Sorry kids, I’m not paying for college

18 05 2010

There was a great article in the NYT last week about the value of not getting a college education. Mostly, It dicked around with Bureau of Labor statistics about the fastest growing career fields, and how in the future we’re gonna need more nurse’s aides than nanosurgeons.  And while this is true, and while I completely agree that there is a great need to bring back the vo-tech and ditch the “college or career suicide” type propaganda that seems to be rampant in our high schools… I think that there are better reasons not to go to college than just the best odds for job security. That’s right. Sorry possible future kids, you guys can go screw, because i’m not paying for college. and here’s why:

1. 18 is way too young to know what you want to be when you grow up. Picture it- 1995. When i was 17,I graduated from high school telling everyone that I was going to be a genetic engineer. WTF?! Good at science, but with an obvious passion for art that was somehow completely overlooked by me, my family, and my educators, somehow I wound up at Smith College studying biochemistry. Needless to say, I spent the majority of my 2 semesters there smashed on cheap champagne and watching the Love Boat in the common room. But don’t worry mom and dad, it wasn’t a complete waste! I also learned how to build a gravity bong and got really good at cybersex before they kicked me out! And it only cost you $27,000. A giveaway!

My booze soaked cautionary tale is not unique. The typical American high school aims to trap you in the college machine, programming from day one that higher education is an absolute necessity in order to succeed at life (and that non-college goers are sentenced to permanent loserville, qualified only to work at gas stations and fast food chains). They then give you a brief 4-year overview of a few select subjects, boot your ass out of the nest, and expect you to make good decisions. Except that you’re 18, and you still need the approval of your parents, peers, and teachers, and it’s the worst possible time and place for you to make big giant expensive decisions about the “rest of your life.”

2. Shit’s expensive. A year of tuition at Smith College was $27,000 back in 1995, but it’s edging closer to $40,000 these days. Um, that’s $160,000 for 4 years- not counting all the other bullshit expenses like books and room and board. Sure, there’s financial aid and scholarships and grants… but it can’t be denied that still, SHIT IS EXPENSIVE. Even if you don’t have an honors track top 10 school kind of kid, state school is still not cheap. My eventual and reluctant alma mater, the University of Southern Maine, is still a good $15,000 (in-state) a year after room and board. Coupled with the above point about how ill-equipped teenagers are to make huge life decisions, I think it’s quite clear that college at 18 is a TERRIBLE INVESTMENT.

3. I never appreciated the value of learning more than when I was paying for it myself. After I got the boot from Smith, my parents foolishly STILL sent me back to school to try again. Admittedly, it was a much cheaper school much closer to home. But, how exactly does a summer of shame and repentance make me any more qualified to plan my future? I did manage not to get kicked out of USM, and may have even learned a few things (but not too many). I certainly had fun, but did I graduate in 4 years? Um…NO.

Despite the fact that I stopped attending school in 1999, I would actually be one class short of a diploma until December of 2005. When i was finally tired of being ambiguous about my education on resumes, I enrolled in a couple of classes and finally figured out why non-traditional students seemed so irritating to me back in the day. It’s because they were actually learning something. They showed up to class on time, did their homework, and generally participated in discussion regarding the material that they had actually read (instead of passed out on after one too many Brandy Alexanders). When I was the one paying $80 for a single book, I magically turned into this person, and it was kind of a revelation.

So when I say that I won’t be stashing my pennies away for baby Broke207 to go to Yale, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want him/her to go to college ever (or that I don’t think that a college education can be valuable and worthy). It just means that I want that choice to be free from the pressure that high school life so lovingly and liberally applies. I just want my imaginary future family to be aware of all the options (trade school, apprenticing, working up the ladder!), and experience the world a little before they start themselves out thousands of dollars in debt.