one a better person, a holier person.  It often does, in fact, do the opposite.

  • Isn’t it always scary to invite a repair person or an installation person into your home?  If we find a trustworthy, kind, efficient handyman, which we did, we treat him like gold!  We recommend him to friends.  We try to pay him more than he charges us because we are just so relieved and pleased that a person like that is willing to help us fix the crazy broken garage door!  

    My husband, and maybe I’m biased, is brilliant.  He was valedictorian of his high school class and then went on to a very challenging University and can read ancient Greek for REAL.  Do you know what he likes to do?  Garden.  And carve wood.  And make beautiful pottery.  And play with his kids.  And cook.  Why does the world want to put a person like that behind a computer screen or hide him away in a cubicle?  Not that computer screens are bad (um, hello…check me out right now 😉 ) but this pigeonholing of people based on types of work and the kind of education that it takes to get that work has really been at the forefront of my mind lately.  So glad this spoke to you!  And I can’t wait until your son is all grown up so we can hire him to work on our house 🙂

  • Magcisk

    I agree with the general premise of your discussion, but only because of what higher education has BECOME, but not if you consider what an education is really meant to BE. I had always wanted to be a doctor, but a funny thing happened on the way to med school…I went to an orthodox Catholic college and discovered philosophy.  The change that occurred in my mental, emotional and spiritual landscape was formative, life-changing and essential to my becoming, eventually, a professional nurse (with a graduate degree), a home-schooling mom for over 15 years, and now a high school biology and Logic teacher!  Education in the truest sense is for the person, not for career training.  Whether or not one can obtain that without certain prerequisite tools might be a topic for discussion, but a very good high school education can provide most of it!

  • Audrey

    Well said. Excellent. While my two daughters attended college and my son is now college-bound with a very definite career in mind that requires a four-year degree, I could not agree with you more. College is not for everyone nor should it be expected. As you so clearly state, we need moms and people who can work with their hands, and…

    My husband has a two-year technical school degree and works as an automotive machinist. His skills are in such high demand (want your cart/truck/boat etc. to run?) that he’ll never get caught up with the work that comes in the door. We need these workers with such hands-on skills.

    I don’t buy into that “college teaches you to think” theory either.

    I’m with you, too, on not taking on huge student debt load or children expecting their parents to sacrifice everything to pay for their children’s college educations.

    Totally agree, also, that money and an accumulation of material possessions do not equate happiness.

    Thank you for this outstanding post.


  • Oh, absolutely.  This is definitely a discussion of what higher education currently is in America (at least for the most part) and that is: Public High School Part 2.  Yes, if everyone could afford it and just went to UD, this conversation wouldn’t be necessary 😉

  • MrsF3

    I’ll just add my two cents on here as well. First of all: Amen. My husband and I have been married two years. He just finished his two year degree at a community college but has meanwhile been working a good job in his field of study–experience! A job IS more than a lot of people with bachelors can boast of. And, we did it without going into debt.
    I grew up without any expectation of my parents paying for my education. I knew if I wanted it, I was responsible for it. I knew what I wanted: a degree in music. But I was practical about it too–I planned on being a church musician and a piano teacher. Jobs that I could do as a homeschool mom and talents that I could contribute to a convent if that were to be my path. I had a plan and worked hard in high school receiving a full scholarship when I went to college. I loved my studies and am now proud to be running my own business from my home.
    We plan on teaching our kids to think for themselves and make their own choices. They will not be forced to college and neither will we be paying for it! By the time they are 18, I hope they will already by responsible adults.

  • I LOVE your story, Mrs. F!!!!   Look how you planned ahead.  I am SUPER impressed.  This is so great.  You discerned your talents, worked toward a goal, had an idea in mind of how your different vocations might play out in the future, and embarked on the journey with those things in mind.  If all of us can prepare our children in the way it seems your parents did you, this world will be a wonderful place!

  • Patrick Thornton

    We live in a world where to get a good job frequently requires a degree. Most companies will not even look at resumes without a degree. This is unfortunate but not likely to. Hangs anytime soon. So we can try to rebel against that but the results may be result in financial hardship. Of course this can happen even with a degree. But certainly a person with a degree has more options. I believe the common stat is people with a degree earn 80% more over a lifetime. Sadly a HS diploma used to include lots of classic lit and history and logic and ethics. Not so much anymore. It seems that the college degree for better or worse is the HS degree of yesterday.

