Enough With College Bashing

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Anyone else aware of the increasing level of college bashing going on lately?  The articles and news features on whether college remains relevant in today's tech-driven world and whether it's worth the costs.  It seems to me that these views are looking at college through a very narrow lens.

No question about it -- the institution of college has reached a tipping point particularly in terms of costs and access.  Yet conveying messages discouraging teens from pursuing the goal or that college isn't worth their time, work, or investment isn't a balanced message at all.  Different perspectives are based upon differing experiences - not right or wrong, but simply different.  But there's a big difference between sharing differing points of view and basically trashing the institution entirely.

Many parents, from their children's earliest years, already have the hope for college on the horizon, and many started stashing away cash while their children were just learning to read.  College has been, and continues to be, a goal shared by millions of parents and their children.  And why shouldn't it be.

Let's be honest...no parent (including this one) wants to see their child in debt that they'll be struggling to pay down until they reach retirement.  Few parents send their children to college expecting four years of binge drinking and failing grades.  And most parents raise their children to understand that anything worth achieving requires hard work and sacrifice.  Yet there are voices, many of them, singing the tune that college isn't worth it.  Any of it.

Here's how I see it.  College is the time in a young person's life when they're encouraged to explore new areas, challenge their assumptions, engage in discussions that stretch their thinking, and collaborate with people -- professors and students alike -- who expand their horizons.  It's a time when learning occurs in ways that expose young people to experiences that form the foundation for what comes next...life.  And it's when children grow into young adults in ways that cannot be measured by a paycheck.

There's no question that college isn't for everyone.  Many successful people do well without it and many make other choices.  A man I worked with many years ago personified success -- several homes, foreign cars, vast travel, philanthropic efforts.  And late one afternoon, he shared with me his greatest regret in life even after achieving what most of us would call the pinnacle of success...not attending college.  No matter his achievements, the fact that he didn't attend college was the thing that overshadowed all else.

Every person has a different life path.  College has been and remains one aspired to and chosen by many.  Of course the "real life" issues of cost and expansion of access requires solutions, but losing sight of the things more difficult to measure and quantify...that college prepares young people to enter and sustain an educated, diverse, capable, flexible, and collaborative society, is doing them a terrible disservice.

It's true that not all goals are achievable.  Yet some goals and the experiences that come with achieving them frame and remain with us forever.  The people we become -- our jobs, titles, and income, may define us well into adulthood, yet college sets the tone for what comes next.  Few other things in life have the same lasting power.