The Myth of the 4-Year College Miracle

Blog / Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Last week, Empowered Women put on a fabulous event featuring some awesome female role models in business, communications and entrepreneurship.

One of the prevailing topics of conversation revolved around higher education, student loan debt and what reforms are needed. While those on the Left push strongly for government funded higher education, there’s a popular message left largely untouched by political conversations: Is college necessary for everyone?

Julia Hartz, Co-founder and President of Eventbrite, noted the most valuable experience she received in college was through internships and actual on-the-job experience. And that’s certainly true.

These days, high school graduates are attending college with no particular working goal in mind — majoring in job-absent fields of study like philosophy, art history or even, general studies. They are told going to college is the vehicle to a career, but often end up stuck in unemployment because they learn no valuable skills.

Education is the key to empowerment, here and around the world, but it doesn’t need to be a traditional college education to be worthwhile.

One of the most popular figures in pop culture as of late is Mike Rowe, who rose to fame on his television show, “Dirty Jobs” — about people who make a living doing non-traditional, “dirty” jobs like sewer inspector, chimney sweep, Turkey farmer and more.

Rowe regularly promotes the idea that a college education is not necessary to find a good job and make a decent living. His message has been extremely popular, as workers around the country recognize there is opportunity outside the four walls of a university.

Of course, those “dirty jobs” may not sound appealing to most people but considering non-traditional fields that promise a job and a good income is something more people should do.

Trade schools and apprenticeships are under-valued enterprises that should be included in the conversation about the futures of America’s young adults. Maybe, just maybe, college isn’t for everyone. Maybe, just maybe, we can cultivate a country that molds individual interests, talents and skills to the jobs that actually need to get done (meaning, they will always be there!)

While I value my college education, most of what I learned about the field of journalism and communications came from on-the-job experience when I first started my career. Internships and advice from professionals shaped where my career ultimately went — not English 101.

I come from a family of entrepreneurs as well. My Dad did not attend college, but instead worked hard to educate himself in business by reading books and asking questions. He started his own construction business, something that went on to become an incredible success. He couldn’t have learned the skills it took to build that by sitting in a classroom. He likes to say he went to the “School of Hard Knocks”  — and there are a great many college kids who could learn more from my Dad than they could from any business professor.

Do we need higher education reform in America? Certainly, there are changes to be made and ways to help make it more affordable. More importantly, though, let’s bring other options and ideas into the conversation because college isn’t always the miracle worker that it’s made out to be.

Ericka Andersen Sylvester is the Digital Director at National Review. She’s also a certified personal trainer and healthy living blogger at The Sweet Life who loves staying fit, healthy, and positive.

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