That said, as I've said here before, I think there's too much emphasis in the middle class today on providing each and every child with a college education, regardless of that child's nature, tastes, inclinations, and possible vocation. There's a presumption that all responsible parents are automatically putting money into individual savings accounts for each child to help defray college expenses, and that parents owe each child at least the chance to pursue a higher education.
And that's where I think our society has gone seriously off the rails.
We're an egalitarian sort of people, you know. The notion that a college education was primarily the path of relatively wealthy people, and then only for their sons, wasn't going to fly for long in the land of opportunity. Women entered colleges; poorer students qualified for scholarships; and pretty soon what was once an indication of one's status became a minimum necessary requirement for anyone who wanted to get a job of a higher level than the proverbial hamburger flipper.
Of course, the privileged classes protect themselves, as always. Today we're starting to hear that the master's degree is the new bachelor's degree, that any serious advancement potential at one's place of employment will only come when one has secured either an MBA or the equivalent for one's profession. And when sufficient numbers of starless Sneetches start showing up with the requisite MBA, who doubts that employees will be told that if they really want to prove their worth, they'll either have a PhD, or multiple master's?
When do we stop? When do we, the descendants of blue-collar workers, small business or small farm owners, or tradesmen or craftsmen from all sorts of professions stop playing the game of minimum corporate requirements? When do we, living on single incomes and dedicating ourselves to the pursuit of a simpler, more basic, more sustainable way of living stop pretending that our children's futures depend solely or even primarily on their acceptance into an expensive private college?
As an amateur home-based education engineer (okay, homeschooling mom), I believe in the value of a liberal arts education. I also believe that Kitten, our oldest, has already begun to encounter this education in her current year of schooling, and that by the time she has graduated from our version of high school she will have read and studied some of the greatest books produced by Western Civilization, encountered the thoughtful analysis of scholars who have commented extensively on those works, and, to the extent of both her tastes and abilities, have learned to analyze and comment on them herself. In other words, making sure that Kitten, and Bookgirl, and Hatchick all experience the benefit of a truly Catholic liberal arts education is my job, and, with the grace of God, I hope to complete that job to the best extent of my abilities.
And after that? What then?
Like most children, my girls sometimes play the game of "When I'm a Grown-Up." It's cute to hear them discuss what they think the life of an adult is really like. It's also encouraging to hear them speculate more about their eventual vocations than their possible careers, though they do sometimes talk about "jobs" too.
And they know that they might be called to the religious life. And they wonder if they'll be called to the vocation of marriage, to be wives and mothers. They all think babies are adorable and that being a mom would be a lot of fun, but they also remain open to the call to be a nun like their aunt, and to serve God in some way they can't even imagine.
One of them is adamant that she does not want to go to college; one is thinking that to study what she likes best she may, and the third is open either way. Just like their speculations about vocations, though, I know that they can't yet tell what they may decide to do; sometimes in some families the child who least wants a degree ends up pursuing one, and the child most intrigued by the idea hears a clear and direct call from God that leads in a wholly unexpected direction.
The important thing, to me, is that Mr. C. and I plan to let them decide--with God's help, and with our advice and input. We're not adamant that any of them must choose college, nor are we--or could we be--establishing savings accounts right now to cover tuition. Like so many single-income middle class families, college tuition is a luxury item that we couldn't afford on our own no matter how much we wanted to; our children, should they pursue higher education, may have to apply for scholarships or work for a couple of years after high school to save money or come up with some financing. But I'll strongly advise them not to take on more college debt than they could pay back in a single year of living at home after school, because more than that would be imprudent.
Because much more important than what they may do to earn money is what God will call them to do and to be for His greater glory. Coveting a prestigious education that they, and we, can't afford is just like coveting anything else: sinful.
As I said at the beginning of this post, though, that's the conclusion the Cardigan family has come to. What your family will do will depend on a lot of things: perhaps you are not middle class, or perhaps you have more than one source of income; perhaps you have parents or grandparents who want to pay for your children's college educations; perhaps you have a child who is so incredibly gifted and brilliant at even a young age that you know he or she will have to pursue a degree in some branch of math or science or some other area of academia, in order to reach his or her full potential. What would be imprudence or covetousness for my family may very well not be for yours, and I respect that.
Still, I think it's time that our society rediscovered a few important truths, which are these:
- Not every child is suited by nature, inclination, or talents for college.
- Not every child's vocation will be helped to flourish by attending college.
- Not every parent has the means or the ability to save money to pay for the college education for each and every child in the family.
- Parents do not owe their children a college education in the same way that they are responsible for their educations in general, or for basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter. College is a luxury, and it can be imprudent or even a temptation to believe that one must provide college educations for one's children.
- Parents must make a prudent decision about college as they do about every other aspect of their role as parents and their involvement in their children's lives.