I’m Fine With My Child Not Going To College

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I live in Washington, D.C., where everyone is flipping out non-stop over things said by former Sen. Rick Santorum. This past weekend he said “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.”

And you could hear every reporter – already inflamed with passionate hatred of Santorum – gasp and sputter. They just couldn’t believe he said that. Now, I know people who love and loathe Santorum, and that’s fine, but I don’t quite get what’s so bothersome – apart from the partisan rhetoric and name-calling – about the substance of what Santorum said.

The fact is that not everybody in America should go to college. Not even close. And to suggest that everyone should – which seems to be the policy of many political elite – is both naive and a bit snobbish. I’m sorry.

Now, my parents were in both of their family’s first generation to go to school. In fact, my dad was not only the first member of his family to get a graduate degree, he was the first to get a college degree. And the first to graduate from high school. My mother was the first woman in her family to go to college and is retiring this year after 40 years in public education. To say we highly value education is an understatement.

So when it came to my siblings and myself, there was simply no option. My parents didn’t have the funds to pay for our schooling, but it was understood that we would be going. What’s funny is the very different way in which my sister and I look at this. See, from my vantage point, I focus on the fact that my parents not only didn’t help me out financially but encouraged me to pay my way as I went. I got into a highly ranked school thousands of miles away from my home, but four years there would have gotten me a pile of debt. My parents told me that debt was the worse thing I could incur and so I went to a public university closer to home. My education was fine, but nothing compared to what it could have been.

On the other end of the spectrum is my sister. She didn’t want to go to college at the time, thought it was waste of money and effort, and I hate to say it but she might have been right. She has never been career minded and has worked a series of jobs that most definitely don’t utilize her English degree. In fact, neither she nor her husband have ever worked in a job that required a college degree. For that matter, I’m not sure I have either. I’m a reporter and the best reporters and editors I know only went to high school or, if they went to college, never finished.

And you need only look at the Occupy Wall Street folks to hear many complaints about massive debt incurred at college and graduate school (such as this puppetry graduate saddled with $35,000 getting his MFA).

The very fact of their unemployment shows that something is amiss with the economy. But part of that problem is that the United States subsidizes student loans, which helps increase the cost of college educations, and leads to various distortions in the market.

And not everyone needs to go to college to achieve their goals. You can earn six figures as a welder and yet we have a dearth of people that know how to do weld. People can’t hire welders even though they want to. A bit of vocational training there and you’re on your way to a nice lifestyle. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel is no Santorum fan (in fact, he’s a Ron Paul fan), but he’s been campaigning for non-college options for a while now. He joined three other people in an NPR debate about whether too many kids go to college and the side arguing in favor of the motion won narrowly. You can listen to it here.

I’ve thought about the issue much more now that I have children. My husband and I care a great deal about our children’s education. We moved in order to be closer to a Classical school that is just fantastic. We love it. We’re already trying to figure out what we’ll do for high school and college.

But the reason why I want my children to have a good education is so that they understand the importance of language and how knowledge is inter-related. Aristotle defined virtue as the ability to act in accordance to what one knows to be right. That is the foundation we’re giving our children now. We have thousands of books in our house and always will. And we’ll always encourage our children to be well-read and thoughtful.

I want my children to be virtuous and to seek fulfilling vocations. Given who their parents are, chances are that a college education will be part of that path. But if they are virtuous and fulfill their vocations without college, I’m more than fine with that. Our culture would be a lot better if we didn’t act like a college education makes you better than other people.

Image of welder via ThinkStock.