S2 E7: Do You Really Get What You Pay For? Student Loan ROI

Main Idea: Are student loans worth the investment? Should the government be in this conversation? What’s your career path and would you actually need college to do this?

It’s a pretty common story in this day and age. Kids graduating high school with the expectation is that they will go to college and get a degree. Whether because their peers are doing it, their guidance counselors are pushing them toward it, or because their families have the expectation, more and more kids are opting to go to college upon high school graduation. 

Placing value on vocational training, trade school and community colleges has seemingly become a thing of the past as more and more people are placing more value on those degrees than the alternative. 

For decades alternative paths (which used to be primary) have become more stigmatized and yet, kids are borrowing more and more money to fund what amounts to a rite of passage, while our government continues to subsidize public universities (link). 

All the while there are shortages of qualified workers to fill skilled positions such as plumbers, electricians, welders, etc., many of which are respectable trades wherein workers make six figures a year (link).

TV Personality Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs and Deadliest Catch) has been a huge supporter of trades and community college. His foundation Mike Rowe Works is working to promote those opportunities available. Rowe, and allies promote the means to achieve success in needed, high-paying fields without racking up tons of college debt. 

A good bit of this comes down to: How do we measure the success of a society? Is it intellect, thinking, and innovation? Or is it productivity, stability, and functionality? And, further, are these two things mutually exclusive?

As we push college on kids without providing them all their options we are creating a vacuum where they are amassing huge amounts of debt for a degree that qualifies them for a job that is no longer available. Without additional education (masters, doctorate, etc.) some degrees are largely worthless as far as the marketplace is concerned. 

Is the purpose to get a job? Or to think? Universities used to be about higher-education, learning to think critically, preparing our privileged students to take on the big intellectual challenges of society. But needing enrollment for revenue, and needing to prove Return on Investment (ROI), universities have swung far toward the public education purpose of preparing people for work. Even going so far as to measure their success on job placement statistics.

As parents, if we aren’t talking to our kids about all their options are we doing them a disservice? Are we doing a disservice to our communities?

The answer is yes, we are. We are allowing them to incur great debt before they even purchase their first home, while robbing our communities of tradespeople it needs. When your pipes burst you don’t call a doctor. When your electrical panel shorts out you don’t call a doctor. When your transmission goes out you don’t call an accountant. You call a plumber, an electrician and a mechanic. 

When we consider education, we must consider skills in two categories: 1) applied skills — those which earn us employment, make us useful, and are in demand, and 2) provisional skills — those which make us capable of growing, learning, advancing, and innovating. Then find the right programs, at the right time, to deliver both applied and provisional skills. We cannot advance our careers if we only know what we need to know to be certified right now. And we cannot find work with accolades like “adaptability” and “potential.”

These options are not mutually exclusive either. Many high schools partner with local vocational schools to provide kids with opportunities to get training while in school. Why aren’t more parents talking to their kids about these options, or why aren’t they talking to their schools about adding them? Why are we not promoting the option of going to a community college to get a two year degree in a skilled field before transferring to a university? 

Published by kasiewhitener

Author of After December, host of Write On SC, YouTube channels for both and blogging like it's my job at http://kasiewhitener.com

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