Let’s look at whether college is worth it from a homeschooler’s perspective
I’ll never forget judging my first debate meet. My oldest, who was 13 at the time, had joined this homeschool debate league. I debated in high school, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect.
I mean, the entire league was comprised of homeschoolers, and the same coach traveled from city to city throughout the region, teaching all of these homeschoolers in large groups in people’s homes. I didn’t seem all that professional.
And yet, I’d been impressed with the ideas my daughter had been initiating dinner conversations about. How many 13-year-old girls were concerned with the Christian genocide in the Middle East? Or the various platforms of the presidential candidates? Or qualified immunity for law enforcement officers?
So I attended the tournament as a judge, and I was completely blown away!
These twelve to seventeen-year-old youth had written and memorized TED-talk-caliber speeches on topics I had never even considered. I left that tournament determined that every one of my children would complete that program of speech and debate, and they have so far.
The debate coach deserves accolades for the work he is performing with these kids. But even he cannot spin gold from straw.
Homeschooled youth are remarkably intelligent, surprisingly mature young people who understand what they want out of life and are intrinsically motivated to learn and grow. They have such interesting hopes and dreams, and they already know how to put in the work to accomplish goals.
That begs the question:
Why do most homeschoolers focus so heavily on getting into college?
I admit to being guilty of this myself.
I admit that homeschooling has felt like an experiment at times (my kids are lab rats) and the only way to prove the experiment’s success is for the kids to head off to college. I admit to wanting validation for the last seventeen years of work that have gone into homeschooling!
The very biggest reason I decided to homeschool is that I feel I can give my children a higher quality education than they would receive from public school. And my ultimate goal for all of this education was that my children would graduate from prestigious universities.
During the last 17 years of homeschooling, my paradigms have shifted drastically as I’ve watched my own children Iearn more, and retain said knowledge better, on their own than I could ever have taught them. I realized that schooling does not equal education. Kids don’t need to be taught in order to learn.
Is there a better alternative to college?
And yet I have this nagging feeling that somehow my kids will have a better life if they attend and graduate from college. I have fond memories of college experiences.
Do I want my children to miss that?
Do I want them to miss out on roommates and apartment living?
Do I want my children to miss out on the responsibility-free college atmosphere?
Will they miss out on meeting people (potential spouses) around their ages?
I definitely want them to miss out on partying.
All I want, really, is for my kids to have a great life and to be happy. Life is hard enough already, paying bills and fixing everything that breaks, and keeping up with laundry and cleaning and trying to exercise and eat well. Life is hard. I certainly don’t want to make it harder by making the wrong choice about college.
College has always been our plan. Finish homeschooling, probably by earning an associates degree while in high school. Go to college, get a degree, get a high-paying job with benefits and start a family. It’s a good plan, right?
Is college worth it? Is it worth the cost?
My grandparents would have loved to have done it that way. My parents did do it that way. My husband and I did it that way. Our lives are great. The hubs makes enough that I can be a SAHM and homeschool the children. We have great benefits, and we never have to worry about his career or paying the bills.
However, the problem is that the university system has changed in a couple of ways over the last two generations.
2 Ways in Which the University System is Failing:
1. College costs more than it used to, even after subtracting for inflation. Tuition at private universities has increased by 54% over the last ten years, while tuition has increased 62% at public universities. Between 1950 and 1970, college cost the average American family about four percent of their annual income. In 2010, it cost American families eleven percent of their income. It simply isn’t affordable for most families and young adults are graduating with crippling debt.
2. More students than ever are attempting the college dream, resulting in a glut of graduates. 40% of graduates from the nation’s top 100 colleges couldn’t find jobs in their chosen field. So now graduates are setting themselves apart by getting a graduate degree (and increasing their debt).
A recent report states that almost half (48%) of recent college grads report not being in a job that requires a four-year degree. There are simply too few professional jobs to sustain each years graduates, and most of them don’t pay what graduates anticipated. The combination of degree inflation and lower pay than expected exacerbates student debt problems without substantially improving the quality of education.
It’s no wonder that there is growing skepticism of the return on investment of a college degree. Is college worth the time and expense? Will it actually, truly maximize potential income opportunities for your child’s future? Is college worth it?
I’ve already graduated my oldest three children from our homeschool. My oldest is nearly finished with her bachelor’s degree, and isn’t planning on graduate school. Scholarships have completely covered her tuition, and she works to cover her living expenses, so she’ll graduate debt free.
My third just barely graduated our homeschool, and he also earned his associates degree during high school. He wants to be a computer engineer, and has already earned a computer repair certificate and learned quite a bit of coding. Plus, he has earned scholarships to pay his entire way, so I think he’s following a wise course of action.
My upcoming daughter, though, is my worry right now. She’s the reason I’m asking all these questions. She wants to study violin performance, but she doesn’t actually want to ever perform on the violin. She just wants to earn her PhD in violin performance because that is what her violin teacher did.
She wants to attend an expensive, private conservatory abroad.
I’m not sure that’s the best path for her. But how do I know?
It’s time for us to ask ourselves some tough questions.
5 Questions You Should Ask When Considering College:
1. Is your teen planning to be an engineer, doctor or lawyer?
If your teen is planning a career as an engineer (or any STEM field besides academia), doctor or lawyer, a university degree is mandatory. Jobs are plentiful for engineers with 4-year college degrees, but doctors and lawyers have to go even farther.
Doctors and lawyers have to complete an undergrad degree and then test into medical or law school, where they spend the next two years earning a professional degree — longer if they want to specialize.
