Friday, May 27, 2011

College? Really??! The mid-college dropout crisis and how to deal.

I write this on my 6th graders last day.... Of course per my interest in self-preservation (employability wise) this is not about them. Nor is it about the school. If you want those stories we should meet up over drinks and some grub (hey I would even do coffee). I am mainly writing today to develop a writing habit over the summer. Luckily for you I have something to type incessantly about (as opposed to previous posts where I brought nothing substantial to the table). Allow me to "word vomit all over you" if you will.... even if you won't. Oh and don't forget to excuse the grammatical errors but if you see them please do me a favor and let me know about it. I can always use the help, especially after taking the entire year off from doing any serious writing.

Last night, I was watching a television program, one of those programs referred to as a sitcom. It is not a particularly awesome sitcom but I find myself chuckling enough to leave it in my dvr settings and watch it sometime during the week. In this sitcom a college aged kid quits school and ends up running off to Hawaii. Within 3 days this kid lands a place to sleep and a place to work (which is super amazing). His mom, dad and all her friends fly out to convince him to come home. I am thinking "why?" As I see it there are those who can seamlessly go from high school to college. They have the drive, they have figured out the funding and they have a plan. Then there are those who go because it is expected of them. This kid was one of those people. He is smart and will get back on track but he hit a few road bumps and decides to drop out and live life for a while. The people on the show see it as throwing his life away but I could not disagree more. Sometimes a step back puts things in to perspective. I was a kid who wanted to drop out and be in the real world. I had no direction and no idea what I wanted out of life (I am still figuring it out). I had concerned parents who pushed hard against the walk away I wanted to do. I stayed in school and graduated college. I got a degree in a field I only spent a year and a half doing post college but I have a paper showing my effort. After that career path tanked I spent the next 7 figuring out what I really wanted. I decided on teaching.... This year made me question the whole "really wanted" part of that but it is still something I see value in. The first degree was kind of a throw away degree. It has very little value besides the fact that it allowed me to get a masters degree.

I had a great time in college and I have several really good friends because I stuck with it. I still wonder what my path would have been like had I experienced the corporate world sooner. It is a mixed bag. There was good and bad, in my case, by continuing in school. There would have been some good and bad had I dropped out as well (I do understand that). However I did spend 7 years in jobs with no real future in them (despite trying to make one out of a few).

I guess what I am saying is, if you are a parent, listen to your kids and curb the knee jerk reaction to push them back into school. Sit down with them and discuss it; push for you side of the argument, make your case, but ultimately leave it in their hands. If your child deciding to call it quits on school worries you too much, work out a plan. If you are one of the people who can afford to foot the bill, that they are walking away from, have them repay you or make them finish the term out. In fact strongly encourage them to at least finish the term whether you gave them money or not. No reason to waste the money if it can be helped. They can get a tutor if that is the issue and putting "some college" on applications might actually help (I have no real idea on that one). Make them move out (if they are still in your home) at the end of the term. When they finish the term, place a year date on the reevaluation of where they are in life and what they want from life. When you sit down with someone who has a year of real world work experience under their belt they may see the benefits of school open up before their eyes. While they work have them save a portion of their check for schooling while they work. This will help them decrease school costs when they finally do go back. Continue to push them in their work life like you would in their school life. Expectations and honest dialogue might help them really figure out what they want in life.

Keep in mind that plenty of people make really good money without a degree. It is harder to do but the extremely driven person (most of us do not qualify) can make things happen. Also, remember the wonders of trade school. So Billy hates reading Emily Dickinson or solving large and overly complicated equations, that does not mean Billy has no interests that will turn into a well paying career. I love the idea of trade schools. I think they really feel voids that people forget we still need filled. Not everyone can be a doctor or a lawyer (or a teacher) and there is no shame in that. It is only shameful if you give up altogether. In fact, if someone can spend half the time or a quarter of the time and end up in a field they want to be in I would say they definitely succeeded.

Life sometimes interrupts all the best laid plans and getting school out of the way can sometimes help you avoid that. I understand that argument. It makes sense but it is flawed. For one thing the unexpected can still happen to a college student. Another thing, sometimes that undecided, rudderless college kid ends up getting a history degree, a communications degree, or an English degree with no real plan on how to put it to use. This is a really big issue in my eyes. This type of degree with no real plan in place will put that kid in a job that any high school graduate can get. Believe me... I've been there. A lot of those jobs tend to be the type where the less you know the easier they become. Just ask my old managers, a lot of them were as smart as moldy cheese. Yes, I am saying that regular cheese has an edge on them. My big point is that when you spend thousands of dollars on education you need a freaking end goal. Some sort of realistic plan. Just ask my student loans... they are large and could care less that my dream of being rich and famous never really took off.

In other countries it is common for the high school grad (or the equivalent term) take a year off and experience the world. They travel, they work jobs, they eat ramen, and they have a great time. When they get back it is expected that they will buckle down and start putting a life together. I like this model. I am a huge fan of the walkabout and would like to see it occur in the US a little more often. Especially for the unclear and the undecided (perhaps even the life decision phobic). The world is an interesting place and it is important to look around and get a feel for what is going on. I think the more outside of the classroom experience you get the better off you are when you do pursue that newly formed dream. Which leads me to my final idea, a lot of the time jobs want you to have experience these days. It is not easy to get a job out of college or high school that is high paying and has a real career track no matter what the degree is. One thing everyone should do; whether you have a degree and are still looking for that dream job, are a recent high school graduate, a current high school student, a current college student or a person on a walkabout; volunteer in a field that interests you. Get your feet in the door, get experience and see if that ideal job really is ideal. You definitely benefit from volunteering, perhaps not financially, but you get a real view of that world, experience to pad the resume, and you make those so very sought after connections.