College Education: Diminishing by Degrees
A few lifetimes ago, I somehow amassed the units necessary for a bachelor’s degree. I had grown up to the tune of, “When you get to college….” from teachers and family. My parents’ generation, starting their families in the years after World War II, was intent on sending their children to college. At least that was the way it was in our town: of the 650 in my high school graduating class, all but 50 went to college. From kindergarten, we had been exhorted to plan for education beyond high school. Any other path in life was unmentioned and unimaginable.
Alas, once I was in college there was nothing on the horizon; college itself did not inspire, and I trudged through four years because I had no idea what else to do. However, my parents were able to say, “Our daughter is away at college,” and that was important. In fact, maybe that was the point.
My mother had taken secretarial courses in high school and my father had quit at age 16. College was their dream for me, as it was, apparently, for a lot of parents of their generation. What had been the realm of the upper-income/upper classes in an earlier generation had become attainable for theirs.
Some of us young women said the quiet part out loud: we were there to become suitable wives for professional men; per the old joke, we were pursuing “MRS” degrees. A doctor, lawyer, or corporate executive needed the right wife, an “educated woman,” or in my case, a pretentious intellectual snob with a thin veneer of erudition.
We were not encouraged to be career-oriented; the phrase “career path” had not been invented, at least for us. A young woman might become credentialed as a teacher during her college years, but she didn’t teach full time until after her own children were grown.
For most of us, that was the expectation, acknowledged by the guys we dated in college, who said, “No wife of mine is going to work!” It wasn’t an edict; it was a boast. They wanted to marry women who would be devoted to home and family while their husbands went into the working world to give their families a comfortable life.
So very long ago.
When I became a wife and a mother, my husband and I of course expected our (of course) exceptionally bright children to go to college. It was ingrained. Today, one has two master’s degrees in engineering, and the other dropped out. Both are well-compensated in their fields. The drop-out started working part-time for $10/hour at a company that ostensibly hires only college graduates, and climbed quickly through the ranks, keeping up in his field via various certification programs. He has been a featured speaker at industry conventions.
Well of course at the time it bothered me terribly that my son had dropped out of college. I’m over it now, however, for a couple of reasons.
One reason is the obvious fact that my son has done very well in life with a high school diploma and a couple of years of college. Following his father’s example, he developed a strong work ethic. His iron-clad self-assurance is reflected in his ability to step into a situation and take authority. He is fearless, but always respectful of people, whether of high position or low. People are comfortable working with him, and he knows what he is talking about.
The other reason I’m over the idea that kids need college is what colleges have become. If you want an experience that will curl your hair, visit any college bookstore and see the textbooks the professors are requiring.
A few years ago, my own hair got several extra waves when I returned to teach as adjunct professor of English at our local community college.
Some of the essay books pander to the lowest levels of our culture. Silly me, thinking college was supposed to elevate one’s perspective.
My parents, proud of sending me to college, had safely entrusted me to a community—a state university, by the way—that offered academic subjects in an atmosphere of love of country and reverence for God. That’s not what is happening at colleges these days.
A dear friend who did not go to college “made something of himself,” as the saying goes, building a successful business and providing well for his family. He was proud that he could send his son to a prestigious university, of which he now says, “I sent my son to college and they turned him against me.” And it didn’t take long; by Thanksgiving of his freshman year, the kid came home a church-scorning anti-capitalist, derisive of and ungrateful for all his parents had done.
My suspicion is that for a few generations, parents have become locked into the belief that their child’s college degree is simultaneously their own Badge of Good Parenting—I was one of those parents—and we moms and dads keep alive the fallacious belief in the importance of college. More, I think parents are terrified at the thought of a child not going to college, under the misconception that one cannot have a good life without at least a BA.
Now that K-12 school boards are starting to get push-back from parents (and it’s about time), perhaps it’s also time for parents to be warned that college is not what it was, nor what they think it is. I like to say, “I’m so old I can remember being proud of my alma mater.”
If parents looked closely at the colleges and universities in this country—the backgrounds and public statements of the professors and administrators, the text books, authors of the textbooks, and curricula—they might see the hollowness of their belief that they need to send their children to college, and realize that it doesn’t “verify” the quality of their parenting. Having a child in college for the sake of being in college may have been a point of pride once upon a time, but it long ago lost its luster, and may even be hazardous to their child’s health and future.
Originally published on No College Mandates (https://nocollegemandates.substack.com/p/college-education-diminishing-by)
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