On Education Part 1: To College or Not to College

In the last half decade or so, I’ve  worked with quite a few young adults. With this group, the question will inevitably arise: To college or not to college? This is a fundamental question for life in the first world and people have hard set opinions on this issue.

Now, as the latest batch of seniors wraps up their applications, I offer my humble opinion. I did the whole traditional college thing—an out-of-state private university, complete with dorms, roommates, tiered lecture halls and bad cafeteria food. I also spent some time in community college, and then joined a ministry movement filled with vocationally fulfilled young adults, most of whom didn’t go at all. (One such leader commented, “My opinion—people who go to college usually end up working for those who didn’t.” Hmmm…I found him a bit snotty).

But, after all of this, I think I have a pretty rounded view on what college is and isn’t.

To understand what college can or can’t do for you, you have to understand why it was created. In the Middle Ages, there was a discovery and of long-lost Greek and Roman artifacts and writings. (I would like to say it was also the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, but don’t quote me on that).

The young people of the day wanted to know about these things, but only learned scholars could interpret them. So, the rich young people would rent out community centers and hire the scholars to teach them about these artifacts and how to read and interpret these writings. Eventually, they organized and created entire schools around these meetings. By and large, this is the model we currently have for university training today…young adults pay older, wiser people to teach them the secrets of the world.

But, only a certain kind of people are actually interested in learning the liberal arts—science, literature, philosophy, mathematics, history, etc. So, to keep the students enrolling and the money coming in, the powers that be, in their infinite wisdom, have mixed this classical learning with vocational training.

Now, students spend half of their time learning the secrets of the world, and the other half being trained for a career—in which, classroom training may or may not be the best way to learn that career. But, vocational training is still what we use to market these universities. When the marketing comes up short, well, we have disgruntled graduates who flood the job market with student loans and useless diplomas.

On the other hand, college can be extremely valuable if you take it for what it is. It is a place to learn, explore your identity and grow into your adulthood. It is a place where you will be exposed to a lot of new ideas that you may not have gotten in your home circle. (Is it so bad to be taught the enduring secrets of the world?)

College is a place where you can how to learn, how to think critically and how to evaluate life and the world you will taking on. It is a place where you will be challenged and learn self-discipline. For me, college opened my world in a way I would have never been able to. In the end, I had to learn to just be grateful for that, and not get caught up on the diploma and marketing ploy.

My advice to graduating seniors: Diplomas don’t guarantee success, people do. A college education won’t necessarily make you rich, but it will open up your world. What you do with that, will determine your success.


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