One of the biggest challenges facing young people and their parents today is how to approach education after high school. For most families in America and much of the world, going to college has become synonymous with taking the first step toward success in life. It’s not hard to find statistics that reflect the fact that college graduates are more likely to get a job and earn more than those who never went to college.
But on the flip-side, the cost of college has skyrocketed in the last few decades. While a college degree may help with getting a job, it can also result in a burden of debt that lasts for years to come. This is the conundrum faced by young people and their parents every year as high school graduation approaches.
So, what to do?
The first thing to keep in mind is that God is the creator of knowledge. He knows everything about history, math, science, art, music and technology! His understanding is infinite (Psalm 147:5)!
God is not anti-knowledge or anti-learning. In fact, when He offered King Solomon his heart’s desire and Solomon chose knowledge over riches and glory, God was immensely pleased (2 Chronicles 1:11–12).
So, make no mistake, God wants us to be learners, gaining knowledge, wisdom and understanding. But a lot of careful thought needs to go into taking those first steps after high school. Many today are rediscovering the value of trade school, while others consider going to a college or university. If you are considering college, here are some important principles to keep in mind.
In its 2016 publication A Primer on the College Student Journey, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) reported that approximately 68 percent of high school graduates will enroll in college within a few months of graduation. But, remarkably, about half of those who enroll will be required to complete remedial classes because they are not prepared for college work. If you study diligently in high school, you immediately put yourself on a course to getting the most from the college experience. But there is another element to preparation.
We read this in Proverbs 1:7, from a man who was an exceptional student: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” We should temper and test everything a teacher tells us with a fear of God—a proper awe and reverence of Him and His ways. If we allow any college professor to convince us to believe anything that contradicts the word of God, we will begin to fall into the fog of purely human knowledge—ever-changing, never completely certain.
College can be expensive. And it’s gotten more expensive. According to the AAAS, tuition and fees to attend public four-year institutions average about 73 percent more than just two decades ago. As a result, many college students take out loans to pay for college—a lot of loans. In fact, student debt is currently in the neighborhood of $1.4 trillion (“Fed’s Dudley Says High College Costs Lower Economic Mobility,” WSJ.com, December 7, 2017). Many students and their parents consider that $50,000 or $75,000 in debt is going to be quickly repaid by a high-salary job after college. The reality, however, is that those high-salary jobs are not automatically available after college. As a result, it’s not unusual to find people in their 30s and 40s still under the burden of college debt.
The wise student will turn to the principle of “counting the cost” before taking on a large college debt (see Luke 14:28)—considering the consequences of his actions. And there are options. The AAAS found that the cost for two-year community colleges has stayed surprisingly affordable for the last 20 years. When inflation is considered, the cost is actually half the cost of 20 years ago by some measures. Taking the first two years of a four-year degree at a less-expensive local community college can result in tens of thousands of dollars of savings.
Another point brought out by the study was that two-thirds of college students pay less than the “sticker-price,” reducing their costs through scholarships and grants.
Spending our money wisely means taking the time to compare options wisely. It is a big mistake to view potential colleges based on their elite reputation and how much they will impress friends and neighbors. Bragging rights for parents about where their son or daughter is attending have no place in the wise choice for college education, yet this kind of vanity prevents many from considering local community colleges as an option—regardless of the potential cost savings. Too often, pride drives more people’s decisions than wisdom.
Then there is the vital question about the course of study you should choose. For some, the college experience is seen as a rite of passage in a young person’s life. Regrettably, what that often means is a re-evaluation of what a young person has been taught by their parents. Nothing is left untouched, including sexual morals, use of drugs or alcohol, and philosophy of life.
It is foolish to approach college this way—just as it is foolish to ignore God’s desires for your future. For young men, consider what Paul wrote to Timothy: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). The modern mantra tells us that life is about self-fulfillment and self-interest. But God’s word gives a message to the contrary. Men have a God-given responsibility to lead and care for their families. So young men should choose preparation and a course of study that will provide them the tools and training to fulfill that directive.
And young women? Their education should also support their God-ordained role. Paul admonished Titus to teach the young women to “be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed” (Titus 2:5). Again, in God’s plan, men and women are most completely fulfilled through their family relationships. Our life’s work must synchronize with those relationships. So, choose your course of study wisely.
Some of the most dramatic statistics compare those who go to college or get a skill through trade school with those who drop out of high school. Studies consistently demonstrate that those who end their education early will face greater struggles in life. But according to the AAAS report, it is a growing trend for young people to drop out of college without finishing their program. In fact, after beginning college, only 60 percent of students will have graduated in six years’ time. Some certainly finish their program later—but many never do. As a result, they often have more difficulty paying back student loans, as they cannot reap the benefits of a completed degree. So, finish what you start.
Life is about learning. God wants us to learn. And as we emerge from childhood, what we learn becomes the springboard for the rest of our life. Learn God’s ways. Learn skills for life. And learn wisely.