  • I totally agree.  Expecting everyone to go to college has resulted in the devaluation of education.  So now a B.A. is like the new high school diploma, and almost as easy to get.  And then you have to get a Masters to make any REAL money.  Enter even more debt.
    That’s part of what the problem is.  
    If people stepped back and said “Maybe earning as much as possible over a lifetime isn’t my goal.  Maybe having employment I enjoy should be my goal.  Maybe learning something that interests me should be my goal” and approached their education in that spirit, the economy would be in a better state.
    Yes, that type of thinking would still result in many people going to college, but at least with an idea of the purpose for their work and effort, not just a societal expectation that people of a certain class or status go to college and people who don’t are financially doomed or of a lesser status.
    The economy and the world is different than it was 20 years ago.  Our thinking needs to be different to accommodate.

  • Patrick Thornton

    People often don’t get to do what they love in order to support a family. That’s why it’s called work. Sure, it happens sometimes, but often it doesn’t. It’s like parenting, you do difficult things that you sometimes don’t enjoy because it’s best for your family. It’s often the same with work. The system will be the system for the foreseeable future. And in this system if you want to provide for the material needs of a large Catholic family, you should strongly consider getting a degree.

  • Magcisk

    Not UD….Christendom College 🙂

  • Well, my husband has his degree from the same place you got yours from, Patrick.  And to support us, he does nothing that has anything to do with that degree.  In fact, anything that has his particular degree as a prerequisite would pay approximately as much as being a barista at Starbucks- except with a whole lot of debt that we still have to pay off.  A college degree is no longer the magic wand it used to be.  That’s what we’re learning first hand and what I’m trying to share with others.

    You go back and forth with your arguments- sometimes saying that college isn’t vocational training, that you shouldn’t see it as a way to support your family, that learning is for its own sake, and then later saying that yes, in order to support a large Catholic family, you need to go to college.  That the college education will ensure financial success.  Maybe it’s one or the other.  Maybe it’s both.  And maybe we let go of our ideas of all the material things we NEED in order to live a good life and focus on being happy, Godly parents raising happy, Godly children.

    That’s what I’m trying to say.  College is not a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of being a quality adult eventually ready to enter heaven’s gates.

  • Afrasier8506

    Another great post! A resounding AMEN to your thoughts here!

  • Pedersenmattr

    You hit a sore spot here!  I know too many unemployed college grads who are saddled with debt.  Not sure if I can post a link here but Dwija check this out: http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/08/06/seven-reasons-not-to-send-your-kids-to-college/

  • olivia demkowicz

    Dwija, I completely and utterly agree with you. Now imagine being married to someone who’s family is from a long line of “Academia” and “Intelligentcia” and saying that out loud. (I’ve never even dared)

  • Ah well…perhaps because of that long line, all of your children will be natural candidates for a traditional 4-year degree anyway 🙂

  • Kristen W Mcguire

    Your children are wayyyy too young for you to make blanket statements about the value of a college education. In fact, I would opine that the one thing that pisses me off the most about Catholic homeschoolers (and I am one, and have been for longer than you have been a mother) is that they often think that getting to heaven is the only challenge. We have a lot of years on earth to fill up first. 

    My oldest two are in college, and you bet your sweet bippy it is worth every penny. Next boy goes off next fall and I will see to it that all 8 not only go, but finish. They come home energized by the stupid they see, and ready to take on the world. That $35K per year per kid is buying me disciples who are ready to fight for the faith they love. Even better – they will be emplyed while they fight the good fight, because kids with degrees not only make more money, but they also understand how to charitably point out to Fr. Groovy Shepherd that his Mass predilections are heretical.

    And – they have the firepower to do it because they are studying hard. Even at schools that don’t share their faith. best advice: teach them well – and then let them take it on. Our culture could use less ignoramus Catholics reassuring one another that the outsiders just don’t understand, and a lot more smart, educated, motivated Catholics.

