What Should Twenty-Somethings Be Doing With Themselves?

 

I’m particularly thinking of the younger ones, who are still minimally employable and not terribly mature. 

A lot of people are realizing that college isn’t a great deal for many (or most) people. But one of the reasons people send their kids to college is because they want them to have a pleasant post-adolescent/early-adulthood transitional experience. I’m not suggesting that colleges do a great job of providing this. Many people spend their college years wasting enormous amounts of time and money while eroding their moral character. Still, in broad terms, you can see how college seems like the right choice to many people. It offers some independence, but also some supervision; it has a natural starting and ending point; professors and counselors and friends will encourage students to spend their years there planning for some productive future to follow. And of course you get a degree (assuming you finish, that is).

One reason undergraduate education is hanging on despite its problems is because people don’t know where else to get those things. And I think it’s a legitimate question. The military is a great option for some, but not everyone is suited to it and the military doesn’t have space for every single 20-year-old anyway. Early marriage is another way to go (though newlyweds still need a livelihood), and I think it would be good if that were more socially acceptable. Realistically though, I don’t think we’re likely to see 21-year-olds racing to the altar anytime in the near future. It isn’t what they or their parents want. They want to feel more established and mature before marriage.

Part of the key to diminishing the influence of higher ed may be recognizing how much people want that type of transitional experience for their kids. They don’t want to get married right away, and they want their post-adolescent years to be challenging without being too punishing. Given that demand, is there another way to meet it that is less ruinously expensive and more productive? Could we turn vocational apprenticeships into more of a college-type experience? Create more service opportunities? Other ideas?

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  1. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    The only way we’re going to see a substantial move away from things like Higher Education is if the government took it’s trillion dollar thumb off the scale. College wouldn’t be so oversized, less people would go, and alternatives like vocational schools and apprenticeships would take it’s place.

    But that’s not likely to happen because “More money for Education,” always sounds good, no matter how much is being spent. People also conflate higher education with higher income. The education itself is worth very little to your employer. All your employer really cares about is that you got through, and that signals you are better than those who didn’t, which means you are a safer bet. But now too many people finish college, which means most are no better off than if none of them had gone.

    College is a sorting mechanism that is currently too large and too expensive for optimal societal benefit. Getting the government out of subsidizing would go a long way to reducing the waste.

    • #1
  2. user_407430 Contributor
    user_407430
    @RachelLu

    I hear you, Mike. But the thing is, it’ll be much easier to convince people to give up the higher ed boondoggle if we have appealing alternatives to suggest. That’s why I think “marry at 20 and raise a family on a lower-middle-class salary” isn’t going to help us slay the beast. On so many levels, it’s just not the kind of life people want now. We need other things to suggest before people will reconsider sending their kids to college.

    • #2
  3. user_352043 Moderator
    user_352043
    @AmySchley

    Well, first thing to do would be recognize that “college” can mean a lot of things.  I have no plans to send my kids to a four-year college in the middle nowhere for the “college experience.”  However, there are great community colleges and vocational schools in my area — for example, graduates from Johnson County Community College’s culinary program are as well regarded as graduates from the CIA or LaRousse. That’s still called “college” but it isn’t what is generally thought of as “college.” 

    And for someone who’s thinking of a career that requires a degree, far far better to figure out the whole “how to balance school and work and freedom” thing while classes are less than $100 a credit hour, not the $300+ at a university.

    • #3
  4. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    PROFOUNDLY DISCONNECTED?

    A trillion dollars in student loans. Record high unemployment. Three million good jobs that no one seems to want. The goal of Profoundly Disconnected is to challenge the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success.

    Meet Adam Crist. Adam is 24 years old and lives in Ohio. On June 30th, he completed a simple online form. Today – he’s a Cat Dealer Technician. Just like that…

    If you’re not afraid to work hard, learn a trade, and maybe get your hands dirty, fill out one of these forms at http://cattechjobs.com and see what’s possible.

    And remember – not all knowledge comes from college, and skill is a matter of degree.

    • #4
  5. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    I once heard some guy on the radio make the case that it’s silly to expect people to grow up before they get married; that it’s the other way around — marriage causes people to grow up.  I’m sympathetic to this argument.  (And it must be true, because I heard it on the radio.)

