Today many tearful mothers and stoic fathers will pack the car and for the first time haul yesterday’s babies off to an “institution of higher learning.”
Tonight the babies will sleep in a strange bed; tomorrow a stranger will make their breakfast. But no one will wake them up or do their laundry when the time comes. They will have unaccustomed responsibilities. No one will nag them to do anything; they will be expected to get to class on time and to the infirmary if they are sick.
A few lucky ones know exactly why they are there; they have known since they were children what they wanted to be when they grew up and now they are ready to learn how.
Others will figure it out in the next two years before it is time to declare a major.
But four years from now, some will be wondering “Now what?” And others will have made a false start only to discover that what they thought they wanted to be was in fact not what they wanted at all.
But for all of them, the four-year college will serve as a half way house on the road to independence. And that’s no small thing, although in most cases, it’s a pretty expensive way to learn to do the laundry.
The fact is that college today is too expensive—absurdly expensive. Young people (or their parents) should not be burdened with debt in order to prepare themselves for the adult world of work. Last year, 69% of graduating seniors took out loans, graduating with an average debt of $29,800. That’s just not right; it’s really wrong. It can’t go on—and so it won’t.
It will take a long time, of course. Cultural change happens slowly. Still there are already signs that the four year college as a necessary path to the adult world of work and social status is undergoing slow transformation.
But for now, for families who can swing it, it seems the obvious course of action.
So good luck to all those young people who are starting the four-year journey. May you choose wisely and make your parents proud.