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A college degree? Not for my kid

I am about to commit heresy, to question one of the holy grails of life.

Our older daughter will soon turn 16, and like many teens her age she is thinking about her future career options. She loves to travel, but there’s not a big job market for professional travelers. But she also loves to work with children, so that is her field of focus. We’ve been bandying about the usual options for a college major: child development, child psychology, etc.

But it seems like a long and convoluted road to achieve a simple goal. Does she really need to go to college to work with kids? Does she really need to saddle herself (or her parents) with massive debt to achieve her degree? And is college her only option?

There is a growing body of evidence that a college degree is no longer the holy grail of financial success it once was. In fact, my husband (who has a master’s degree in geology and who makes woodcrafts for a living) has shifted over into thinking trade schools are a better educational option for many people. Obviously if you have a burning desire to be a surgeon or an attorney, you need the education to support those goals. But is a college degree necessary for everyone?

In trade school, students can gain expertise in a practical skill that will contribute toward their chances of earning a living wage. A trade school certification is no guarantee of employment, of course, but then neither is a high falutin’ college degree. Not any more. “[T]hey will enter a labor force that neither wants nor needs them,” notes Joe Queenan of the Wall Street Journal. “They will enter an economy where roughly 17 percent of people aged 20 through 24 do not have a job, and where 2 million college graduates are unemployed. They will enter a world where they will compete tooth and nail for jobs as waitresses, pizza delivery men, file clerks, bouncers, trainee busboys, assistant baristas, interns at bodegas.”

Over the summer, my husband and I were discussing our daughter’s interest in working with children. “It’s a pity there’s not a trade school for child care,” he commented.

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“But there is,” I replied. “Nanny school.”

Suddenly the pieces clicked into place. Our daughter is thrilled at the possibility of being a nanny, as this would combine her two biggest interests: children and travel. (Many families who employ live-in nannies also travel.)

Our daughter scoured the Internet for a suitable nanny school, a place that would offer her formal credentials and increase her chances for a compatible placement. After some research, she selected a school in Ohio that offers not only the coursework she needs, but has a waiting list of 50 or more prospective employers, families who need the services my daughter will be able to provide. And, I might add, will pay her handsomely in the bargain.

But if this is the path she takes, it means our daughter will not be going to college, at least not yet.

My view is that a college education no longer has the value it once did. Many young adults (as well as their parents) are realizing several things: that “higher” education is often a joke, with coursework that doesn’t even begin to prepare students for the real working world; that colleges and universities are so liberal that they’re hostile toward students with traditional values; and that student loan debt can cripple and enslave people for decades, even a lifetime.

“Too many of the people coming out of even our most prestigious academic institutions,” notes Thomas Sowell, “graduate with neither the skills to be economically productive nor the intellectual development to make them discerning citizens and voters.”

And a college education costs a fortune. A cartoon by Gary Varvel depicts a student sitting with a high-school guidance counselor:

Student: “Why should I go to college?”

Counselor: “So you can get a degree.”

Student: “Why?”

Counselor: “So you can get a good job.”

Student: “Why?”

Counselor: “So you can make more money.”

Student: “Why?”

Counselor: “So you can pay back your college loans.”

The bitter words of a highly educated couple jumped out at me recently. “I am 30 years old, and my wife is 28, … Altogether, we are $185,000 in debt to the government for our educations. Paying off this debt will be our lives’ work.”

Young women, especially, face a dilemma. Their career ambitions may be sky-high while in college. But the hard reality is that their goals may change the moment they hold their firstborn child in their arms. Suddenly their priorities shift and they want to raise their own children, not hire a nanny. Career ambitions can go away; but student loan debt is forever.

So the question arises: Is college worth it? Currently our daughter doesn’t think so. She wants to jump in right away with both feet first and utilize her God-given talent with children. A nanny school accreditation can be achieved in four months, and the employment potential is nearly 100 percent.

Or as I’m fond of pointing out, we have two options: Either we can spend upwards of $100,000 (which we don’t have) to help her obtain a degree that only marginally addresses her interests and has absolutely no guarantee of employment when she’s through; or we can spend less than $10,000 and help her obtain the credentials in a field that dovetails exactly with her interests and virtually guarantees employment when she’s through. Gee, which sounds like the more intelligent option to you?

In the end, much of what a college degree boils down to is ego. It feeds parents’ egos when they can say their child is attending college. It feeds a student’s ego when he can brag he’s getting a degree. But in this economy, ego has no business getting in the way of harsh reality.

If our daughter decides to be a nanny, she will be a darned good one. She won’t be enslaved for life to student loan debt, and she will have the chance to realize her life’s ambitions.

What’s not to love?