Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A College Course Option

When it comes to college education, perhaps you should not listen to me.

  • My oldest son is only a senior in high school, so I cannot yet claim to speak from family experience.
  • Those friends of mine who have children away at college or are involved in college ministry may not like my suggestion below.
  • If you are a college student already living away at college, you may consider the thoughts in this blog out-of-touch and shake your head in sympathy at this uncool, middle-aged guy who just doesn't get it.

Nonetheless, I would like to suggest another option for college rather than the typical sending of an eighteen year-old off to university. Why not consider keeping your son or daughter home for at least another year or two and have them attend a local college? Please realize I am not condemning those who choose to send their high school graduate off to college the next fall. Rather, I'm offering another "course option" for doing college that I have been observing others doing with success. I have three reasons for suggesting this: giving additional time for maturity, avoiding huge costs and debt, and deepening the generational ties.

Additional time for maturity - My history of teaching mathematics at four different colleges or universities over the years has exposed me to a great number of college freshman. Over these years I have found that many underclassmen were simply unprepared for the academic and social pressures one faces at a typical university. Perhaps your child will not fail to the degree that the students in this article did (note that the author then suggests what I am proposing, especially for the financial reasons addressed below). However, I have counseled or heard of many young people in the church who wandered aimlessly through their first year or two of college, wasting much time and resources, or had a major fall into sin or immorality.

A great deal of even natural maturing typically occurs between the ages of eighteen to twenty. A year or two of taking classes from home allows young people time to have their interests cemented, gradually tests their faithfulness and grants them greater independence versus the "all-at-once" approach of sending them away at 18, and gives parents a greater knowledge of what they are learning and the influences upon them at college. Having a young person work before going off to college or while taking classes at home often not only provides financial resources but training and direction. The Lord would only allow those twenty years old and upward to go out to war (see Numbers 1). Perhaps before sending our arrows out into the gates of the enemy (Psalm 127) we should consider more fully if they are sufficiently ready for the battle they will face?

Avoiding huge costs and debts - The cost of higher education has increased so dramatically in the past decade and a half -- up by 63% at public schools and 47% at private -- that more students have to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to attend, ensuring that many of them are paying off those loans for years to come. Many finish college with this enormous debt and/or limited job opportunities, and guess where many of them end up after college graduation? That's right - back home with their parents!

So why not stay home a little while longer rather than possibly having to return later? For it is possible to graduate from college debt-free. Living at home avoids the huge costs of room and board. The tuition from taking classes at a local community college or regional campus of a university often can be significantly lower than a full-fledged university. Working while you are taking classes not only helps you to keep from borrowing money but provides you with valuable work experience and can give ready application for what it being learned in the classroom.

Deepening generational ties - This rationale is more speculative and idealistic than the other two and thus harder to give statistics for or even explain. It certainly is open for discussion, and I am sure some will disagree with me. But here is what I mean.

Our mobile culture, where 60% of Americans move every five years, does not foster strong ties between parents and children anyway. Whereas a century ago as a rule of thumb grown children would often be located near their parents, today that seems rarely to be the case. Much of this can be attributed to economic factors. At the turn into the twentieth century, parent-controlled education, family farms and small businesses created an environment that kept many children near home to continue in their parents' footsteps. Today such things as our technological advances, state-run schooling, formation of large companies and factories, and women entering the workforce mean many venture far from home to pursue education and a career. Though the geographic distance between parents and their offspring is by no means a measure of how close familial bonds are, this modern day tendency to not be located near parents is symptomatic of our individualistic versus family-oriented society. Young people hardly think about whether they should try to stay closer to home, for it is just assumed they have to go where the job takes them. Contributing to this tendency for the generations to be disconnected is the artificially-enforced rule that youth must leave their homes to go to college just because they have turned eighteen.

Waiting another year or two when a young person has become an adult rather than sending him off to college as a child would seem to help deepen generational bonds. The young person, now working and paying more his way through life (versus being at school for two years on loans where he does not really "feel the pain" of how much things cost) will appreciate more what his parents have done for him and the heritage he enjoys. The parent will not only know his son or daughter as a child but will have seen him or her walk through daily decisions and difficulties into adulthood, and will be able to send with more confidence. Siblings would get to spend more time with one another and hopefully strengthen bonds between themselves as well. In our case, my oldest leaving now would mean our youngest child will have only had three years with him in the house. Of course she would not then know him as well or even remember him living here.

Again, I know this approach is not for everybody. An eighteen year-old may be perfectly ready for college and he and his parents can righteously choose for him to stay home or go to college. This blog is merely giving a suggestion. And okay, I will make a confession. I am having a hard time letting go of my firstborn. But with God as my witness, it is not because, full of sentimentality, I do not want to see him grow up. It is simply because I am enjoying watching him do so. As I sat eating lunch with him today while he was on break from a job he has with a local business, I rejoiced at this privilege. When it's time, we'll shoot our arrow. As we draw back the bowstring, we are just trying to be sure that, by God's grace, it will be a straight shot that misses avoidable obstacles, is not weighed down, and remembers the bow from which it was propelled.


Aaron said...