2. Is college financially feasible?
One of the biggest claims you hear from proponents of college is that college graduates earn more. They have data points and graphs and statistics to back them up. I’m not going to argue that their claim is false, despite having learned how to lie with statistics in my college statistics class. Just kidding, I really don’t think anyone is lying.
But did they take into account the 4 years of missed income, the average student debt, the interest paid on that student debt, and the health problems caused by the anxiety of trying to make student loan payments while supporting a family and purchasing a home and vehicle? Was their sample actually relevant?
And what about the cost itself? How often do you check the price tag of an item before making a purchase, and decide to put it back on the shelf, because the price is extravagant.
Would you ever consider paying $100k to learn something? Would you ever pick up a box of textbooks and courses at Costco and think, “Hmm… this series of courses could teach me everything I need to know about English Literature. I think it’s worth $100k. I’m going to buy it.” And if you didn’t have the $100k laying around, would you be willing to mortgage your future for however many years — or decades — it requires to pay back that money?
You can learn to code for free using W3schools. You can learn about nutrition by reading books. You can teach yourself photography and drawing and painting. In fact, most artistic improvement comes through practice, rather than sitting in a classroom. Professional tutors would be a bargain compared to the cost of college tuition.
Why don’t we balk at the sticker shock of college? If college is going to mortgage your child’s income in a way that limits their lifestyle choices for 20 or more years, it’s wise to be certain it’s worth it.
Let’s all get real for a minute. College is not merely about the education. Nobody in their right mind is going to pay $100k or more for the privilege of learning something. There has to be something radically more valuable about a college degree to justify the mind-boggling expense.
College is an attempt to improve your future by way of a credential. It may be the single most powerful chance to do so that you ever have access to. That is why people are willing to mortgage their futures to go to college.
And that leads me to my third question.
3. Will college provide an adequate return on your investment?
Young adults often pick their career without researching its earning power. They base their decisions on altruistic good will or current trends or wanting to be perceived a certain way. They actually put themselves through the rigors and expense of graduate school only to find out after the fact that their chosen professions makes so little they will never actually recoup their expenses.
Further, people hate to admit it, but where you go matters just as much as what you choose to study. Graduates of prestigious universities have much more valuable credentials than those of state universities, even when the letters of the credential match exactly. Prestigious universities confer the prestige of their brand and the distinction of their alumni network to your resume.
General credentials from mediocre universities are only valuable to young adults with a low social standing. A young adult from the wrong side of town, the first in his family to attend college, would benefit from that credential. Upper-middle-class young adults would find less value in the credential, and thus would receive little return on their investments.
I recommend that you not make that mistake. Consider your ROI for college, just as you would any investment. If you ultimately decide to attend college, make sure you choose a university and a degree that will be worth what you pay for your diploma.
4. Will a degree prepare your teen to work in his chosen field?
This is another question that will require a little research.
Recent studies have found that 1 in 4 university graduates felt unprepared for their first jobs out of college. Academia is teaching obsolete skills. How often in real life will you need to know how to write a 40-page paper in MLA format?
Your teen will more likely be required to write emails.
I’m not saying that learning skills above and beyond what your child will use daily is not useful. It’s always good to broaden our understanding. But at what cost?
Talk to your teen about his career aspirations. So many youth don’t know what they want to do after college. Do you really want to pay $100k to explore career options? If your teen has no idea what he’d like to do after graduation, discuss his skills, interests, and strengths. Maybe have him take an aptitude test. But save college for when he knows what he wants to do and has defined his path to get there.
If you want your youth to be entrepreneurs who think on their feet, thrive without structure, are comfortable with risk, learn what they need to on their feet, innovate, and create their own paths, then a college degree will be a waste. Instead, let them try businesses firsthand. Let them travel. Give them service opportunities. Let them try real life.
5. Does your teen want to attend college? Why?
Does your teen plan to attend college just because it’s expected? Or because all his friends are headed there? Or because it’s what his parents and grandparents did.
Maybe homeschoolers just aren’t risk takers, and going to college seems less risky than trying to jump into real life. Maybe it seems like going to college right after high school, when scholarships are available and life is simpler, is the only way it will ever happen.
Maybe college just seems like the easiest transition. Maybe it seems like the only way to earn respect.
College is still a great choice for many young people, as long as you realize that it doesn’t guarantee you a certain income or a more enjoyable career.
Committing to the significant cost and four years of indentured servitude is not a decision that should be made lightly.
Is College Really Worth It?
Because my oldest 3 are all attending college for free, on full scholarships, I’d say yes for them.
I honestly feel like my third son, who is studying computer engineering, will benefit the most from his degree. But even though my oldest daughter’s business degree is less valuable, the free tuition, room and board go a long way toward increasing ROI by decreasing the investment.
My upcoming daughter might be a different story. She’s halfway through her associates degree and she has excellent test scores, so she’ll certainly earn scholarships. But her degree in violin performance will only partially prepare her for a career in teaching music. And because she plans to have a private studio she only needs a degree to impress potential clients. I’m not certain that will be a great ROI, so we’ll be doing some research.
I’m leaning heavily toward letting her jump into the real world and begin creating real-world value. That might be a tough sale, though.
Ultimately, the answer to whether college is worth it is, “It depends”. How much are you actually paying for it, and what are you getting out of it. In other words, what’s your ROI?
In my next post, we’ll discuss a few excellent alternatives to a college education.
Would you like more information about homeschooling high school and preparing for college?
What do you think? Is college worth it? I’d love to hear your opinions about college in the comments below!