Does 4 Year College Even Need to Be a Thing Anymore?

   When I was a senior in high school, there came a time when people around me started getting their college acceptance letters. This was back in 199......well...199...something...and it was still pretty much a given that if you weren't headed off to a 4 year college after high school in order to participate in all the glorious freedom and debauchery (and, you know, learning) were resigned to staying in your hometown wallowing in loser-dom. I remember the stabbing jealousy pangs I felt when my friends started showing up to school in their chosen college's sweatshirts. 

Not that I would have been caught dead in some collegiate sweatshirt at that time....but whatever. Not the point.

  I had a very Felicity-esque view of higher education. I imagined I would go away...far far some liberal arts college with big 900 square foot dorm rooms that I would share with artistically-minded individuals who would become my closest, lifelong friends. I would take classes with inspiring professors who would urge me to write. I would meet some dashing upperclassman and maybe chop my hair off in a fit of new found independence.

 This was my college dream. The reality was nowhere close.

This was my college dream. The reality was nowhere close.

So yeah. None of that happened.

I didn't go to college after high school. I pretty much drifted. I had no IDEA what I wanted to do as a career....and college, even then, seemed prohibitively expensive. Sitting in my high school counselor's office with my dyed hair and "HEROIN SUCKS" t-shirt ( I've heard!) ....I was told "I don't think college is for you".

So, I entered the working world and resigned myself to the fact that I would never be Felicity Porter off to somewhere like Sarah Lawrence. 

I was going to be to the car-part factory.

Eventually I decided that if I wasn't going to work in a factory forever I needed some higher education. I decided this after searching the want-ad's for a decent job and finding myself still "wanting". I had no discernible skills outside of a penchant for dramatic prose, which I scribbled in notebooks late at night, and an inability to shut up. Not too many people seeking those "job skills".

I hopped from one discipline to the next. First I was an English major at the local community college. I had no idea what my job trajectory was....but it seemed a good a major as any (are we noticing a theme of no direction yet?). Then I switched to the technical college and studied Criminal Justice. Very useful.....but I wasn't very good at it.  I then made the leap to a 4 year, private liberal arts college....where they charge you for EVERYTHING and in spades. 

My mind was not on cost, at that point. Good ole' student loans would carry me through and I would worry about it later when I landed that fat-cash job that a college degree was sure to garner me. 
I switched to Sociology as a major my Senior year and graduated 10 years after beginning my hop-along journey.

 I was seriously excited the day I graduated. I thought this would take care of everything. I was "unstoppable"

I was seriously excited the day I graduated. I thought this would take care of everything. I was "unstoppable"

My college experience wasn't like any TV show. I never stayed 1 night in a dorm room. I never attended one "kegger" or college event. I never did anything but go to class and pay money. I was an "adult returning student" who was pregnant my entire Junior year. I worked full time at a medical company during the day and then would head over to class at night...with the rest of the moms and dads trying to improve THEIR lot in life at the same time.

I never got to really be "inspired" by that great professor....I was too worn out, most days, to really pay too much attention to anything outside of what I needed to do to finish.

When I graduated with my degree in Sociology I was over $60,000 in debt. 

And didn't have clue one what I was going to do with that degree. 

By my graduation year I had already started my own business (you know, with all my free time) and it was growing pretty steadily. The business had jack to do with Sociology and I wasn't using any of the knowledge I was paying so much for. Not one single client asked if I had a college degree.

I graduated in 2009. Now, 7 years later, I look back and think "What were you thinking". You went in headlong into higher education with absolutely no idea WHY. 

If you do a quick search of "Sociology" on prospects are pretty depressing. Unless I want to go BACK to school and spend another $25-$30K for my Masters....I'm pretty much resigned to $12-$15/hour jobs. 

So what's the lesson here:  I'm an idiot. 

Well, not just that, but going into something so ridiculously expensive without a good PLAN and a WHY is just stupid. People put more time and effort into planning their weddings. Seriously. 

Since dipping my toe into the working world, outside of self-employment, I've found most employers don't even really care WHAT your degree is in....just as long as you have one. I guess it proves you have follow-through. You can show up. You can finish. 