After nearly one year in college, directly out of high school, I heartily agree with Pastor York's wisdom. I was 19 when I entered college, and I considered myself one of more mature freshmen on campus. Even so, I could have greatly benefited from starting college in more bite-sized pieces by living at home, working, and taking fewer classes at a local college. Probably the biggest thing I have learned is how much the way material is taught affects the students' desire to learn the material. Quite frankly, many professors are terrible teachers, and there ineptness translates into student apathy. In high school, I never had a class I didn't enjoy, which whet my appetite so that I wanted to learn more. Unfortunately, some of my classes at Purdue University have done just the opposite.

James said...

I heartily agree with your points, Barry, given the qualifying statements you have liberally inserted. However, let us never allow this approach, which is good for many people, to cause us to become apathetic in preparing the arrows to be shot at just the right time. There are some who need to be shot out earlier than others. It is just as great a sin to shoot too late as too early.

My point is that parents of junior high age children, etc., should prepare them with the mindset that they will be rigorously trained to be sent out early for maximum kingdom potential, and then the plan can be modified as needed. But to start with a mindset that assumes the young person should be limited to local options after graduation like you have mentioned can lead to disaster.

All of this is not to disagree in the least with what you have stated, it's just to reinforce the notion of using wisdom as we look at each person individually.

Barry York said...

Aaron - Thanks for the comments. Persevere, as we continue to pray for you and hear good reports of your academic and spiritual progress.

James - Point well made, as long as we also understand sending does not always have to mean distance, i.e., sending and local options do not have to necessarily conflict. I'm all for encouraging rigor among youth and sending when ready. Covenant youth in colonial days even attended college successfully in their early teens. But I think the difference is at that time a clear surrogate parent/apprenticeship relationship existed between the faculty and students.

Robbie said...

Pastor York,

your article was a reflection of what i am doing. And hey i will graduate while others are paying 4-6x more than me.

I think there is potential problem though as the child goes to school by having parents rather expect and demand the child to be home at a certain time while this student might have studies or other organizations on campus. Everything that parents do is in preparation for their sons and daughters to be men and women of the faith.

in Him.

Jon Edwards said...

Barry --

I'll add a few personal comments in support of your argument.

I started out at a commuter university in Indianapolis because they offered me a two-year, full-ride scholarship. At the time, I really wanted to go up to Purdue and join with friends who were working with Dave Long's first college ministry group. But, I stayed, and I'm glad I did.

I had a wonderful experience with great professors and a wide variety of students. Almost all my friends in college were working at least part-time. Many were working full-time jobs and going to school in the evenings. Many were in their 30's and 40's--coming back to get a degree. I had three classes with a woman in her late 60's, who was taking classes during her retirement. It's a wonderful experience to be around that kind of diversity. It also gave me a great chance to check out different majors and figure out what I wanted to do.

When I went for my Master's degree, I chose a small state-funded university in Michigan. I went on a full assistantship, which means I taught classes and the school paid for my degree. Academically, the program was not particularly challenging, but it provided me with wonderful experiences in teaching. I taught two classes a semester for the two years I was there. In that time, I taught both traditional and non-traditional students, and I came to appreciate the work ethic of students returning to classes even more. Non-traditional students knew why they were there, and they were willing to work to get the degree because they knew why they wanted it.

Now, I'm a PhD student at one of the top-10 ranked universities in the country. It's a private school with billions in annual endowment, and some of the best faculty in my field. I teach here too, and, while the students are capable and accomplished, most of them lack the depth of life-experience I've found in non-traditional students. These are kids who have had every advantage, and they don't even know how blessed their position is.

I'm thankful to be where I am now, but I'm also thankful for the way I got here. Now, I can appreciate the advantages in money and faculty that come from a top school. As an 18-year-old, I wouldn't have taken full advantage of these opportunities. Now, I can enjoy them and use them to futher my career.

I will also be finishing up a terminal degree at a top university with no student loans.

Knowing what I know now, I would never have wanted to go to a top university for my bachelor's degree. I learned far more around real people, working hard to get an education, than I would have around priveleged elites who have never faced the world of most people's everyday experience and have had everything handed to them.

As James said, every situation is different. Also, some programs, like seminary or law school, almost always require loans. But, why should you go in debt thousands of dollars for a bachelor's degree? If, your student is going into a program where the BA or BS will be the last degree they'll need, then spend the money if you like, but fewer and fewer programs are set up that way anymore, and it really is the final degree that matters. If you have an MA, MDiv, JD, or PhD from a good program, nobody will care where your bachelor's degree is from. Students who are willing to talk to their professors, pick the right major, and take the initiative to further their own education, can get where they want to go--regardless of where they start from.

My only advice for parents would be to avoid having their kids get their degree at a community college--these are usually best for the first couple of years, to get requirements out of the way. And, don't waste money at an expensive religious school that is not accredited. Even if your 18-year-old is 100% sure that he or she only wants to go into the kind of ministry programs the school supports, pick a different school. I've known far too many people who wish they could go back and get master's degrees, but can't, because their first degree isn't recognized.

JimN said...

We have 1 child through college and 2 still in. For each, my desire was to have them stay at home for a year, work, take a few courses at a local college, then finish their college, hopefully without incurring debt. We found that the government doesn't really support this goal. If a child is not in full time school when they turn 19 (minimum of 12 credit hours), our insurance will remove them from our dependant coverage, because this is the law. It is difficult for a 19 year old to get a job that includes health insurance, so many have to buy individual coverage or go without. If they are in school, the child can remain on insurance until the age of 24. I'd like to see this law changed.