Is College Relevant Today?
Upon graduation from high school many, many years ago, I decided to take a year off before continuing on to college. I was fortunate to land a job in the energy industry, specifically coal. Most people thought I had lost my mind and chose a dead end as a career choice. The most asked question after inquiring what I did for a living was: Who uses coal anymore? At any rate, even in the industry there was a large gap between the older generation and the younger. Most of the executives were within ten years of retirement with a huge gap down to the newer hires being in their late teens and early twenties. This latter group was, in fact, only a handful of people. So even the industry insiders thought that there was little or no future for the young executives. Then the 1973 so-called Arab Oil Embargo hit the West, most especially the United States. This single event not only changed the outlook of the world but made a huge impact on my career and thinking. I was suddenly a superstar; the very people who asked; who uses coal anymore, were now saying; you must be rich. Certainly, I was in somewhat of the catbird seat. Initially, as one of the few younger men in the industry there was no lack of offers or money to relocate and begin climbing the corporate ladder.
Meantime, my college education, which I pursued at night, weekends, and summer up until then, had to take a backseat to my career building, which was now paying off beyond my wildest dreams. So I dropped my courses and focused on learning all I could about energy, coal in particular, and international and domestic sales. I quickly advanced from position to position and company to company improving both my pecuniary rewards and my knowledge of various jobs within the energy industry.
As I said initially, I was well paid for a person who had only completed high school and had yet to complete college. That however, was soon to change because within ten years as more young people graduated college and entered the coal industry my background, or rather lack thereof, became a liability. In fact, though I knew everything about my business and had immensely more experience then the rookies, I found I hit a glass ceiling. Most of the senior executives had still placed a large value on education and since I was limited in formal education I was pigeonholed and relegated to middle management jobs. There was, indeed, limited value seen in a well rounded autodidact, though I had proved my abilities time and time again.
Indeed, though I was running all aspects of the operations for an international and domestic energy trading company, with the title of Assistant Treasurer, I was passed over for promotion in favor of an MBA, who I was told had vastly more experience in the industry. He and I shared an office and for the first six months he deferred all decision making to me. In fact, it would have continued so had I not protested to the CEO that I was not getting the pay he was and therefore since I had been passed over for the title and money, in all justice, he needed to take the position for which he was hired. Unfortunately, he did, and proceeded to run the company into the ground, making unsound business decisions despite my suggestions to the contrary. The CEO and I turned out to be the last employees of the corporation and he admitted to me that in hindsight he should have given the position to me as I requested. In the end, I was the final employee left to wind down the company and literally shut off the lights.
My point in this shaggy-dog story is to bring home the idea that even then college was used not so much as a means of turning out capable people ready to advance society, but a point of separation. Effectively, even at the detriment of the society, capable people were held back simply for a misguided notion that a sheepskin was required to be efficient and capable in life in general, and business in particular.
This experience had a great impact on me so far as college was concerned. I had seen time after time, dunderheads with degrees having opportunities fall into their laps like ripe peaches, yet they were incapable of functioning in the real world. Additionally, most had little general knowledge of history, culture, geography, or any other social study subjects. Many could not complete a sentence and had great difficulty writing reports. In fact, because of my writing skills, many would come to me to proofread their work and I gained the corporate nickname of “Shakespeare”. This lack of general knowledge of college grads was of considerable impact in my industry of international energy sales and often this lack of educational roundness had detrimental effects for us, causing much misunderstanding in countries with which we dealt. I also came to see that these degrees, as hard-won as they were for the individuals, really did not provide a marketable skill. Yes, they provided entry to the upper echelons of the executive suites, but without basic intellectual skills many lost their advantage and soon found themselves out of a job, and worse, their reputations for ineptitude followed them in their careers. The MBA referenced earlier, for instance, was let go from our organization and found he could not get a job in the industry again. He tried opening a small manufacturing company and ran that down. Tragically, he, in the end took his own life.
With these insights in hand, I decided that my two sons would not follow the path I took, nor would they rely solely on a college degree, which I foresaw as increasingly worthless in our coming society. We decided to send our boys to a vo-tech high school, so that they would have a trade, but with the understanding that they would at least try college on completion of high school. Even at that time, I was beginning to see that life in the West was going to change, and change considerably. Again, it was the Oil Embargo of 1973, that was my wake up call.
Both boys today are earning a living one in the corporate world and the other in the trades; both however, have a trade skill with which they can and do market themselves. Trade skill today will prove more valuable than college degrees. With colleges turning out degreed, or even advanced degree students; degrees are becoming increasingly meaningless. Many students, encumbered with huge student loans are graduating with no job prospects and yet must pay off loans. Some even have menial jobs which, can in no way, begin to help pay off loans for degrees which are not used.
My strong advice, and I can’t emphasize “strong” enough is to consider sending your children, specifically boys, to vocational – technical schools where they can gain marketable skills. Meantime, We should urge our grade and high schools to revert to classical educations which demand much of students, so that we will turn out well rounded, intelligent people who can read, write, comprehend, and think critically. If you already have a school that is hard on the students and the teachers are too demanding, thank God, …because they have your child’s best interests in mind. If you are homeschooling be as disciplined, regimented, and as tough as possible, this will develop the character needed for a well educated and rounded person for our future society; use as classical an educational curriculum as possible. If there is any hope in restoring all things in Christ once again, it is through this formula.
Apparently, in our crisis of today, my observations are becoming quite widespread and many are also finding the same thing. Below is a most interesting video which is making much the same observation that I made more than two decades ago. Please take the time to review this video, it could mean all the difference to the direction of your children’s future vocation and is well worth the viewing.
Here is the web citation:
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.