The response to my previous post, "Why My Son (Probably) Won't Go To College," was extensive and very thoughtful. Thanks to everyone who shared thoughts, here, on Twitter, and on Facebook.
I want to share some follow-up thoughts, responding to some of the comments and clarifying certain points I may have left a little muddy in the original.
First, have no fear: we have no plans to prevent Abel from attending college; in fact, we are planning to save money toward his education in case he decides that's what he wants to do. We will prevent him from taking on as much debt as we did, though. I probably should have made this part clearer.
Along the same lines, I will stress that college is absolutely the best step after high school for some people. If a recent graduate knows for sure she wants to work in a field that requires specific educational preparation, AND if a combination of scholarships, parental contribution, and projected income during and after college make her sure she can afford to go, then it makes a world of sense. I think this situation is rather rare, however. It's rare that a high school senior can make this decision, and it's rare that she has access to that kind of money. It's utter insanity to send a confused 18-year old into a college environment at great expense just because "you have to go to college."
That being said, a middle ground approach suggested by Larsitron in his comment on the post, makes good sense. I don't agree with everything he said, but I have no arguments with his concluding paragraph: "I would encourage students to avail themselves of their local community colleges to get an idea of what they'd like to do and get some gen. ed. requirements out of the way. Then, once they have a better focus on career goals, enter the state university system and take advantage of the resources therein." This approach alleviates both of my concerns: it delays the decision about career, and it costs much less, especially in states like Arizona where the public college system is so affordable.
One important consideration is an individual's own character and personality: several people suggested that college is what you make of it, that you can learn a great deal if you just buckle down and work hard, that if you're actively pursuing the experience, it will be wonderful. I don't disagree, but I think this proves my point in a way. The people who fit this description are the ones who are going to make the most of their lives anyway. If you have that much drive, college is probably even less imperative as a preparatory step into the job market, real life, social fulfillment, and so on. You're also less likely to want to work in an environment where a bachelor's degree is generically required, not to mention more able to find creative ways to demonstrate you have the skills a college degree supposedly indicates.
And probably the most important clarification: My working assumption is that most people do not find personal or spiritual satisfaction strictly from their jobs. Since I regard these goals as infinitely more important than financial "success," I wanted to write the article in a way that forced people to examine their purpose, not just in going to college, but in life. And here's where I retract my disclaimer from the original post. This is pastoral advice: life is about a lot more than what kind of money you make. If you're going to college to get a career so you can earn money and be happy, you won't be happy, even if you do make the money. If your life goals include making a difference in the world by working in a field that requires one or more post-secondary degrees, then go for it. Just be smart about how you get there. Have a conservative plan for how to pay for it, and stick to the plan.
Thanks again for all the comments! Feel free to keep the discussion going.