April 5, 2010 1:45 PM

Is college for everyone?

[It's been four years since I wrote this. I've gotten a lot of new readers in that time - some of you may find it interesting. I've updated ages and dates]:


I had mentioned on the Q&A about grandparents that my oldest daughters chose not to pursue college - the first after a year of it and the second in her senior year of high school.

In her comment, Jill said:

Also, I don't know how to ask this without sounding critical, so I'll just toss it out there as food for thought. As Barbara says, it's perfectly wonderful for children of any gender to choose not to go to college. However, a Christian woman can go to college, get valuable skills, and then put those skills to use in raising her children, educating her children at home, or helping the family. For example, I use the skills/degree I have to work from home in a field that is flexible, pays well, and only requires 10 hours of my time per week, which I fit in around sleepy times for the kids. If I hadn't gone to college and grad school (before I had kids), there is no way I could do this. It really helps the family and, I'll admit it, helps my brain to be able to do something adult and challenging for even just 30 minutes a day. Barbara puts her Montessori training to wonderful use in writing books and educating her children (and other moms!). I just love Small Beginnings for that. It sure hasn't taken away from her Christian-ness or her mom-ness.

Young children cannot know yet if they want to go to college or not. Perhaps, maybe, would it be more prudent to educate them at home with all the required classes and subjects for college entrance, while realizing they may not choose to go? Education is never ever wasted.

Jill is right - though I don't know how she knew how I felt about college. I don't remember writing about it here, but I will now :)

I am a strong advocate of not predetermining your child's future but being open to God's plan. Trust me, it will reveal itself! Not everyone needs to go to college. And people can be very successful and educated (self-educated) without putting themselves through four years of having their lives on hold.

I'm probably older than most of my readers - old enough to be your mother (though I'm unusual in still have 5 kids at home 9-17) - but back when I went to high school (hear the old granny tone?), a smaller percentage of people went to college - usually people with career goals that involved needing to go to college.

But things changed and it became more the norm to go to college. What's weird is that I think in many ways when kids graduated from high school in the sixties, they knew much more than today's high school graduates. In fact it seems as if they've just stretched out the school experience another 2- 4 years to accomplish only a little more than what was once accomplished by 12th grade. In similar fashion, a century ago in the United States, people used to graduate from 8th grade fully prepared to own and run a home and business - as witness the Eighth Grade Final Examination from Salinas County, Kansas.

Until 1942 there really was no such thing as a teenager. I'm not sure how or why it happened - my guess is that it had something to do with consumerism and the education bureaucracy - but we basically lengthened the time before people were recognized as adults and expected to become productive and responsible members of society.

I think the situation is deplorable today - with kids dependent on their parents and yet allowed to behave irresponsibly at college, simply postponing growing up. Yes, I know there are some people who need degrees for their professions, but what percentage of students do you think are simply putting in time? A huge waste of time and money.

And yet, some parents determine from the get go that they want their kids to go to college. How open to the Holy Spirit is that?

I always felt that children were like gifts from the Lord and as you open them, you allow God to reveal his plans for each one individually, not as a collective. My self-worth is not tied up in whether my kids all go to college. My husband Tripp didn't go to college, yet he started an award-winning business and ran it for almost 20 years in California - 25 employees and a lot of good work in their lives. I got my degree and went to the Montessori Institute long before I met him and long before we became Christians. I had no idea how God would use that in my life. But Tripp is the most intellectually stimulating man I know and he is my best friend when it comes to discussing books. politics, ideas. He knows much more about history and the Bible than I ever will. He is a self-educated man.

As for the generation we've raised and the generation we're raising: There are the two older girls, each homeschooling six kids. Though Samantha only went to one year of college and Jasmine turned it down flat, Sophia always wanted to go to college and is at Liberty U, where she was able to spend her freshman year in the company of her brothers, who were seniors. Maddy (16) wants to study voice/musical Theater - maybe Julliard or Catholic University.

Among my boys, Josh (26) went to college one year before deciding he'd rather do physical work. He's now married, owns a house and runs his own construction company.

Matt (25) passed his California Proficiency Exam is a working actor who waits tables in between jobs. He just got a contract for Shenandoah Summer Musical Theater beginning in May.

Ben graduated with a BFA in classical voice and needs to go on to graduate school to become a professional opera singer. He married last May two weeks after graduation and is working for a hotel in Charlottesille, paying back his student loans before taking on more. Zach graduated last May also and will be going into Marine Officer Training School in October (there was a year delay because he broke his ankle in a motorcycle accident).

Imagine if I had forced everyone to go to college! Imagine how I might have thwarted what God had in mind for them!

What I really think was kind of summed up in a line from an old movie called Sorry, Wrong Number:

If a man hasn't got a talent for making money, college won't knock it into him. And if a man has a talent for making money, he won't need college.

Of course, it's not about making money. But i believe in terms of our goals for our children, it's better to think in terms of character development and raising a generation of good mothers and fathers rather than college being the end-all, be-all.

There is also this unrealistic situation: Christian kids who are committed to maintaining their purity are expected to conform to the culture and wait until later to marry. Why?

With all that said, I do think we should try to educate our children in such a way that their options will be open and they will be able to go to college if they desire it. That's just the right thing to do. But we should accept that some - especially those who are creative - are just not academically inclined. Ben's high school grades and lack of interest or talent in math and science led him to pursue a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts). That's fine with me.

