The College Myth

written by: John Shuff

“Too much of what is called ‘education’ is little more than an expensive isolation from reality.”

That’s the song that used to dance in my head as fall rolled around. For many homes, it still conjures up that back-to-school routine and all the old memories. For many K-12 students, it still means getting up when the alarm blasts off at 6 a.m. rather than the summer luxury of hibernating in bed till noon. It means mom returns to KP (Kitchen Patrol) duty preparing sandwiches like peanut butter and jelly or bologna, adding an apple or banana, maybe some celery or carrot sticks. To finish it off, maybe she throws in cookies or an energy bar into a lunch box or insulated bag. Back in the day, I remember those same lunches, sitting around the cafeteria table comparing the contents of each other’s metal lunch boxes, sometimes trading food with one another.

The years go by like a knife through butter, and suddenly you’re in a cap and gown celebrating high school graduation. Now, with diploma in hand, what’s next? Where are you headed? Of course, most people assume they are off to college for the next four years. Then again, these days it’s not so easy, what with the escalating cost of tuition and the dismal prospect of a lifetime of crippling student loan debt. Countless young graduates are swamped in unpaid bills and have little disposable income. This year, Forbes reported that 44 million people owe $1.4 trillion in student loans.

If your child aspires to be a doctor, lawyer, veterinarian, teacher, engineer or any highly credentialed profession, or if they excel at physics, math, science or technology, it’s a sign that college is for them.

But it may not be for everybody.

Parents need to carefully listen to their youngsters’ thoughts, ambitions and passions, and follow their academic performance. Be a detective—probe to find out what really turns them on. This will paint a mental picture of them before you make the financial commitment to send them off for a four-year experience that may yield little return on the investment. Today, college is an economic decision—not a social one.

On a personal note, my son David, who loved films and audiovisual production, went to Ohio Wesleyan, where he majored in journalism and minored in Japanese. He has used none of these. If I had been a better listener, I would have investigated professional schools that offered curricula that dovetailed with his real loves. In retrospect, I don’t believe college was for him. I dropped the ball by bowing to the conventional wisdom that college was the natural next step after high school.

After college—and teaching for five years in Japan—David did enroll at Full Sail in Orlando, a school whose curriculum was dedicated to film production and sound, his real passion. There he acquired specific marketable skills in audio and video that he uses today.

College is not for everyone. For many, it’s a myth that’s been drilled into their heads since they were children.

There are alternatives the high school college counselor will not tell you about. Casey Research suggests going through the catalogue at, where you can experience online the finest professors and lectures as many times as you want. It lists the top-notch colleges and universities that put their curricula online. There are suggestions of books to read and excellent lectures on YouTube. The Center For Interim Learning offers a program for kids who want a break from the classroom for a year or two to reassess their goals (609-683-4300;

Bottom line: If your child wants an education, there are many ways to pursue one without the financial albatross that could be with him or her for many years. It is their debt, and it could haunt them for decades to come—and long after you’re gone.

“School days, school days

Dear old Golden Rule days

Readin’ and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic

Taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick

You were my queen in calico

I was your bashful, barefoot beau

Wrote on my slate, ”I love you, Joe”

When we were a couple o’ kids

—1907 Will Cobb/Gus Edwards

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Andrea Peterson
Andrea Peterson
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