A recent article in The Chicago Tribune about college and affordability caught my eye and generated some conversation with my friends. It’s by a current college junior who’d dreamed of going to Northwestern and becoming a journalist since she was 8. She worked towards that goal for a decade and had plotted out the following 15 years which hinged upon going to school there. And when it came time for applications and admissions, she was accepted. Then reality set in. Even with the scholarships she could find, planning with her guidance counselor, and help from Northwestern, the costs were simply beyond what she and her family could afford. She made a mature analysis of it and couldn’t make it work. The lengths she went to dragged her past the deadline to accept another offer and she took a year off. It upset her 15 year plan quite a bit. Three years later, she’s extremely happy with where she’s at and where she’s going.
I’m at a point where college financing for my kids is right-now relevant. I’ve got friends who went to private universities, public ones, went to school without graduating, and others who didn’t go to college only to become anything varying from tradesmen to business owners to C-level executives. They’re all solid people who don’t equate real life to the board game Life™ where the goal is to make it to the end and retire at Millionaire Estates with the biggest pile of cash. While the first job you get in both scenarios is dependent on your education, the ones you spend most of your life doing aren’t. After a certain point, nobody asks you where – or whether – you went to college. Sure there are routes which absolutely depend on residencies, tests, apprenticeships, and certifications. There are plenty which don’t.
Working towards a viable vocation at this phase is what’s important. There are a lot of dynamics at play. Automation is playing a larger and larger role in the economy. Some jobs have a foreseeable end-of-life or decreasing relevance. Others will be done in different ways with different technologies. And some tasks haven’t come to prominence at all yet. The technology space is changing rapidly enough that curricula can’t keep pace in some cases. In any event, students have to realize that the learning they start after they graduate high school is only the beginning. Picking a course of learning isn’t a static thing.