It might seem mildly schizophrenic to tell you a career success story that happened without having specific schooling in that field and then suggest that there might be good reasons to consider post-high school education. After all, I don't have a degree and I'm doing okay, right? Well, yes, I am doing okay but I've also had 20 years to think about the decisions I made back then. Though hindsight requires no corrective lenses, it also cannot transport you back in time for a "do-over". Still, you can glean some lessons from evaluating the past. I’ve always been a hands-on learner, even as a kid and I value the tremendous amount of practical experience that the path I chose has given me. At the same time, my decision not to finish school has resulted in my occasionally facing certain obstacles with respect to employment, which I want to discuss in this segment. I want to make the case for you to give college due consideration if you’re uncertain if you should go. If you’ve already started then I am going to encourage you to finish if at all possible.
One of my coworkers has an avionics degree and has been with us for a couple of years as an installer (hanging new equipment in the airplanes). Because the program in which he got his degree gave him little practical radio repair experience I have been teaching him a few tricks of the trade. At my company, you might call me the go-to guy for technical information. People come to me when they don't understand something, when they need something fixed or when they need a problem solved. So if my co-worker has the fancy parchment that says that he’s been trained in avionics, why am I training him? If I’ve got the chops to repair the equipment and teach other people how to do it, why would I have bothered with college? Well consider this scenario: Awhile back I discussed with someone the possibility of me teaching avionics repair at the local technical college. Unfortunately, I could not qualify for that position because I don't have an Airframe and Powerplant mechanic license (which I do not need in the course of my work). The FAA requires that license in order to teach at that school, so despite a wealth of information and knowledge to share, the door is closed to me because I lack that credential. My co-worker with the avionics degree also got his A&P license at school. Except for his lack of experience, he theoretically he meets the requirements for a teaching position.
Like the grizzled flight instructor I mentioned earlier, part of me thinks that these college boys don't know nothin' and can't pick their nose with the right finger. Realistically though, my ability to teach something at this school that I know very well is hampered by licensure that I don’t have and others do. Sure I could still get the license if I wanted to spend 18 months and thousands of dollars in school, not to mention all the extra travel, time away from home and moonlighting that would be necessary but I’ve got a family and responsibilities to consider. Suppose I had done as my coworker did and gone though an aviation school when I was younger? I would have an open door now that I currently do not have. Beyond that, my job is reasonably secure now but nothing is guaranteed. The nature of repair work is changing and bench techies like me might go the way of the dodo in a few years. If I go hit the job market, will the next company be as tolerant of my lack of a degree as this one? Maybe, maybe not. Even without a degree, experience counts for something but if I’m up against a half dozen other people who have the paper that I don't, I could get passed up. Unfair? Maybe, but if I find myself getting passed for lack of a degree then I’ll have to stop cursing the darkness and start lighting candles in order to get somewhere.
I am where I am, for better and for worse, because of decisions I made long ago and far away. I have a successful job because I got a good break and worked very hard for many years. At the same time I sense the shadow of that built-in prejudice against me on the part of potential employers that say, "This guy looks great but he doesn't have a degree” (or license, if you will. In this example they accomplish the same thing). The degree may do nothing more than open doors of opportunity but if you want the doors open and don't have the keys, you've made things very hard on yourself. A friend of mine was on the brink of losing his job at a large company because he had an Associate degree and a policy change required a Bachelor’s. Fortunately, they made provision for him to complete his degree (and paid the tab) but he could have been out on his ear looking for work. Most of you aren't 41 years old with a family. What would be very difficult for me at my stage of the game is not nearly as hard for you at yours. Not to mention the fact that college is a lot more expensive today than it was 20 years ago. Consider that college could potentially be a big investment in your future. Investments may not look too exciting at the outset when you don't see any fruit but believe me; harvest day comes soon enough.
I'm not trying to suggest that you absolutely must go to college. I didn’t want that line shoved down my throat and I will not try to shove it down yours. I would encourage you neither to feel obligated to go nor to reject it out of hand. Make your decision based on careful consideration, not on the basis of prejudice for or against higher learning. There is a reality that a lack of college level education, even if it’s only a two-year degree or certificate program, will close certain doors to you. If you understand and accept that fact, then at least you’re making an informed choice. If you skip out on advanced learning out of fear of the unknown like I did long ago, or if you adopt a presumptuous arrogance that thinks that there's nothing at that some institution could possibly teach you, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Colleges may be Mecca’s for some odd ducks but there are also a lot of smart people wandering those halls, people who know more than you do. You might be able to benefit at some level from their knowledge.
Perhaps you plan to be self-employed, so you might be wondering what you would need a degree for. Bill Gates ain’t got no stinkin’ degree and he’s doing okay. Maybe you will invent something that revolutionizes our lives and be set for life or make it big as a wildly successful business owner. On the other hand, are you sure that you’ll never have to or want to work in an environment that requires college education? Are you sure that you wouldn’t learn something worthwhile and applicable in school? All I’m asking is have you thought the matter through? Okay, let’s say you are looking to be, say, an electrician and are leaning toward apprenticeship. The skilled trades are a fine and honorable way to earn a living and apprenticeship is a great way to learn, more on that in the next segment. You don't need a college degree to wire a building, fix a car or build a house. On the other hand, the guy that oversees all of the electricians, auto mechanics and carpenters in a company might have a bachelor’s or an MBA. The engineer who designed the bridges that the steelworkers are building went to college. It all depends on what you want to do and how far you want to go. Again, have you considered all of the angles?
Let me address you ladies for a moment, those of you who intend to be a stay-at-home, home schooling and homesteading mothers. Why would you need to go to college? That question arises from time to time and perhaps deserves its own segment. I do not wish to suggest that you need a degree but my standard advice to young ladies is to do what is necessary to enable yourselves to earn income should the need ever arise. Let me pose a question to you. What guarantee do you have of marriage and/or children? What assurance could anyone give you that you will never have to support yourself? I watched it happen to my mother. My father died, the insurance money ran out and guess what? The bills were still there. Thankfully she was trained as an administrative assistant and could pull some pretty good money. My wife is a nurse and she can out-earn me by about 100 percent. If something happens to me, I don’t worry about whether she can support herself and the kids. I have said numerous times and will continue to say that young women who do not equip themselves with some means of self-support are setting themselves on a course toward permanent dependency. What advantage is there in painting yourself into a corner where you have no options?
So I conclude my “pro-college” phase of this essay by saying that if I had it to do over again, I would have finished school and the thought has crossed my mind to finish my degree. As much as I value my practical, hands-on experience (which, by the way, can count for college credit at many institutions) and wouldn't trade it, a degree could open a few other doors. I'd have to jump through hoops and work exceedingly hard to do it, but it could be done. Those of you finishing high school probably don't have a wife, kids, a mortgage and bills to pay and people depending on you to keep doing your thing day in and day out. If you know that you need advanced education for your future career, you’d be doing yourself a favor to do it now and get it out of the way rather than trying to do it later. If you've started college and are thinking about quitting, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. It can be harder and more expensive to go back later on. Unless you really know that by being in college you are where you shouldn’t be (and that ought to be confirmed by a few trusted advisers) you really would be stacking the deck in your favor if you finish what you started.
We’ve been talking about how college may be for you. In the next segment I will examine the flip side of this issue and contemplate that college may not be the way for you to go. Stay tuned.