I could have totally proved that at a much cheaper school.. 


With all the talk these days of the rising costs of education, I have to wonder if a 4 year degree even needs to be a THING for most people anymore. Sure, if you're set on being a Doctor, a Lawyer, an Architect, something of that probably want to set your sights on that 4 year degree. But what if you don't know? 

What if you're in life-limbo and you really don't have it all figured out yet?

There was a time when going off to college was your TIME to figure all that out. To "find yourself".....but these days, that's an awful expensive journey of self-discovery. And if you get there and figure out you want to be a Firefighter? An Electrician? Something that a technical college can help you with....then what? You just spent 5 figures (sometimes 6) on a piece of paper you may not ever utilize. 

And if you're most'll have a mountain of student loans to contend with and STILL have more school to go if you want to "chase your dream" outside of your degree. 

So what are we supposed to do.....better yet, what do the prospects look like for our kids? 

The majority of the folks I know are entrepreneurs. They started their own thing and ran with it. Most of them ALSO have college degrees and I would be willing to bet probably 75% of them don't use them or have NEVER used them. 

Why are we not fostering the entrepreneurial spirit in our high schools? Are we still beating the age-old dead horse that a 4 year degree is the only way to get ahead? We need to be teaching small-business administration and simple things like how to get a business license, file your taxes, or marketing your own business. 

Enrollment in trade schools or technical colleges has been spotty. There was a huge boom from 2009 to 2014.....but I know in some places enrollment has stalled. There's many reasons for this, but mostly because a lot of the students are older and have families, full time jobs, and other commitments....and simply put, the cost is still prohibitive. A 40 year old mom of 3 with the need to feed her family can't exactly just chuck it all and take on full time classes to further her career. 

I still believe, also, that there's a lingering sense among high schoolers that if you're not off to a 4 year school, you've somehow failed at life already (before you even get going?)  But, is the college experience of old dead and gone? Do we need to just accept this and change the landscape?

I have to wonder....what are school guidance counselors doing to direct kids for after-high-school life?  If your parents didn't go to college, what kind of advice or direction can THEY offer? 

Do we really expect everyone to have it all figured out at 18 and to also sign on for a GIGANTIC financial burden at the same time.

The reason the student loan crisis is where it is at this point is because there's a gigantic lack of direction and education where all of this is concerned. 

No one ever helped me fill out my FAFSA (or ever really explained what a FAFSA was. They handed me one and said, here....fill this out) one sat down with me and explained student loan repayment (I remember I had to sign a little slip of paper saying that I understood loans had to be repaid....that's it). No one asked what my strengths were....where I SAW myself in 5 or 10 years....if I had any ideas that could possibly lead to a great self-employment opportunity. 

I left high school and I was on my own. 

I'm guessing it's still the same. Which would be all fine and dandy if kids were being equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to handle such a monumental task.....but I fear that's not the case. 

Research has shown that the parts of the brain involved in decision making are not fully developed until the age of 25. 

Most kids who are shipped off to 4 year college are DONE by then, having supposedly already MADE all of the "decisions" that are going to follow them for the rest of their working life. 

Is it any wonder why so many of us reach 35 years old and start saying "I wish I would have.....".

Doesn't this seem a bit backwards?

Maybe it's time we CHANGED the social norm. Maybe, just maybe, if the bulk of folks stopped accepting that college just costs what it does, is what it is, and is SO necessary....the push back would enact some change...however small.

Maybe if parents started explaining to their kids that there are a WEALTH of options at their feet and that they DON'T have to have it all figured out at would take some pressure off the kids and allow them to explore their skills, to try some things and to live on their own without having to pay $20,000 a year to do it. 

Maybe schools need to realize that not everyone is MEANT to be on a 4 year college track. That the world needs masons, cabinet makers, construction workers, and auto body repairmen. That these roles have VALUE and should be fed and fostered. IN high school.

(They also need to realize that these kids need job SEEKING skills like interviewing. That they need basic economic skills like how to write out a check or file taxes......but I digress)

Maybe....just maybe....the world of Felicity has run its course and its the dawning of a new era in this country of skill building, of job creation, and of dream seeking.

Just maybe......