Above all, I think we should also be educating our children to love learning so much that even if college isn't in the picture for some of them, they will continue growing and learning and expanding their understanding of the wonderful world we live in. That is one of the wonderful things about the Montessori approach, because it catches the child's sensitive periods to learning and makes the first learning experiences full of joy. That joy can go on throughout life. It isn't limited to a building or a schedule or a piece of paper. It's all around us all the time!


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The reader says that it "helps her brain to be able to do something adult and challenging, even for just 30 minutes a day" regarding her work, as if managing a home and homeschooling are not adult and challenging. There's her view of homemaking and mothering right there. 'Nuff said.

Posted by: Allison Howell | April 5, 2010 5:11 PM

My mother tells my girls ALL.THE.TIME that they *HAVE* to go to college, get their degree, then get a great job, then meet a good man, THEN get married, THEN have babies and it *HAS* to be in that order otherwise they won't be happy. I speak from experience that following their advice is miserable. I was forced to do something against my will to fall into their delicate balance of ideals lest I "derail my life" and be miserable for the rest of my life. (Unbeknownst to them (just due to them not wanting to hear about it) I suffered because of that decision).

Anyway... going to college isn't the be all end all and I resent those that try to force my children to believe it. My 10 yr old asked me about being a nun and I honestly feel she might become one yet I have my own family trying to derail her. Fortunately, God's call is much stronger and I told her that.

And anyone that believes being home all day with children is "mind numbing" must only have one child or at least two that get along so great she doesn't have to think on her feet or faster than a five year old.

Posted by: Dirtdartwife | April 5, 2010 8:57 PM

Hi Barbara,

As someone who went to 3 semesters of college and quit and is now married with 2 kids (a third on the way) within 3 years and a brother who left a full scholarship with only 1 1/2 semesters left but is completely self-educated and makes a wonderful living in computers and finance, I want to thank you for such a succinct and wonderful summary. My family always tried to articulate our ultimate goals very clearly - for me, that was to be a submissive, godly wife and a self-sacrificing mother. Yes, a college degree might have contained some of the things I am doing now that could potentially have been helpful, but being away from home in a dorm room with no one to think about but myself also bred some attitudes out of necessity that I realized were going to hinder my future goals - self-sufficiency, independence, etc. I think it's important for parents and young people to think about not only what do I want to do and will college help me but also what do I want to be and is it possible college will hinder that at all?

Posted by: Naomi | April 5, 2010 9:52 PM

Good post! Neither myself nor my husband have a college degree. College wasn't a good fit for him and well..my story is a long one. I have encouraged my oldest to take college prep courses in High School so he'll have what he needs to pursue whatever God has in store for him. We live in a college town so I see ads in the paper requiring Associates degree for being a receptionist. I just don't want my kid's choices to be limited. But you're right, the path they walk is ultimately up to them and God and that path may or may not include college.

Besides...if they don't choose college I could go on some really nice vacations. Hmmm...:-)

On a side note, our family was received into the Catholic church this Easter Vigil. We're walking on air right now. God is good!

Posted by: Maggie Dee | April 6, 2010 12:37 PM

While I will certainly encourage my children to attend college if they are led that way, I will not demand that they go.

My older brother and 2 younger sisters all went to college. My brother is a civil engineer, my sister a chemist and my other sister will be graduating soon with a degree in theater design. I am a wife and a mom, who hopes one day to learn more about photography and using that professionally.

Yes, there are days that I feel really dumb because of the fact that I didn't go to college and they did. But God's plan for my life is not His plan for theirs. And that makes me feel GREAT.

Posted by: j dan | April 8, 2010 6:29 PM

This is a great topic that needs to be explored more deeply. My husband of 35 years and I have struggled with this subject and been criticized by people who regard a degree from a liberal arts college as the "goal of goals". Our 11 children are in various stages of education, none with a bachelor's degree, several with associate's degrees,one Marine, one sailor, several at community college paying their way and none owing student loans. Your posts are right up my alley. I feel we need to be open to God's call to them and the journey He presents. My children may not be educated in the "World's Ways" but can stand their own in any discussion re: national events, morals, etc. They are raising our 16 grandkids as Catholics and are generous kind citizens and patriots. I guess we should be proud of their education in God's eyes. Thank you for this site. Such wisdom that is hard to find. God Bless, Eileen

Posted by: Eileen Hall | April 13, 2010 4:06 PM

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post. I appreciate how it is presented clearly and simply, and with personal experiences. It is far more important to me to hear what someone has experienced than to be told what they think. We have 3 graduating Seniors this year, and are faced with decisions to be made concerning their next step in life. Right now we are on the "go to college" track, having sent in applications to our local community college. As a Christian mom of 8 who has been home schooling for over 14 years, it is really difficult to say to my children that this is their only choice, and that they "have" to go to college. They all have unique interests, abilities, gifts and desires for their futures. I hate to see the answer to all these different personalities be compressed into one easy to prescribe solution. This article has helped me, and for that, thank you. I have also done some research on the Montessori teaching because of you...I have 4 adopted children that have varying levels of learning disabilities, and have been trying to figure out some other methods of teaching. I love your blog, and finally told my husband when I am quoting from a blog, it's yours, because it's the only one I read!! I love how I don't have to do all the research myself to read good political articles. My daughters followed Maddy with her singing on AI, and I have received much support and encouragement from reading your family/home school articles. GOD BLESS YOU TO PIECES!!

Posted by: L.A. Law | April 13, 2010 10:07 PM

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