Should you send a Catholic kid to college?

I joined my local student parish my freshman year of college, and I spent most of the next four years volunteering as an usher. I wasn’t a particularly hard-core Catholic, but my belief system had served me well enough that I didn’t see a reason to change it. Luckily for me, I fell in with a decent crowd and managed to make it to Mass every Sunday, and while I had plenty of philosophical debates on a liberal campus, it only served to make my faith stronger.

I now get asked if I’m saving every last penny for my kids to go to college, and when I reply “No,” people sometimes act like I’m clinically insane. But truth be told, I don’t see how a $200K degree helps in most cases.

First, look at what CEOs have. A nice roundup can be found here. Yes, there is a Harvard and Princeton degree, but there are plenty of cheaper degrees, mainly at technical schools in Michigan. So to get on top and run a company, it’s pretty easy to see you don’t need an expensive education.

Second, trying to get into the absolute best school means you might struggle too much. As demonstrated here, you’re better off in a school where you’re in the top half of student entrance examinations than at one where you are the small fry in a school of large fish. I’ve experienced this before. I applied for a summer job at one of our physics labs, and while the professor was happy to have me, I realized quickly that the work was very much over my head. I declined the job and worked at an IT job for another firm, where the work was challenging but not so overwhelming. I definitely absorbed more information from that job than I ever could hope from the other.

Last, and probably a big piece, is that the modern college campus is an abysmal teacher. Unless you’re at a Catholic college, you won’t be challenged to grow in your faith. Say what you will, but religious faith builds a better society overall, and most colleges do a good job of tearing that down.

But colleges teach job skills! Well, sort of. Hard skills are definitely there, but the soft skills of being able to promote a team environment are not. You might get hired because of a degree, but you won’t stay hired if you kept the maturity of a 19 year old. Too often, this is exactly the case. Colleges, far from preparing young people to build a career, are instead becoming money pits that boomerang people back into their parent’s basements.

I saw this play out on my campus. My peers would regularly skip class, not finish homework, and even not show up for midterm exams. Only when they neared the class drop date did their abysmal midterm grades kick them into high gear, but for many it was too late. I distinctly remember a sophomore engineering class where it started with standing room only and finished with seats in between every student. Time management was a joke to most, although I managed to do well while balancing a 30 hour a week job.

So while I’m saving some money for my kids to go to college (or trade school, or whatever they want), I’m not breaking the bank. I am focusing on their middle school education while also trying to build them into decent human beings that can shake hands, smile, and in general be pleasant to work with. Given the poor state of many workers today, I’m thinking this is a far better path to pursue.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

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