Is College Worth It? by Bennett & Wilezol

collegeworthit (2)I have a 16 year old, so college has been on my mind for quite some time now (for her). She wants to do Psychology, and hubs has been saying that unless she gets scholarships and financial aids, she shouldn’t major in it (because he did and he found that it doesn’t have a good Return of Investment (ROI)). I vehemently disagreed on her having to major in something else just because it would pay better in the long run.

My  personal belief is that one should pursue what truly interests him as opposed to doing something that just pays well, especially if one is not necessarily going to become a breadwinner in the household. For a man, who will most likely be a breadwinner, this might matter more. I was strongly against his reasons, until I saw this book. I read it, even through the statistical- data-ish, diagram-ish parts of it (I have high intolerance of reading reading  materials where passages of texts are broken up by diagrams) and even through the the financial parts of it (I have even higher intolerance of economics and finances in written form).

One thing to be clear about; I don’t foresee taking any loans for the kids’ tertiary education. Avoiding interest is a default for us, so all the talk about student loans are irrelevant to our situations. However, it is appalling how much debt a lot of college-goers end up in (based on the stats stated in the book). It’s even appalling how much loan is given out, and I just couldn’t help thinking how this financial system based on interest is really damaging to the society in a lot of ways. So Subhanallah. Allah doesn’t prohibit something for no reason.

Seeing as I how I trudged through the first few chapters of the book like I have to trudge through a textbook of a subject I hate, I have to say that I grew excited as I came to the later chapters, where the solution or what can be the solution was presented.

The conclusion I ended up with after reading this book, is that not everyone should go to college. The only reason many people still send their kids to college, disregarding more suitable alternatives for these kids, and then racking up huge debts, is because sending your kids to college is the thing to do. If you don’t go to college,

“What will you do?”

This mentality is quite prevalent in our society.

The authors also expound on how tertiary education is actually faring today, despite the influx of students going to college in droves and amassing debt for life. Low academic standard, teachers who don’t actually teach, and the faulty K12 system are mentioned. College, to many typical college-goers, is a place to party, drink, and hook-up. It’s a place to experiment. It started out as religious schools meant to give good education and develop excellent morals, but has ended up today, as ‘party’ schools. Of course, this is the general view. That’s not to say that no one benefits from college though.

I also consulted some friends on this matter and I feel that some of their advice is worth sharing and resonates with what is mentioned in the book. I had to share these :-

College is not for everyone. Many people would benefit more by going to trade schools, or obtaining two year degrees. There are many options, so I think it’s essential to research the different fields….perhaps you like working with people and helping them…and decide to go for nursing…and you spend so long in school, and don’t really enjoy nursing…but you could have gone for social work, or ultrasound, or sonography, dental hygiene…etc, and would make the salary you want and enjoy the profession more. So that’s one advice, research, but it must be done after you “know” what you want to do.

Second advice then would be the knowing what you want to do….this for me is a vision…more than a specific field. You know that you want to be able to move around, walk around, dress how you want to, and interact with one person at a time….or you know that you need a path that makes you think and overcome challenges, but you love nature…you know that you want to help animals, but can’t be around dogs or pigs…etc…so kind of thinking this through. You need to figure out why it is a certain major appeals to you. Is it that alone…for example psychology involves a lot of science, research, chemistry, and the like…is that what you like…or do you envision more sitting down talking with people? So what I’m saying is in every major there are related majors/fields…and researching all them you may find you thought you wanted to be a doctor but nursing is what you actually envisioned (my case), or you thought you wanted psychology but its really sociology…or you thought you wanted psychology, and the research confirmed that even more, yes that fits you perfectly. In figuring this out, the answer as to trade school/ self education/ 4 year degree/ two year degree is chosen.
Then you have to decide if what you want is worth it…for example for nursing…there are many degree options. if you just want to be a regular floor nurse in a hospital…then going for the two year degree would be a better investment perhaps. my point here is maybe you are between a mechanic and a engineer…you would love both..well, the mechanic option might be cheaper and make more sense.

