The better educated a person is, the more capable she is and so the more she earns. This is why, I suspect, Franklin Roosevelt signed the GI Bill months before World War II ended. What happened? The cost of educating returning GI’s was repaid many times over in income taxes since, had GI’s not gone to college, technical school, or whatever, they would have earned less and so would have paid less in taxes. Paying for college was, and remains, a very good investment for both individuals and the community.
How does this bear on higher education? No matter what a person does the first few years after high school, their world view changes -- whether he’s in college, the military, or working for a living. The post-graduation years are, after all, when teens mature into adults. They begin fending for themselves, making a wider range of decisions without relying on parents, gaining experience from both successes and failures which, examined through their maturing reflective abilities, guide the next 40-plus years. And they grow up, hopefully, into happy, mature adults.
Erik Erikson, who studied how people change over their lives, claimed the most important task for 18 year olds is separating from their families of origin.
This, in turn, leads to the point of this article -- that completion of high school may not be the best time for college though there are, of course, wonderful young people who’ve already begun making reasoned decisions and they finish the process in college. Evidence of this is their comfort making decisions, for example, appropriately allocating time to studying and socializing.
I suspect these are also the kids who learned early to listen to their parents’ advice, consider it and so act accordingly. And so they have minimal problems adjusting to college.
There are also many 18 year olds who couldn’t do this and so got into trouble. I know two of them well, my friend, John, and me. I didn’t know him until graduate school, but we developed a strong personal relationship lasting to this day, both of us having had academic writing careers as well as enjoying the pleasures (and trials) of marrying and raising families. Both of us would have profited from holding off on college for a year or two because we lacked maturity at age 18.
John was luckier than I because, distracted from his studies by new opportunities, he flunked out after his sophomore year. What did he do? He spent a year driving a truck, which meant thinking about his life so far and his prospects for the future. He thought about these things while making pickups and deliveries and comparing his life to those who did and didn’t go to college.
I was less lucky as I completed my bachelor’s degree without flunking out but with a grade point average that barely got me into graduate school.
John and I both earned doctorates though, thinking about our undergraduate experiences, we agree these accomplishments would have been much less painful, much more enjoyable and stimulating had we, say, spent a year or two working and saving money before we applied to college. Why? Because we’d have both matured in our understandings of the world and our places in it. And so our decision making would have been more productive, more satisfying.
How does this all relate to the high cost of college? While the primary goal of delaying college for students like me and John is maturing, the second goal is earning money to cover collegiate costs. I’ll describe how to accomplish both these ends in my next column.
Hank Slotnick is a retired UND professor who, with his wife, winters in Pima, Ariz., and summers in Debs.