Arrested Educational Development
In North Dakota these days, the unemployment rate is vanishingly small. And of course, since those jobs are well-paying and don’t require a college degree, they’re causing a minor panic in some circles. I noticed this post by Heather MacDonald last night, and I checked out the New York Times article today. Let’s start with the article.
For most high school seniors, a college degree is the surest path to a decent job and a stable future. But here in oil country, some teenagers are choosing the oil fields over universities, forgoing higher education for jobs with salaries that can start at $50,000 a year.
It is a lucrative but risky decision for any 18-year-old to make, one that could foreclose on his future if the frenzied pace of oil and gas drilling from here to North Dakota to Texas falters and work dries up. But with unemployment at more than 12 percent nationwide for young adults and college tuition soaring, students here on the snow-glazed plains of eastern Montana said they were ready to take their chances.
The money (pun intended) quote from one youth: “I didn’t want to waste the money and go to school when I could make just as much.”
College is a wonderful aspiration. I had a path that got me to and through school after high-school. Many others don’t, other than taking on a lot of loans for a degree that they might not be ready to take, and that might not recoup the early investment. Ms. MacDonald calls it, “a blow to the college-industrial complex.” I call it making sensible career decisions based on the opportunity around.
With respect to success in life, there are pretty much three things that a person needs to do:
Graduate high school
- Get a job, and keep it until a better job comes along
- Don’t have kids until married
Following those fairly simple guidelines puts you in socio-economic standing with others who go on to retire successfully after a productive work life. When I talk to kids about college as I mentor them, I usually recommend that they find a path to a college degree that leaves them as debt-free as possible, even if that means they work for a while before going to school. And starting off with an opportunity to learn the value of hard work and personal financial responsibility is a lesson that you can’t learn in any college class.
I know of many personal stories that go to both sides… the high-school grad who took a variety of jobs before landing in a technology role that enabled him to retire as a senior engineer… the guy who dropped out after one year of school to get married and is a successful father of five in a happy relationship in a modest house… the drop-out who entered the military and had a family, before working his way through college and going on to a wildly successful career… the lady who went to the Army to get money for school, then went back to the Army to finish a career after college…
There’s no single path that guarantees success in life. Hard work, responsibility, and a desire to do better every day is what’s really needed for a successful life. It’s too bad that some people worry when college is not an automatic requisite that allows kids to arrest development for a few more years before helping to make our country great.