I was reading a book recently about whether all kids should go to college. According to the book, this question had become an issue in the latest presidential campaign, with Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan apparently taking the position that only the liberal elites thought everyone should go to college, while broad-minded Republicans understood that success could be achieved in life without a college degree.
I wasn’t aware that this question had become an issue in the presidential campaign, but it has always been important to me. When I was parenting four young boys, I recall frequently pontificating that, although I wasn’t planning to push my sons toward college, I would be mightily disappointed if any of them didn’t want a college education.
Many years later – mission mostly accomplished. As with most kids of the upper-middle class, my kids graduated from high school and just assumed that they would go to college. Three of them have already graduated (two of them have graduate degrees, too) and the fourth is in his third year.
But how does this jibe with Paul Ryan’s suggestion that it is elitist to expect all kids to go to college?
As with most thought-provoking questions, my first reaction is to conduct some internet research. When I googled, “Should all kids go to college,” I was referred to an article by Dana Goldstein in The Nation titled, “Should all kids go to college?”
According to the 2011 article, the question is commonly phrased as follows:
- Do poor and working-class kids have the same need for a liberal arts education as their middle-class and affluent peers? Or does the reality of inequality in America—the sheer unlikeliness of climbing from poverty into the intelligentsia within a single generation—call for a more practical approach to educating the poor, with a focus on technical skills that prepare a child for the world of work?
I think that framing the question this way, much like Paul Ryan did, forces a person to take a practical perspective. By contrast, my pontificating is more of an aspirational perspective – i.e., all parents should try to raise kids who want an education beyond high school, even if the kids don’t eventually plan to have a job that requires a college degree.
College is not the same thing as a trade school that is supposed to prepare you to get a job and make a lot of money. College should jumpstart you on a satisfying and fulfilling lifelong journey, and that is something we want for all of our kids.