Everybody in our family goes to college. That was true for us, our parents, some of our grandparents, even a few great-grandparents and beyond, plus our children, our siblings and most of their spouses, and our siblings' children and their spouses. We assumed that legacy would continue through our grandchildren.
So why am I thrilled that our oldest grandchild has chosen to eschew college in favor of a four-year apprenticeship as an electrician? For several reasons.
- Colleges and universities are still recovering from COVID disruptions. Many have onerous vaccination policies, and less-than-stellar online courses. Things are getting better, I'm sure, but it seems like a good time to wait for a bit more stability.
- His intellectual curiosity and ability are undiminished, and his unconventional home education has made him adept at learning whatever he wants to learn, using a variety of means. His memory and his breadth of knowledge are impressive. If someday he decides he wants to learn what college can best teach, I'm confident he'll manage well.
- In the meantime, he's getting paid for his education, instead of accumulating debt.
- He should come through his apprenticeship with practical skills that will generate a solid income and enable him to pursue other interests (e.g. music) without worrying about making a living from them.
- What's more, those practical skills will be portable—electricians are needed everywhere—and very unlikely to be outsourced to foreign countries, as so many of my college-educated generation's jobs have been.
However, all this does not mean I've given up on college educations. We have other grandchildren, most too young to think about careers, but the two next oldest are leaning towards plans that would most likely require more traditional higher education.
There is, of course, another problem: the poisonous ethical, philosophical, and political atmosphere that now rules at most colleges and universities. It was bad enough when we were in school, worse in our children's time, and from everything I hear, unbelievably rancid and dangerous today. I remember reading an article decades ago about a disastrous college experience; the title was something like, "I Paid $50,000 a Year to Send My Daughter to Hell." As far as I can tell, today the levels of hell are much deeper and the price tag a lot higher. It doesn't surprise me that some people are actively encouraging their children to avoid college.
That's why I was happy to run into a couple of college professors who acknowledge the problems but encourage us not to abandon academia altogether. Both videos work from the point of view of conservative students facing the intense pressures of life at left-leaning universities, but really the advice is excellent for fish-out-of-water students of any kind.
This one's even better (5 minutes).
Here's my personal favorite of his suggestions:
Work hard. College faculty value hardworking, enthusiastic students. Period. The easiest way to win over your leftist professor is to do your classwork in a conscientious manner. That's your way of showing respect. Many teachers will respect you in turn. If you read the assigned materials, take part in class discussion, and show that you understand the key concepts, chances are you'll do just fine.
That's good advice for any student. Or employee, for that matter.
I'm solidly in favor of alternatives to college, and opposed to the bizarre idea that "everyone deserves a college education." I'm equally opposed to completely deserting the ship of academia, no matter how much it may seem to be sinking. As in so many other things, it all comes down to what's best for each individual student, and not locking anyone into a particular path.