Choosing not to be a student

The access to higher education is one of the greatest privileges we have in the United States. Many people take advantage of it and are encouraged from an early age to pursue a degree. However, this almost blind insistence that every person should go to college does a great disservice to some of our youth.

During my senior year of high school, every teacher would ask me about my future plans. English classes would prepare me to write college-level essays, and there was even talk about making applying to college a graduation requirement. It seemed that there was the assumption that college was expected of you after graduation.

Being a decent student in high school, I naturally assumed college was something I had to pursue. People hardly even humored the idea that there was another option. So without even considering other possibilities, I went to Portland State.

While for the most part I do not regret my decision to go to PSU, there are many reasons why I would dissuade others from pursuing a degree.

Unless you come from a wealthy family, odds are that you will incur a significant amount of student debt. For some, it seems like an investment worth taking, but for others, it puts them in a difficult financial position. It’s a gamble that many people take. But I don’t feel that enough people have considered the full weight of it. There is such a thing as manageable debt, but sometimes the debt isn’t worth the liberal arts degree.

Here in the U.S. we have fetishized the concept of higher education and perverted it into a mere springboard for economic stability. Because of this, many people don’t consider their options, some of which could be more effective and result in more prospective employment opportunities.

The trades are often considered to be a consolation prize for those who weren’t able to go to school, and they’re almost treated as a shameful alternative to college. It’s as if technical skills are sub-par in comparison to art, philosophy, biology or chemistry.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy philosophy as much as the next university student, but Aristotle is not very useful when there are electrical problems. Unless of course you solve problems by empirically contemplating how such first world luxuries affect our daily lives and work ethic.

While there are many practical objections to enrolling at a four year institution, there are also some more personal reasons why people shouldn’t pursue a degree.

Everyone has been in that freshman or sophomore inquiry class with a student who still has no idea what a thesis statement is, and who spends all their time taking elective courses about The Beatles and ballroom dancing, rather than focusing on a specific area of study.

While I will not explicitly say that such students should abandon the notion of getting an education, their motives should be taken into deeper consideration. Quite frankly, some people shouldn’t pursue a degree because they were not meant to be students and lack the basic skills necessary in order to succeed.

There are also those people who treat the university as some sort of glorified social engagement and spend the majority of their time drinking and partying. Half the value of college is in the experiences that take place outside the classroom, but this shouldn’t be a driving factor in the decision to attend. Personal growth is great, but that can be done outside the confines of a college campus.

I wish this was something I could be egalitarian about since the access to education is such a blessing, but I think we need to recognize that there are people who are simply not cut out for college. The insistence upon going to college does a great disservice to those who would be better off without it. We also need to recognize that paths which don’t involve college are completely valid and shouldn’t be dismissed from the get-go.

I value any person who seeks to better themselves through education. Widespread education can do wonders for American culture and society as a whole. But no matter how many degrees there are out there, the world will still need retailers, waiters, cooks, plumbers and janitors, and such careers shouldn’t be treated as second rate.

A person should not feel bad about their decision to not go to college, nor should they feel pressured into going. Instead, people should recognize their abilities, limitations and available opportunities, and do what’s best for themselves.