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Monday, May 14, 2012

Is College Necessary?

My father and I were discussing this last week and I thought it was a good subject to bring up.  As someone with a BS, MS, and DVM I may surprise people with my viewpoint.  I don't think that a college degree is necessary for success or happiness, and I don't think everyone should seek one.

Let me give a little background.  Neither of my parents received a Bachelor's degree or did much advanced schooling after high school.  Yet both of them were very intelligent, well-read, and had a desire to learn.  My mother worked in the business world before I was born and then became a housewife. My father became a regional sales manager for Volvo, responsible for sales in dealerships over a multi-state territory. Both of them were quite successful in their respective careers.  I learned from them that a college diploma doesn't mean that you're more intelligent and the lack of one doesn't mean that you're less so.

I also think that a general college education is often overrated.  Fifty years ago a college degree virtually assured a high-paying, quality job.  Nowadays that isn't true, as many people graduate and have no good job prospects.  College degrees are becoming the norm, not the exception, and this dilutes their significance.  There are also many people who choose majors with limited real-world application, finding themselves holding a diploma that really doesn't mean much.

I am a big proponent of vocational education and find it unfortunate that community college educations are often looked down upon.  A high quality mechanic can actually make more money than I can!  We need people in these fields that don't require a traditional college degree, and they can be highly successful.

But what about education and expansion of knowledge?  Yes, the general education requirements in most colleges help broaden the experience and knowledge of students.  However, I think we can achieve the same results by properly instilling and encouraging a desire to learn.  People need to be more self-motivated and rely less on spoon-fed education.  As parents and teachers we need to help children want to learn.

Now I do realize that certain careers (such as my own) do require extensive college, and that's okay.  I am glad for everything I learned through my education.  I also think that if someone really wants to go to college that they should.  However, they should do so with an eye to what they're going to do to support themselves and their family after graduation.  And they shouldn't be encouraged or forced to attend if their career goals don't require it or they don't have the aptitude.

With my own children I'll certainly help them go to college if that's what they want and need.  But I will also encourage them to follow their desires, even if it doesn't take them past a high school diploma and some job training.