May I be blunt? Our obsession, loyalty and misguided trust in a college education has some heavy unintended consequences that are helping to strip our local communities of their viability while financially burdening our children. Two generations ago obtaining your American Dream didn’t require a college degree and for some reason now it does. For those young people who don’t finish college, they and their parents are on the hook for ever increasing student loans. For many of those who do graduate, they either can’t find a job in their field; the pay in their fields doesn’t justify the student loan; or the graduate still hasn’t found their calling. It takes strength as a parent to admit that a 4-year degree for your young adult is not a good investment. However, it should be a little easier after they’ve paid an electrician, mechanic or plumber.
On one hand we are fearful of a declining local economy while with the other hand we are promoting it through scholarships, gifts to college foundations, ticket sales and logoed apparel sales. The allure is strong. “All of my friends are going to college”. Fannie Mae is shoveling non-bankruptable loans on the fire (provided the parents are on the hook). Everyone wants to be a miniscule indirect part of a winning team. The good news – some are waking up from this ESPN-U induced trance. Imagine if well intended Abilenians invested in the businesses and talent of budding local entrepreneurs instead of University Foundations. To be cynical about it, why is the out-of-town rabbit hole more alluring than the local one. Which rabbit hole offers a greater chance for positive returns? How dare I question the sacred cow, but the local investment offers greater tangible returns.
I fully understand that I am committing blasphemy. I admit that I am an alum of Emporia State and Kansas State Universities, but I am not biting the hand that feeds. My diplomas are receipts and nothing more. The “golden ticket” does not ensure success nor does it prove intelligence, creativity or critical thinking. For many it does ensures student loan debt and a steady stream of glossy junk mail. Success is built on feeding young curious mind well before college age. More young curious minds should be encouraged to grow and create endeavors that don’t require the college rite of passage. Here’s a proposal. In addition to scholarships, we have seed money for a young adult to start a business. Instead of student loans we have business startup loans. Let’s stop pushing creative and reliable young people away and lets open doors for them right here in Abilene.