Cross-posted at Inside Higher Ed
My son graduated from high school in June of last year. He opted not to go to college. He didn’t want to. I didn’t pressure him.
There are a thousand reasons why he’s made the right choice, and just as many why he has -- and by extension, I have -- made the wrong one.
He never liked school much. His favorite classes -- wood shop, gardening, cooking -- aren’t part of the curriculum of a typical four year degree. This time last year, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after high school graduation, but he was fairly adamant, after barely escaping his K-12 stint with a diploma, that “more school” wasn’t it.
He said he’d rather find a job, take the time to figure things out. Of course, that’s easier said than done these days. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for someone with no college degree, no work experience, and no family connections. (Of course, there aren’t a lot of opportunities, period.)
Unemployed and uneducated.
It’s not a good start to his adult life, my parents keep fretting. How will he ever amount to anything without a college degree? How can he afford not to go to college, they worry.
Theirs is a different worry than seems to be making headlines lately: that is, how can students afford college? How can students afford their loan debt? What sorts of restrictions does this debt -- about $25,000 on average per student, and over $1 trillion in outstanding debt all told -- place on students? Of all the opportunity that college promises to give, what doors are closed when you are saddled with the burdens of loans?
As someone who, at 40, still struggles to make her monthly Sallie Mae payments, I can relate. Of course, I’ve figured out what I want to do with my life. Pressures of student loan debt be damned, I’m a writer.
My son, not quite 19, hasn’t figured out what he wants to do with his life. He’s still under the fog of youth -- a fog that makes long-term planning seem ridiculous, a fog that a university education may or may not help lift.
That fog has laid thickly over the last twelve months of his life. Despite the freedom of “no debt” and “no school,” he hasn’t really done much with his time. We’re not affluent enough, I don’t think, to call this a “gap year.” There have been no trips to Europe. There’s no admissions to a private school on hold until the fall semester. I’ve subsidized his world, just as I promised him I would. The Mom Grant, not the Pell Grant, if you will. (And no loans.)
But recently (as I hoped) he’s made a decision about “what’s next.” He’s decided that this summer he’s moving (from Oregon) to Maine. My little brother lives there, and I think my son is attracted to what he sees as a community that’s more interested in building and making than the book-ish community he associates with college.
Jobs are still scarce in Maine, but he says he’s certain he’ll find more opportunity there -- farming, construction, or boat-building. He says he hopes he can find apprenticeships to learn those things. He says he wants to work, work hard, and work with his hands.
If that doesn’t work out, he shrugs, he can always go back to school.