And another one, more specific to a ‘case study’ of my daughter:-

Here are my views, rest allahu aalam. Psychology major for undergraduate itself does not hold much financial promise for future. Unless it’s sought after and pursued all the way to research or at least graduate level where they can practice counseling.
Even in counseling, people generally give more weight to psychiatrists who happen to counsel and treat at the same time. So if your daughter is interested in helping people out psychologically, she can choose the medical field and narrow down the pursuit. That way at least she can have her back covered as well inshaaAllah.
Otherwise she can make plans for Ph.D in the particular area of psychology and be ready to not give up until she attains her goals for monetary promise of getting paid back after all her college expense.
I am pretty sure that undergraduate with psychology itself does not appeal very much.
Just an FYI, you might also want to look into the vocational training courses that help in getting good jobs as they prepare the students with necessary skills required to get good jobs at the same time while she is enrolled in undergraduate college.

and yet another one:-

 I think a college degree is an important rite of passage if you will that opens the door to career options. The worth of college, however, depends on what the individual wants to do.  It’s very possible that someone likes to work with their hands .. perhaps an apprenticeship may be a better option. If S likes psychology, challenge her to think about what she intends to do in the future .. how will she use that degree to benefit her – in life and professionally (if she has ambitions for a career after college). Many enter college without a clue about their end game and that makes their time there less purposeful.

So is college worth it? At the end of the day it all depends on the individual.

The book echoes what are mentioned by my friends, and I really like the listing of alternatives mentioned in the later chapters, which includes apprenticeship programs, trade schools, and online education, specifically the MOOC. In fact, the authors even talk about how Udacity started and the disadvantages of MOOC, which are basically not its downside, but since it’s something that’s still new, it has more to do with being challenges for MOOC to overcome. Suffice it to say, that was the most interesting bit of information to me in the whole book. I mean, free education. Though of course, with it being free, the prestige, privilege, and thus quality attributed to it also becomes perceptively low as opposed to a brick and mortar academic establishments.However, it’s interesting to read that brick and mortar establishments are actually feeling threatened by MOOC, to the extent that a particular state has banned its residents from taking MOOC courses!

I’ve always been inclined to unconventional ideas, and so, the alternatives to college that were presented jumped at me. If college is the only option, or the only societally approved option, it can be very stressful (it already is) for those who are not college-oriented by their strengths and area of interest (and other factors). The stigma attached to not going to college is very real, and I have to admit that I have been holding on to that stigma for quite some time too, though I have been gradually loosening my hold on it. Now, I probably just need to let it slip through my fingers and let it go, and embrace the other options.

However, at the same time, I am by nature academically-oriented, so it’s really not that easy for me to open up to this other perspective until I’m faced with that reality due to embracing the fact that not everyone may or should be academically-oriented. I’m still personally struggling with this reality in my own home, and so, my mind really needs to be accepting of this and embrace differences and unique personal strengths that may just not be in academics. And that is a work in progress. Come to think of it, this challenge in itself is a blessing because it forces me to broaden my mind and perspective, alhamdulillah.

If you’re not like me and don’t really mind diagrams, tables, and numbers in a book, and you’re intrigued by the subject (which I am), you might thoroughly enjoy this book. I recently watched John Stossel’s video section on this very topic with my older kids and we discussed this issue too. It is a pertinent and current topic for us, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to become exposed to this seeing as how I’m always left behind when it comes to what’s current (or was current!) in the news.

** As for my daughter, after having a discussion with her about this, she surprised me by saying she wants to do something that was also one of the responses given to me when I sought advice. As she may change her mind at any point in time from now on, I  have to say that I’m very happy to hear of her current choice(because she had said she didn’t want to go into that area before, and it seems like her demeanor and inclinations have been redirected a bit alhamdulillah), so may Allah guide her and us to seek that which is pleasing to Him. Ameen.

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