Feeling pressured to attend college

by Grace

The New York Times Motherlode column shared stories and commentary about children who are not going to college.  It started with a request by the mother of a child “whose primary interests were in creative pursuits, and who is, at best, “ambivalent” about college”. 

…  “He loves to learn but heavy-duty academics are not something he relishes, so on that front, I don’t want to push him into a four-year college where he would be miserable and we would spend what amounts to a fortune from our meager budget.” College of some kind may or may not lie in his future, and she is trying, amid some support from friends and some judgment, to feel sanguine. “It would really help to hear stories from other parents whose kids found a meaningful life with decent work, without college,” she wrote, as well as stories of what children who don’t choose college do after senior year.

Many parents whose children are not following the traditional college path feel conflicted, and endure the angst of being judged by others.

College is not for everyone, and we should consider the wisdom of this statement.

… being intelligent is not the same thing as being scholastically inclined…

This boat analogy struck a chord with me.  It is not only relevant to the pressure of “having” to attend college after high school graduation, but of the many other  pressures parents feel when their children do not march in lockstep with their peers along the “smooth and quick” path to adulthood.

Amanda Rose Adams, aunt to a high school senior, wrote that she told her niece: “When you’re 18 and just graduated from high school, there’s a luxury liner waiting for you at the dock that will take you more smoothly and swiftly into a professional future. Of course, that’s not guaranteed, but it’s far more likely if you get on that boat that you will get wherever you wanted to go much more quickly and with less pain than if you stay on the dock and watch it leave.” But for students who are uncertain about direction, Ms. Adams wrote, “then it’s O.K. to not get on, to wait for the right boat for you.”

Contrary to what this mother wrote, I have found that gap years are becoming more accepted and even encouraged.  But I partly attribute this to the growing popularity of the idea that our children need a prolonged period of adolescence.

“I am forever lamenting that it is crazy that in this culture we expect all 18-year-olds to decide what they want to be,” wrote Molly of Boston. “And we profess to saying it’s acceptable to take a ‘gap year,’ but that is not what my son felt when he made his decision.”

As it turns out, sometimes learning disorders underlie academic difficulties that make college unappealing.

Delaying or avoiding college can sometimes result from a battle with learning difficulties. Been There, of Tulsa, Okla., wrote about a son who struggled with attention deficit disorder, anxiety and depression throughout high school. “My son is extremely bright but at this point directionless,” Been There wrote. “We’re trying to steer him toward community college but I’m really not sure how this is going to turn out.”

Sometimes it’s the child who is hardest hit by the pressure to attend college.

Anxiety abounds for some parents of students who feel compelled to follow the path their friends are taking. “My stepdaughter is headed to college in the fall, but the hard truth is that none of the four ‘parental units’ in her life really think she’s ready,” E wrote. “We are all trying to be supportive (including scraping together the money to help her get there), but we are all very apprehensive. She’s not a strong student and has failed several high school classes, but since many of her friends are going to college, she is hell-bent on doing the same.”

If college is not the right choice, forcing the issue is unlikely to end well.

“Please encourage parents not to send their children to college if the children don’t want to go,” Laurie Cubbison wrote. “The students will work very hard at failing, if only as an act of rebellion.”

Why parents push their kids to go to college (Cost of College)

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8 Comments to “Feeling pressured to attend college”

  1. Reblogged this on College Money Man Podcast and commented:
    I have to agree wholeheartedly with this

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  2. I think the main reason for the pressure is that there are so few options if you don’t go to college. We have many relatives who are now in their early 30’s who did not go to college,and things have been a real struggle for them. The one who is a union electrician saw all his work dry up in the recession, and he now has to commute long distances to job sites. Others are stuck in lowpaid office work with little flexibility or chance for advancement. I know things are grim for those with college degrees in the wrong fields, but at least you have the chance in college to pick a useful field.

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  3. Yes, not going to college closes many doors for career growth, or at least it makes things harder. It’s tough when even a receptionist job often requires a college degree.

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  4. But this pressure is backfiring because so many kids who are unprepared or unsuitable for college are enrolling, and then end up dropping out with loans to pay and after having wasted years of their lives.

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  5. First of all, I think there has always been a large attrition rate in college. There has to be, because it is supposed to be competitive in a way that K12 is not. It is hard to know because we don’t have good data from that era, but based on the number of people I know who have “some college” from the 60’s, and 70’s, I think there were a lot. Of course they didn’t have the loans. But even that is hard to unpack. For example, one of the 30 something relatives took a couple of courses at a CC one semester, and then decided it wasn’t for her. So now she is officially one of those college dropouts. But college didn’t cost her much time or money, so she is really no worse off for having tried. On the other end of the scale are those who went to the very expensive for profit schools and dropped out. The data shows that the for profit sector is where you find the most toxic intersection of large student loans and high dropout rates. But how do you prevent people from going to those schools? Especially since they know the alternative is so bad.

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  6. The difference today is that dropouts are saddled with student debt. Working as a barista is usually manageable if you don’t have a $40,000 loan to pay off.

    “The data shows that the for profit sector is where you find the most toxic intersection of large student loans and high dropout rates. ”

    The default rates are high for all at-risk students, and these for-profit schools attract a higher percentage of these types of students.

    “But how do you prevent people from going to those schools? ”

    Tap down the flow of easy taxpayer money to all schools by establishing stricter underwriting.

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  7. The for profit lobbyists would never let that happen because that sector would be decimated. That is the sector of higher ed that depends most heavily on federal loan money. Yes, it would hit a lot of marginal private non profits too, but not with the 100% decimation you would see in the for profit sector. This is why the for profit sector will never allow this to happen.

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  8. Grace said:

    “Tap down the flow of easy taxpayer money to all schools by establishing stricter underwriting.”

    Yes!

    Other’s People’s Money is the root of much personal finance foolishness.

    There’s no effort at all on the part of the powers that be to establish whether or not the student borrower 1) is capable of succeeding in the coursework or whether they are succeeding in the coursework and 2) whether it’s reasonable to borrow that sum of money for a particular academic program. (The MFA is a big offender.)

    CSProfMom said:

    “For example, one of the 30 something relatives took a couple of courses at a CC one semester, and then decided it wasn’t for her. So now she is officially one of those college dropouts. But college didn’t cost her much time or money, so she is really no worse off for having tried.”

    And that’s perfectly defensible.

    For the creative, non-academic child, I’d be inclined to fund several years of carefully chosen courses–perhaps one creative and one “practical” course per term (say, painting and a computer course), but not fund living expenses. Within a few years, it should be be clear whether or not the child’s creative activities are going to be a success. I’m not sure whether or not I’d want to fund four years of full-time college after that if that plan did not work, but maybe two?

    One of our “creative” relatives somehow managed 7 years of 4-year (!) college and never managed to graduate, so I’m a little skittish of that path for that kind of kid.

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