What’s The Plan, Kid?

Last week, several parents were sitting on my front porch enjoying a good conversation and a few refreshing drinks. I mentioned that I believe it is necessary for a high school graduate to have an initial career objective before heading off to college.

Why?  Because college is expensive, and it should not be entered into without a thoughtful analysis.

The average cost of a four year college education (in the U.S.) is about $120,000. For prestigious private schools, the all-in cost could climb towards $300,000.

Regardless of how the bill is paid…either via parents’ savings, scholarships, grants or student loans, we know one thing: somebody is on the hook for the amount.

So it begs the question:

Is it fair to expect that young adults figure out a life path upon high school graduation?

I think so.

If you don’t believe so, then ask yourself a simple question: Would a reasonable person invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into any new venture without a clearly defined plan of action?

That is what we are talking about…

In my day (circa 1984), most college programs were affordable, and the majority of post-college jobs generated sufficient income to handle the debt repayment.

At $10,000 per year, the financial commitment was equivalent to splurging on a new car.  Not a big deal…

However, because the cost has risen excessively in the last two decades, unfocused students/families now assume financial hardship via the massive debt burdens associated with going to college. These debt burdens can make it very difficult to pursue rewarding, but lower paying career fields, that may be ideally suited for a young person.

Even in situations where the family has saved enough to handle the costs, the depletion of these resources in order to randomly explore the college experience is unnecessary. More importantly, these resources could re-deployed to more effectively pursue a path consistent with strengths and interests.

I know, I know.  I also enjoyed my four years of college, just like most middle-aged parents.

What has changed?

In the 1980s, the burden of proof was on the unfocused student to convince the parents why it DID NOT make sense to immediately attend college in order to pursue their dreams. The belief was that in the absence of any ambition, it was best to attend college after high school.

Now, it is becoming more common that the burden of proof is on the unfocused student to explain to the parents why it DOES make sense to immediately attend an expensive college in the absence of ambition or dreams.

In other words, the case has to be made to justify the astronomical financial commitment, and that is difficult without a thoughtful reason why they are headed to college.

Let me be clear..

If a high school graduate has a life goal to become a doctor or an engineer, for example, then of course they should attend college and the financial commitment is appropriate.

But if they have no clue what they want to pursue, and minimal self-awareness, it may be wise to take a “gap year” off and encourage them to engage in thoughtful self-analysis with the help of a competent life coach/counselor.

The point is that the student should have a plan to justify the investment  

So the tables are beginning to flip on today’s youth. If parents are currently reluctant, hesitant, or embarrassed to “demand” more thoughtful planning from young people, they won’t be in ten years when the costs rise another 260%.  Skyrocketing college costs.

At that rate, the $300,000 degree will slam our grandkids with a staggering $780,000 bill.  There are not many post college career options that are going to dig you out of that kind of financial hole…

I have talked to a lot of bright and hopeful college kids that literally have no guidance on what to do upon graduation, and many have unfortunately assumed heavy levels of debt.

This is very disturbing, because the problem is preventable. After all, shouldn’t a complete high school education have a self-assessment component?

Recently, I was at a gathering of college students on the cusp of graduation, and I asked many of them what they had planned next. A few had plans, but many did not.

When I suggested that they may want to start by identifying their strengths and interests, I got blank stares.  I had the feeling that it was the first time they had ever thought about doing a simple self-assessment.

If they had conducted a simple self-assessment in the last year or so of high school, before college, they would be better prepared to determine which life path makes the most sense.

For example, let’s assume that a young person is set on following a career path consistent with his self-assessment and the love of primary school teaching.

Would it make sense (understanding the average salary of a teacher) to saddle the student with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, if they could achieve the same outcome with significantly less of a financial burden by attending an inexpensive, less prestigious school?

Of course not.

Is it possible that the plan changes after arriving in college?  Of course, and at that point, they can make an adjustment based on another thoughtful plan.  Blog Post:  Thoughts From The Farm, 3/20/17

The point is that they will learn a new approach to living their lives, based on a self-assessment and goal setting.

Early career planning has to be expected of our youth, and addressed by parents or counselors throughout high school.

3 thoughts on “What’s The Plan, Kid?

  1. Honestly, the biggest issue isn’t college or it’s tuition anymore. It is the lack of apprenticeship type education in high school that is truly hurting the youth of America! Your comments are 100% correct about college and the planning perspective but our lack of options in public education is what causes many of our young adults to be in significant debt. Many of our students do not have the equal opportunity to acces apprenticeship type programs. For instance; UCPS has CATA, which is a wonderful school, but to meet the strigent requirements is rare for the average student. Therefore, only the top of the top, can truly get in through the lottery. Students with learning disabilities or those who struggle academically can hardly ever get into their programs due to the requirements set out before the lottery even starts. They are weeded out due to academic weaknesses and low performance in state testing. These are the students who need these type of programming first and foremost. Unfortunately, these you adults don’t get what they need and ultimately struggle to provide the funds they have into college programs, putting them into more debt. This is done in order to have a job the could have had after graduating high school if allowed in the right programming.
    Now, my post focused on one particular group, somewhat a stray from the topic. However, this is the group, in which I feel are the most neglevted.

  2. Great stuff
    There is a huge shortage of good skilled trade labor also
    Most of those jobs pay well
    Mike Rowe has a foundation for scholarships to trade schools
    Mike Rowe works.com

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