Unlike many in the Blue Collar world, I do not have a disdain for the college educated I encounter, though many have made the assumption through the years solely because I do not have a degree myself and neither does my husband despite the fact that both of us were absolutely "college material". Others refuse to see what I will continue to ardently express, and that is that a college degree is not the key to a happy life, and often these days, it is not even the key to a profitable one when one accounts for factors such as interest on high dollar long term loans.
While college IS the right avenue for many, I read an article recently that made me pause and think about what the real benefits are to obtaining a college degree, and how those benefits differ from/are similar to those who elect to go another route. Here are some of those benefits I have come up with thus far:
1) A diploma - Duh! For some careers, this isn't really a benefit, the diploma it self allows entry into certain careers. We all understand that we aren't going to allow people to become teachers, doctors, or lawyer without degrees. But we also aren't going to let electricians touch our homes without contractors licenses, nor beauticians touch our heads without cosmetology licenses! What many people fail to recognize in their arguments for college diploma's is that for many non-college careers you still need that "piece of paper" to move forward in your career, and that license takes a lot of hard work to obtain. Just ask anyone who has taken licensure tests for fields such as pest control or insurance (Yes, I have studied for and been licensed in both fields...not easy and you really need to know your stuff!)
2) Networking - Students at college develop strong referral networks with fellow students and alumni that can help them advance in their chosen careers, or get their foot in the door somewhere. So how is that any different from a young trades person or entrepreneur joining their local Chamber of Commerce, gaining network contacts from friends and family or from their chosen trade school? Networking is networking, and if it leads to work in your field, that is what matters.
3) Diversity of Course Offerings - Many big universities have hundreds of courses to choose from, with skilled professors sharing their knowledge on a wide range of topics. And with the internet being the great equalizer, virtually ANY class you want to take you can find at low or no cost on web sites such as Coursera, Edx, Udemy, and more...many taught by those very same professors. Is it knowledge we want, or the piece of paper? And in our quickly changing economy, will the diploma have the value it always has to an employer, or will the proven ability to perform on the job mean more? In this Inc. magazine article, This CEO Just Made a Brilliant Argument for Not Going to College. Here It Is in 1 Sentence, CEO Tony Guo of RunRex LLC makes some interesting observations about why the college path may not be the best one for a number of young people. Also, attend any Trade or Technical school and you will often find a diversity of course offerings available, too, but in career fields spanning everything from welding, to GPS surveying, to radiology. It may not be offerings in philosophy or linguistics, but to each his own, right? The idea that learning and exposure to new ideas can only happen on a college campus is really pretty absurd these days.
4) The "College Experience" - Living on campus and away from home for the first time surrounded by a diverse group of people. Ok, a little partying, a little freedom, a little alcohol, a little learning to be self-directed, a little of everything...and even somethings we really don't want to know about!! I get it, there is something "unique" about college life. But really, how "diverse" is it when you leave high school where you are surrounded by a bunch of kids your own age all having basically the same experience...pursuing academics, and then you head to a college campus where really, you are still surrounded by mostly kids in the same relative age group pursuing the same thing? Why do we discount the "Real Life Experience" of a young person working on an internship or apprenticeship program, a first job, or a trade school where they may be surrounded by a far more diverse age group of workers whose life experiences are far more diverse and wide ranging than the average 20-something college student. "Experience" in life and learning to be more independent doesn't have to come ONLY at college, it just looks different, but has enormous value either way.
5) Being Independent - Moving away from home and being on one's own can certainly help develop critical life skills. Doing your own laundry, keeping yourself organized, dealing with your own health care on your own and more all happen when we move out. What doesn't happen for most? Financial independence. Most often, kids in college are still being largely supported by their parents for most financial day to day needs. So, how independent ARE college kids really? Kids going to trade or tech school, kids who remain home and begin their first jobs with the hope of climbing the ladder, kids who decide to self study online at home are often doing the same things as college kids in terms of learning independence gradually, and yes, they are often just as financially dependent on their parents for 4 or 5 years as college kids are. The difference is that somehow, kids who elect to go the non-college route are often seen as "sponges" living off their parents even when they are pursuing work and education in a different setting, as compared to their college counterparts, who are somehow elevated in people's minds despite the fact that really, they are often costing their parents MORE than Blue Collar kids do!
Perception is everything, and often our perceptions are skewed. I agree wholeheartedly that college is a terrific avenue for our best and brightest go fulfill their potential. Where I would argue that our thinking is biased is in our assumption that the benefits of college don't have equivalents for kids taking other paths. We simply fail to see them and lift them up because, well, I guess they are not impressive enough. There is as much diversity, growth in independence, opportunity for networking, and much more for kids working hard at carving out a career in the trades, business ownership, or technical careers as there is for any young person going to college...it just presents differently. Both experiences have terrific benefits, and both are worthy of praise!!