  • Editor

    I’d like to point out some things in response to your comment: 1. the age of her children or the duration of her motherhood is completely irrelevant to having a well-informed opinion about the value of a 4-year college education. In fact, by your own logic, your own opinion isn’t very valuable since your oldest two haven’t even graduated yet–your theory, in other words, is untested. 2. That your children’s faith life will be made more vigorous simply by attending college is statistically improbable, since most people’s faith lives decline as a result of their college career. 3. The average American college education is demonstrably inferior–standards are low, and mediocrity is encouraged. There is little justification for stating that people who do not attend a four college, by comparison to those who do, are “ignoramuses,” to use your word. The American educational system continues to crank out a disturbingly large percentage of “educated idiots,” in fact. My advice is this: since you have two in college, and six more to go, you may want to avoid any blanket statements yourself, since they are all individuals who will make any number of unforeseen life decisions that may or may not involve a college education.

  • Thanks for your perspective, Kristen.  I can’t seem to find a place where I’ve made any blanket statements about the value of a college education.  On the contrary, I’m trying to encourage people NOT to make blanket statements by highlighting the fact that for some a 4-year degree will be valuable and for some it may not be.  

    It’s true that my children are younger than yours, but my husband is probably older than your kids and has his B.A. from a well respected 4-year Catholic University and has had the personal experience of that particular degree, especially in this economy, not jiving with his workplace talents and aptitude.  So as he works doing things completely unrelated to his degree, we still have to manage the debt associated with that degree.  As we personally struggle in a culture that no longer sees a college degree as something special, I feel confident that my viewpoint is a valid one and speaks to the challenges that many young families are facing today and will continue to face in the future.

    So to imply that a faithful Catholic who sees the value of a vocational education or who supports a person’s decision to go to technical school instead of a 4-year University is an “ignoramus” is, to be blunt, insulting.  And to assume that a degree from a 4-year university is an automatic guarantee of quality future employment is, in our current environment, misinformed. 

  • I hope that I don’t have to “buy” my children’s faith.  Because if it takes $35K per year to buy me disciples who are ready to fight for the faith that they love, then I guess only the rich can follow Christ.  Bummer.

    I guess I’m going to have to go explain to my degree-less husband, sole provider of a family of soon-to-be-eight, that while we’re in a higher-than-average income bracket, and he knows his Faith backwards and forwards, it’s just not good enough since he doesn’t have a diploma.  Bummer.

    But then again, doing so would probably only be chalked up to one “ignoramus Catholic reassuring” another.  Gosh, even with a Masters degree I can’t seem to sit with the educated, motivated Catholics.  Bummer.

  • Lrjr29

    I am only 30 years old, I paid for college all by myself.  My parents divorced the day after I started and didn’t speak to me the whole 4 years because they are nuts.  Guess what, I never expected a dime from them.  WHat I am saying, is that it drives me crazy that at some point in the last 30 years, parents drank the Kool-Aid that told them one of their parental responsibilities was to pay the full college tuition for their child, their college apartment, food, study abroad expenses, blah, blah.  They only “successful” friends I have (one’s who have jobs and don’t live at home) are people who were expected to use their God given talents and find their own way.  Also, my parents may be crazy, but they did manage to give me the tools I needed when I was younger to accomplish this.  By the way, I am a doctor and I have 4 children.  Did I mention I was only 30?

  • Oh, I don’t have to have one. I’m a catechist now. But at the diocesan level (i.e. to be paid for it– or at least paid enough to live on) I would need the MA. 

  • This is not necessarily true. In this economic climate, having a degree can actually hinder, not help, you. When I found myself unemployed for a long period of time, I was getting no calls on any jobs I applied for. I took my degree off my resume and voila! Call back on many, if not all of the applications going forward. 

  • Ramblign Follower

    As Catholics, we need to be concerned about the debt our children easily can incur while attending college. For those of our children who will attend, we need to help them find ways to emerge from the experience debt-free – whether that means going parttime and working fulltime, or joining the military, or finding a full scholarship somewhere, somehow. Here is an article that punctures gaping holes in the arguments of those posters who imply that a college degree is essential to raising a Catholic family….

    12 April 2012

    Student debt, like any other form of
    debt, has a strong social impact. As student debt continues to rise in
    the United States, unanticipated consequences on family formation
    becomes more evident.

    While empirical data concerning the effects of student debt on
    marriage, divorce and fertility is still meager, early research has
    found that there is a positive correlation between debt and family
    formation and stability.

    A recent report by IHS Global Insight said that as a result of
    increasing economic stress, young adults are delaying key rites of
    passage typically associated with adulthood, with statistical evidence
    of later marriages and lower fertility rates for people in their late


  • Well said.  I have often wondered when the paradigm shift would occur. I wish more people would look critically at the return on investment of today’s universities. Great jog!

