Would You Encourage Your Kids to Skip College?

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graduation cake
Flickr photo by Carbon NYC
From the moment the average American child is born, their future is mapped out by their parents:

Do well in high school. Get into a good college.

Get a good job. Find a spouse. Marriage. Kids. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So why is the New York Times suggesting we shouldn't bother with that 529 Plan?

By their estimates, "no more than half of those who began a four-year bachelor’s degree program in the fall of 2006 will get that degree within six years," and the numbers are even more bleak for kids who graduated in the bottom half of their high school classes. Their chances of earning a four-year degree are one in five.

Coupled with the host of stories about the lack of available jobs that have been flooding the media just in time for college graduation season, and the Times may have a point.

Go to Plan B: anything but college.

Is this 1910 or 2010? And why does this almost make sense?

My hypocrisy in writing this isn't lost on me.

Just two weeks ago I transferred monies into my daughter's 529 Plan for her college savings. Just last week, I confessed to my husband how relieved I am to see him graduate from college this spring -- for our daughter's sake.

The research is clear: children whose parents pursued higher education have higher rates of success in life.

But I don't have a college degree. This despite graduating in the top fifth of my high school class. Despite being accepted early to one of the nation's top 25 colleges. Despite spending two years pursuing higher education.

What happened is simple: life. I found a job in my desired field (the same field in which I'm currently work, the same field I'd been telling my guidance counselor since sixth grade was my intended), and it required I work 60 hour weeks with irregular hours.

College fell by the wayside.

Here's where I'm supposed to confess what a mess I made of my life and why I hide my nose in college textbooks at night trying to make up for lost time.

Excuse me while I refuse to wallow.

It's a fact I regret only in the most selfish of ways -- when I run into one of my old high school classmates whose papers I edited and math homework I corrected and realize they have a degree, but I don't; when I realize I will have to talk to my daughter about college one day without a leg to stand on.

My husband's graduation is a relief -- because it means we will each represent a path for our daughter Just as my parents did -- one has her master's degree, one went the military route. Both are successful; the latter as a small business owner, the former in the medical field, one where a college degree is still very much a must have.

We can't have doctors or nurses who haven't been to college. It's a physical impossibility. But are doctor, lawyer the only "success" stories in America?

Of the 30 fastest growing professions in the country, only seven require a bachelor's degree. Is it better to be an English teacher with a degree, tens of thousands of dollars in loan debt but no job prospects or an IT director with no degree and a $80,000 starting salary?

Still parents sit their kids down daily and say "you're going to college." There are no ifs, and or buts about it.

Should we be stressing our children out about college or simply giving them it as one of a variety of options?

college, education