As a former high school teacher, I’m begging parents to think carefully before insisting that their children go to college. College is no longer the societal institution or the spring board to success it once was. At least two decades ago it ceased to be a place of retreat where students “went off to college,” worked during the summer, obtained their degree in four years, and entered a career. The economy, online learning and nearby community colleges have changed that. The variations on this dying pattern are many.

While in the high school scene, I saw many seniors with saddened faces, mostly boys, all because Mom and Dad were pushing college on them. Their interests and skills lay elsewhere, yet their parents believed the college path was best. At the three colleges I’ve taught in, I’ve seen the sad faces also. Many just didn’t want to be there.

I’m afraid that, had I not been a teacher, I too would have been alarmed when our son Jeff left college during his senior year. But rodeo beckoned. Bull riding was his exhilaration. Ranching was a deep interest.Our house is lined with Jeff’s paintings and drawings. He was an art major. From childhood, he had constantly reached for pencils to sketch something out. Color caught his attention. He appreciated beauty.

Perhaps not so with most art majors, Jeff also loved the outdoors and sports. He was a darn good tight end on his high school football team. After three years of college art study, his love for the pencil and brush waned. Bulls, ranches, Montana and the cowboy life won out.

I’ve never wondered why old Dad wasn’t concerned about Jeff’s choice. I had seen too many intelligent youths stymied, too many of their dreams killed because parents insisted on a journey different from the one they wished to take. I must be careful here. Every situation is different. Surely there are cases where parents end up being right. What I have observed, however, is that there are countless cases of students being sent to college when their aptitude and wishes indicated that another plan would more likely lead to happiness.

If one wants to be a teacher, a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer or in any other knowledge-based line of work, college is essential. Or if one simply desires broad learning and wishes to know more history, sharpen mathematical skills, explore science, etc., college is good for that person as well. I’m not one who believes college is just for career training. I still believe in learning for its own sake.

Fifteen years ago at Chattahoochee Technical College, I caught the vision early on for the nearby, inexpensive community or technical college. It was a delight to teach uniformed cops and firefighters, cosmetology majors, nurses, and culinary arts students, none of whom ever complained about having to take English. Teaching people with a strong work ethic is sheer joy. If you think all millennials are lazy or aimless, visit a class or walk around at a technical college.

I would never say the liberal arts college setting is all hat and no cattle, but we all know that the college experience – in the case of the state-supported institutions – is enmeshed by sports and politicized by the most foolish of notions. Not just in the South any more but across the nation college life is consumed by sports. Student activism with its cry for “safe space,” and other progressive preoccuptions, has diminished college’s role and purpose.

For most students, spending money for a college degree has paid off until recently. Typically, a college degree has pointed toward a higher salary than has the high school diploma. Of late, it has become a risk. It is no longer the guaranteed path to the so-called good life. According to the Wall Street Journal, wages of college graduates have been flat since 2001 while college costs have soared. On average, a college graduate now leaves college with a $30,000 debt.

The New York Federal Reserve recently reported that 40% of college graduates are in jobs that don’t require a college degree, and that among college graduates the bottom 25% of earners made roughly the same or less than the typical high school graduate without a degree.

Solutions lie beneath our noses: save for college, avoid the costly ones and attend a community or technical college. Forget status since status itself has never provided anybody as much as a biscuit, not to mention happiness.

Roger Hines is a retired English teacher and state legislator in Kennesaw.

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