  • StellaMaris

    As a college instructor (more than 21 years’ experience), I’ve met SO MANY kids who really should not be in higher education.  They don’t have the desire for it, their hearts and skills are somewhere else, and they have no intention of using the skills they are being taught in the field they’re being trained for (this is a college training teachers).  Why are they here?  Their parents insisted that they ‘had to’ have some kind of degree.  It is not easy to teach people who have no particular motivation or talent, who see ‘education’ as a tedious means to ‘getting a degree because everyone says you have to have a degree.’ They do what they have to do to pass classes and ‘get a degree.’  It’s not about really learning anything; it’s about that magic piece of paper that ‘everyone’ told them they have to get. I’ve had many conversations with students who realize that they are in the wrong place, trying to do something that doesn’t interest them, that they are not skilled for, students who even know exactly what they would rather be doing.  When I try to convince them to drop out and get on with a satisfying life, the response is the same: ‘My parents really expect me to finish’ or ‘I started, so I have to finish.’  Time, resources and talents wasted, and in our case, someone officially decreed prepared for a career in teaching – someone who has no business in a classroom, and who will probably make a miserable carreer, neither inspired nor inspiring as a teacher.  Someone who really would probably have been better off starting that little furrniture refinishing and repair shop, but who will now be a mediocre, unhappy teacher because ‘My parents said I should go to college’ or ‘My parents said I should be a teacher.’ It’s depressing.

    Maybe we need to replace the stereotype of the ‘stage mother’ with the stereotype of the ‘university mother’ – the parent who forces the child to go to university, even if it’s unrelated to the child’s ability, needs or desires.  Equip your child to make the choice of university and explain its true usefulness, but don’t force them to go or force them to rebel against you if it’s not for them.  Religious vocations, the NBA, marriage and children, a career in the movies, being an acrobat or a gas-station attendant are not for everyone – and neither is college.

  • Yo

    cobblers repair shoes.

  •  Wow, Stella- I think you’re the first college instructor that’s weighed in here and your insight is fascinating.  Thank you!

  • StellaMaris

    I need to chime in here about higher education in America.  I have my BA from UC Berkeley and my M.Phil. from the University of Oxford (yes, in England), and I have taught for more than 20 years in a college in central Europe.  One of the things I am grateful for every day is that I had that American Bachelor’s degree.  I learned more at UCB – more about my field; more about how to think and (perhaps surprisingly) more about the reality of truth (thanks to one excellent professor) – than I did in my Master’s programme at Oxford.  It’s because in the US, we do not specialize from day one of university as they do in European universities.

    The more I see of European education, with its emphasis on specialized training in one field right out of high school, the more I thank God that I went to university in the US.  Because of those first two years (which I managed to stretch to three) of not having to specialize, I took courses at a high level in fields like geology and psychology; French and architecture; American history and Renaissance art; jazz music and early child development.  I can’t remember all the various courses I was able to take, with wonderful teachers, almost all of whom made me think, ‘Wow!  I could study this forever!’ 

    Maybe I was unusual in having a great many interests and going to one of the highest-ranked universities in the US (top ten at that time, in every field).  However, there were courses I took that were not based on existing interests (anything to do with science, for example, and a course in basic computer programming).  I took them to satisfy ‘breadth requirements’ and in taking them, opened my mind in such a way that now, 30 years on, I take positive pleasure in learning about many, many things, and I have the skills to keep learning all my life.

    My colleagues who specialized at the age of 18 or 19 read nothing outside their own fields, apart from newspapers and popular novels.  They cannot think critically.  They set ‘true/false’ tests for students and yet in conversation can laugh at the idea that ‘we can know the truth about anything’.  They see no contradiction in this because they were never taught to THINK, only to memorize and vomit up whatever the specialist told them, in order to get that degree.

    University may or may not be right for someone; some people may know what they want to do before they leave high school; and the quality of universities obviously varies.  Nevertheless, the American system of two years of general studies at university level, if exploited wisely, can set a person up for a lifetime of learning in a way that the early and narrow specialization of European universities very clearly does not.

    This is something to be grateful for – and proud of – whatever other problems one may find with the quality of American higher education.

  • Tecullom

    Could not agree more! This topic needs to continue to be brought up and discussed. Going to university has become an end in itself-so ridiculous. 

