Thursday, March 12, 2009

More about college

A hearty thanks to everyone who took the time to outline their philosophies on higher education. My own outlook on the topic has been somewhat refined, I have to say. For me, college is not a have to, but rather, a should. Whatever form it takes, I truly believe that a few more years spent exploring the concept of adulthood is not time wasted but rather, invested.

I probably come to this opinion based mostly on my own personal experiences. I am the first on my father's side of the family to go to college (although my father did attain technical certifications in adulthood). I grew up in a blue collar family that was just a half generation removed from the poverty of the Appalachian foothills; I say "half generation" because my father used an outhouse until he moved to Detroit at age 15. His own father--my beloved Papaw--worked on an assembly line punching out auto parts for 25 years in an era when job loyalty was rewarded by a system of perpetual support (pension and stock dividends) that no longer exists. He raised his family on these excellent benefits, then watched in despair as his own sons joined the industry just a few years too late to harvest the crop of "25 and out" jobs that factories and service industries used to be able to provide for their workers.

The willingness to simply put in your time was no longer enough for a man to truly provide for his family, my grandfather decided. An illiterate farmer who was denied the opportunity of an education in favor of providing labor to support his mother, siblings and ne'er do well father, my grandfather was no fool. He saw that the engineers and the designers and the folks who wore ties weren't worrying over the braces on their kids teeth or when they might save up enough to buy a home big enough to house their growing families. They also weren't the guys breathing in coal dust in the mines, losing fingers in machines or being bent under the weight of stoop labor in fields.

"You need one of them college papers," he used to tell me. "You go on and get you one, and won't nobody ever look down on you."

And he was mostly right. I got one of those papers; it's in my attic, filed in the big plastic bin of things I never unpacked when we moved in six years ago. I won't say that I've been immune to criticism or economic downturn. But something else happened in those four years that I spent a the large, state-run university I chose. My perspective on the world got wider.

I was a marginal Christian went I went to school (good enough to teach Sunday School, apparently!). I was also a spoiled brat. A big fish in a small pond. And more than a little cocky.

I probably could have come out of college exactly as I went in, but I didn't. God used that time to turn me around, to give me direction, to introduce me to the love of my life, to expand my horizons beyond California on the west and New York on the east ... and to begin in me the process of true discernment.

I had to make choices. And they had consequences. Some were good (work three jobs+no sleep=tuition & rent paid!). Some were bad (drive for six hours to D.C. + watch show in night club=miss chem lab in the morning). I had roommates who were not related to me and didn't give a crud what my motivations were. I had teachers who invested in me, and those that didn't. I had bills to pay, jobs to finish and a life to launch.

And I had four years to sort it all out.

I won't say that I don't regret a single moment of my college education. But I will say that I see God's hand in it so clearly that there's no way I could ever want to take it back. I went in a child. I came out ready to be a Child of God.

I don't for a second believe that those who eschew college in favor of entering the job force or establishing a business are destined to failure. And nowadays, not going to college doesn't necessarily mean a factory job, manual labor or even being employed by someone else at all. Heck, my best friend didn't go to college. Her husband also decided to forgo higher education. Aside from the fact that I don't envy the burden of maintaining one's own health insurance, the difficulty of running both a business and a family and not getting any paid vacation, I think that the big picture looks pretty good. It works for them. They're happy. Enough said.

But for me, personally, I think I'll keep encouraging my kids in the direction of college. Our preference is that they attend a Christian school and live somewhat nearby. If they choose not to go, then hey, that's o.k. It's not as if Mr. Blandings and I plan on footing the bill (we both paid our own way, and feel that it actually enriches, rather than detracts from the experience). We'll guide, we'll recommend, we'll pray and we'll support. That's our job. We're parents.

The job doesn't stop when they enter kindergarten, high school, college, the mission field, the job market, or marriage. That's the joy, isn't it?


You Can Call Me Jane said...

Going to college gave me perspectives I didn't have going in. I attended a Christian college, met people from all walks of life (not all were Christians) including those of other races, faiths, and sexual orientations. I was given the opportunity to live in another country for 5 months and study another language. I also learned to appreciate the opportunity of going to college by paying for it myself (through jobs and loans). Figuring out how much money I was throwing away each time I skipped class was a huge motivator to go and taught me to manage my money wisely. My world widened- for the better. While we are not going to insist that our children go to college, we most certainly will support them (not financially, per se, but through helping them chose one, etc.) and pray that God will open their eyes to his world through the experience. Every decision needs to be placed in His hands.

mary grace said...

