Education, careers and life


Recent media posts: praise a few students who left school to build devices and became millionaires; predict skilled workers might earn higher wages; hope low unemployment rates will increase wages. Authors and readers conclude that post-high school education is not worth it.

Rising costs of attending colleges and universities result in large student debts. Sources of debts are complex. Studies show that larger debts are incurred by graduate students — especially in medicine, law, and business — not undergraduates. Carefully administered relief is appropriate.

Previous data show that lifetime income is considerably higher for college graduates. Unemployment rates are higher among those uneducated. It is the case that fields with highest income are in STEM sciences, medicine and business. Lowest incomes are for graduates with degrees in education, religion, counseling, social work and the arts. In short, those in helping careers.

An assistant principal trusted me to be his gofer. Attending a small, inexpensive college to study religion was my plan. He took me aside and said that friends in an investment firm downtown offered me a job. I could take evening college courses and live at home. He considered my plans a mistake. I have always been grateful for Mr. Blanke’s generosity and care. However, I have never regretted studying religion, nor dreamed about investment wealth.

The son of poor refugee immigrants entered Wabash as a pre-med student. He came to me as his advisor saying he had decided to major in religion. A impressive career as a physician lay ahead, so I suggested that he keep his options open. He did and came to me as a sophomore to say that he had decided to major in art and minor in biology. He interned at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and completed his M.A. and PhD degrees at a major university. He graduated with high honors and distinction from every school and accepted a university position teaching art. He now directs a major art museum. What can you do with an art major? That’s what! If the student is very bright, dedicated, and motivated!

Young people are discouraged, sure they will never be able to afford their parents’ lifestyle. Many are depressed, thinking their efforts in education are not valued. Some drop out of school or fail. The largest decline in education is among boys and young men. Fewer African American and Latino men complete high school, enter, or graduate from college. Disaster follows false promises, failures and depression.

Few people will work at the same jobs for their careers. Re-training and up-training are future requirements for everyone. Crab-like side moves rather than greased pole up the ladder of success will be more common in the future. Those do not or cannot learn how to learn will be left in the dust.

Life is more important than a job or income. The purpose of education is to enable free individuals to decide what they will affirm as true (worldview) and to determine what is good to do (morality). That wisdom enables a person to decide what to study and what career to follow, within the parameters of their abilities and skills.

Actions here and now might save our young people: Avoid putting artificial constraints on a child’s curiosity and joy of learning. Don’t force young people into one educational box that limits their opportunities to adapt to coming changes. Encourage young people to learn and develop their God-given potentials for flourishing lives, careers, joy and satisfaction throughout life. Support schools and colleges that enhance those. Provide strong and closely woven safety nets, both social and economic, for those unprepared by genes or environment to obtain required training or education. Fewer will be left in the dust.


Raymond Brady Williams, Crawfordsville, LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities emeritus, contributed this guest column.