  • Pargontwin

    I’ve got just one question, slightly off-topic here.  Why do we say “stay-at-home-mom” when the English language already has a single word for it?  It’s called “Housewife.”  Oh, sorry; I forgot.  That’s not “politically correct.”  (Yes, those are sneer quotes.)

  • Sheila

    I totally agree.  I have a good friend who has a four-year liberal arts degree — and is an electrician.  All the degree did for him was waste his time and money so that now, at 25, he’s still trying to get fully qualified as an electrician.  But he always wanted to be an electrician, so … there you go.  My mom’s mechanic actually has an advanced degree in chemistry.  He spent a year as a chemist after graduating, decided he actually hated the job, and went back to fixing cars, which he happened to be very good at.  Her hairdresser has a classics degree.  He couldn’t get a job in the field, and besides he makes decent money cutting hair, with more contact with people, which he loves.

    The idea that “college will teach you to think, so it’s intrinsically worthwhile” is fine, I suppose, if you actually want to and if you are independently wealthy.  But to go into debt just for an “experience” that will never help you pay your debt?  Why?

    If you don’t know what you want to do with your life at 18, it’s not a problem.  Go work for awhile until you know.  When you figure it out, you will either have some money to get an education with, or some money to set out on your non-college career with.  Either way, it’s hardly wasted time.  Once you graduate college, you’ll have too much debt to change your mind, switch jobs, or take time off to figure things out.  Before you go to college is when you have the freedom to discern.

    For the record, I went to college.  My parents paid for what the scholarship didn’t.  I got a career in the field, and I think my education was “worth it.”  But so many of my classmates didn’t even care about college, so they spent four years (or however long it took them to flunk out) wasting their parents’ money or running up a debt they’d never be able to pay, just for the “experience” of partying and drinking and sleeping all day.

    Sadly, though, it’s a class thing.  College is seen as the entrance ticket to the educated class.  But being part of a class isn’t really worth it if you don’t like it, right?  What’s the real point?

  • Sheila

     Well, I’m not married to my house, so ….

    Personally, I don’t like the term.  I stay at home not because I am doing all the housework (we each contribute according to time and ability) and not because I’m married (I worked till the kids started showing up) but because I am a MOTHER.  People get upset at “full-time mother” because they think it’s insulting to working moms.  So stay-at-home mom it is — even though I don’t exactly “stay home” all the time, either.  I just stay with my kids.

    Sneer all you want, I think I can call myself what I want to!

  • Sheila

     Keep in mind that this depends a lot on where you live.  In my town, college degrees, and jobs requiring them, are rare.  Most people are mechanics, hairdressers, salespeople, and service jobs.  And they can afford to live on these jobs, because they’re in a small town.  In the big city, it’s much harder to get a job without a degree, and much easier to find a good one that will use yours.

  • Gary

    Good for you – I am a community college instructor in Calif. and much less than the state universities, though – you are right the mantra is “go to college”.  I could not have said it better than you have here – college is NOT for everyone and it is about time that more respect is accorded to skilled tradesmen and other “blue collar” occupations. 

  • MightyMighty1

    Hi Dwija, You might really like the books by Dr. Leonard Sax. He is a pediatrician and psychiatrist who noticed all sorts of crazy things happening to kids. His book “Why Gender Matters” goes over a lot of huge differences between boys and girls, and “Boys Adrift” covers why boys are in crisis. He includes as one of his five main reasons the fact that so many boys who would be happiest growing up into the trades are shoved into college instead. You will not believe the stats on how many men aged 18-35 live off of their parents or girlfriends. About 20% in many areas, 50% in Alaska. He quotes company owners who can’t get enough skilled labor domestically. He just wrote another book called “Girls on the Edge.”

    We intend to homeschool our kids, and part of their high school education will be learning a trade that they can use to a.) fall back on, b.) pay for school, and/or c.) make them super handy around their future homes. I’d love for my kids to be nerds like me and my husband, but also handy and thrifty like us too. Hence why we don’t turn our noses up at trade school.

  • Steph

    I totally agree! Our society is so fixated on college being the only path… I loved college, I think it was great for me, but I know nothing practical and I think we’re headed for trouble in a society where learning vocational trades and people with an aptitude for mechanical, spatial or manual labor are looked down upon.  Because it is an aptitude.