I couldn't agree more with your comment regarding paying for college. Both my husband and I financed the greater part of our own education (dh's parents paid for his first semester, after that he was on his own) through multiple jobs; scholarships, grants, and loans covered the rest. We didn't graduate "saddled" with massive debt, either. Dh paid his loans off the day after he graduated thanks to the generous gifts he received from family members offers congrats on the accomplishment. We paid on mine for three years. Again, it was well worth the investment!

Anonymous said...

MG, I think our view of college is much the same (although you maybe feel a little more strongly about the should than I do since we're some of those self-employed people and very happy with it), and I'm really glad to hear your stance on paying for it.

My ILs seem absolutely appalled that we are not planning to pay for our girls' educations, as they dip into their own 401Ks to pay for my SILs, so it's always good to know we're not alone in that view!

Anonymous said...

Funny, engineers don't make anywhere near what they did when your PaPaw worked in Detroit. My father started out as an engineer in the early 60s making the equivalent of $50K, adjusted for inflation. When I started, it was down to about $40K, again, adjusted. It is worse now, if you can even find work. And you are expected to work 60 hours a week with no additional pay.

Most companies think it is the CAD software the does the designing these days. That couldn't be further from the truth. But they'd rather hire someone that knows the software and is cheap than hire a real engineer that might cost them more and knows the software.

You'll have to tell us where in Appalachia.....we're in East TN. All grandparents are "Mamaw and Papaw" and most in their 50s grew up without running water and/or electricity.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I've never commented on your blog before, was going to 2 posts ago, but couldn't remember my google password =) Anyways, my dh and I both came from lower middle class homes (me w/ a single mom) so both of us worked our way through college, I think it really helps to make you focus on what you really want to pay for, and neither of us had college debt. We also don't plan on funding college. We have a wonderful junior college here for the first 2 years, and I think it is a wonderful transition. College was a good thing for me, many of my friends haven't went, but are still middle class successful. Besides, money doesn't solve all problems =) The main reason I started following your site is b/c I am interested in fostering babies. We have young children, 2,4, 6. We are still in very early prelim discussions, so who knows. Thanks for sharing all you do.

EllaJac said...

MG, I got the 'prize' the other day. Thank you! Can't wait to try it out on Monday.

I've enjoyed this college discussion, and have long been pondering this question. I am curious as to 'when' you or other college-supporters attended college? I find myself thinking "Pay FOR college? I don't know if I'd send my kids there if you PAID ME!" and that thought just astonishes me. I can't believe I think it.

I attended 3 years' worth of college, at a nice, REALLY christian campus, no real regrets. I've seen on-fire Christian young people go from willing to forgo a driver's license/car so as to save money for missions.... to totally debauched (is that a word?) in no time flat. Obviously you can't put the blame for that entirely on their college (while living at home) experience, but it definitely opened up some doors.

I want to be open to God's leading in whatever He has for my kids, but I'm getting so prejudiced against higher education. I know so many "pro-college" types who are not at ALL what I hope my kids to be/have/do. I know many women who got that degree, and when they finally did get to marry and raise kids, they were surprised to find themselves so woefully unprepared. It's a different world; one they aspired to but one they weren't at all trained for, even after all that 'investment'.

Too, it seems that most people value not the 'education' they receive, but the 'life experience' they get at college. Can't this experience be gained elsewhere, cheaper, and more productively? Why is college such a default option?

I recognize my bias (broken home, parents not college educated but highly-educated grandparents... from my single-digit years was PUSHED to achieve in college, and only ever really wanted to be a Mama), and am having a hard time sorting out how much I'm *thinking* vs. just *feeling* this. :)

Anonymous said...

Hello from a fellow crew mate! Since this is my first visit to your blog, I haven't seen all of this college discussion. I agree with what you've written here, though. I'm not going to push college, but I certainly won't discourage it either. College was the place where I found a real relationship with Jesus. My life would be completely different (for the WORSE) if I had never gone to college. God will lead a person where they need to go, whether that includes college or not.