A dad who wants the best life possible for his daughter looks out on the higher education landscape. Is college still the best answer?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
My 6-year-old daughter informed me that she wants to be an astronaut surgeon. That means an astronaut who does surgery in space! After the fist pumping, parentingdoneright hash tagging, and rocket surgeon jokes, I realized that I have no idea how to support her dream.
I’m a hardcore Type B person, and only recently began to accept that label as a badge of honor rather than a slacker mark of shame. I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up too. I even spent a week at Space Camp the summer before 8th grade. On a simulated mission, I served as the Space Shuttle Commander, the exact astronaut job I wanted!
Fast forward not too far into the future and I had already given up on my dream of being an astronaut. I made up a lot of excuses for why I wasn’t going for it. I have bad eyes, so I couldn’t be a military pilot. I didn’t have the best grades, so I couldn’t apply to the best engineering programs. I was too old to have a chance at being the first man on Mars. You can see the quality of my analysis.
I was a dumb kid. I didn’t know any better and I didn’t know how to ask for help. So my dream withered on the vine. I don’t want that to happen to her, and I realize we’re talking about a young girl here. Whether or not my daughter maintains this glorious vision of becoming a rocket surgeon, parents planning for college today are in a pickle.
We’re sold this ideology that college pays off, that there’s a proper order to life; Go to school, get good grades, get into a great college, get a good job, be happy. Happy comes at the end of course.
Parents, like me, who just did that are questioning the value of college as this standard prescription hasn’t led to the success we imagined in our own life. We’re mired in student loan debt at the same time we’re being sold another platitude about our responsibility to save for our children’s college education.
Imagine your child, not wildly successful and happy after college, instead, they’re likely to be graduating with a bachelors degree, few good job prospects, and $29,400 in student loan debt. Space pays though. Astronaut’s start at $64,724 per year, and top out at $141,715. Pretty sweet, except there have only been 330 astronauts in total since the start of the program.
American Mythology around education is so powerful that it’s difficult to even have this conversation. The President hinted that some students might fare better learning a trade than studying the arts at an expensive college, he was heckled by professors and forced to apologize.
It says something when a special interest group uses such a heavy hand to shut down the conversation. They’re effectively saying, “We know we’re wrong.”
These professors know this information is free, and instead of innovating, offering something new of value, they want to maintain the status quo. I’m not okay with supporting that mentality.
I’m all for The Arts, I’d love to quit my day job and survive as a moderately successful writer. Not a wildly successful writer, I’m still sporting that Type B badge of honor, but we’re blessed live in the Information Age with the combined knowledge of mankind just a few clicks away.
Which leaves me with two questions:
How do I best support her education and career choices?
How do I reconcile my general belief that college is “worth it” with my personal experience and the growing data set that shows it doesn’t always pay off financially?
I have a decade to consider these questions, but I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Photo: Flickr/Stephanie Jean