    • #5
  6. user_245883 Member
    user_245883
    @DanCampbell

    My first line of advice is always a hitch in the military.  For those not college-bound or going into the military, waiting until age 21 and working at the skateboard shop is late to decide what you want to be when you grow up.  If you are not going to college or the military, you should know it by the time you graduate from high school, and should be preparing for life.

    Enroll in a technical school and/or get an apprenticeship in a tech trade right after HS graduation.  Tech schools have job placement services that will help for the first few years at least.

    One of the great things about America is that people are not tied to a career path like they are in Europe.  Don’t like what you’re doing?  Take some courses at the community college and change that.  My best friend from HS  started as a machinist.  About the time I finished college, he decided he wanted to be a geologist.  Now he explores for natural gas in the boonies of the western states.

    • #6
  7. user_407430 Contributor
    user_407430
    @RachelLu

    PC, it’s a long-running debate. Lots to say about it, but I think the quick summary is that marry-to-mature is the more-used model historically, but mature-to-marry seems to be working somewhat better for people now. That is, people who are young and not at all established are having more trouble making their marriages work.

    We certainly shouldn’t view that as some kind of iron law. There are lots of exceptions, and there are also things we could do to revitalize the marry-to-mature model. I guess my main thought here is just that “don’t go to college, get married” isn’t going to be a very successful “pitch”. It’s not just tweaking people’s present life plans; it’s proposing a pretty radically different life course, which probably won’t appeal to the sorts of people who are now addicted to higher ed.

    • #7
  8. user_407430 Contributor
    user_407430
    @RachelLu

    Interesting thought: would it be possible to found some kind of youth social clubs that could capture more of the social experience of college without costing $40 thousand a year?

    I realize that many people here will probably suggest that they don’t really care to capture the college social experience. But at the end of the day, a lot of America doesn’t agree with you. And insofar as the role college is filling is more social than intellectual/professional, maybe it’s worth looking for ways to serve that purpose that are more… affordable?

    • #8
  9. PracticalMary Member
    PracticalMary
    @

    Rachel, I know you are totally serious but does this article shock and sadden anyone else on Ricochet? How I regret breaking my article standards of not reading anything concerning ‘post-adolescents’ (adults being mommyfied or millenial angst) and women’s issues.

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  10. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    Re: work, I am convinced that the first, best thing young people can do is gauge the labor market.  For K-12 years they are told to follow their dreams (i.e. do what interests them).  That’s great, but it’s only half the equation.  They also need to find out what others are willing to pay them for what they would consider doing.  And they need to appraise the costs of the required training.  Think in terms of ROI.

    Consider all options.  Before doing any training (including college), approach companies and ask them what they are looking for and how much they are willing to pay, including for positions that don’t require a degree.  Take a look at salary surveys (the BLS puts out some free stuff).  Pay attention when you have to pay through the nose for someone (the plumber cost me $200!).  Figure the costs of college, community college, vocational training, apprenticeships, online training, and/or certifications.  Also figure in the cost of not working while training.

    Finally, remember that work breeds work.  There is value in taking any job just for the experience.

    • #10
  11. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    If I could tweak the question a little and address 18-year-olds, I’d say that it’s vitally important to leave college with a specific, practical skill.  At many colleges — especially the elite ones — students are regularly told that everyone has a vocation they can be passionate about and that success in life means simply pursuing it.

    While some people are able to gainfully combine business with their passion  — I know a few — most of us do not.  Most people are passionate about something, but not all passions lead to gainful employment.  If you find yourself in this majority, it’s worth your while to find something you’re good at and don’t hate that will enable you to pursue your passions outside of work.

    • #11
  12. user_352043 Moderator
    user_352043
    @AmySchley

    Rachel Lu: It’s not just tweaking people’s present life plans; it’s proposing a pretty radically different life course, which probably won’t appeal to the sorts of people who are now addicted to higher ed.

     Amen.  The look of horror on people’s faces when they realize I married at 18 gets really old.

    I think it’s less that marriage causes maturity than responsibility causes maturity, and marriage is a huge responsibility.  That’s why the military makes people grow up too, after all.

    But given that as an axiom, the best thing we can do for twenty-somethings is to give them responsibility — making them pay (not borrow) for college, making them pay their own bills, letting them earn the ability to lead others.  Making things soft — letting them live rent-free at home, paying for all their college, discouraging their desires to make their romantic relationships permanent — keeps them young.

    • #12
  13. user_407430 Contributor
    user_407430
    @RachelLu

    I think, Amy, that the “axiom” is widely agreed among conservatives, but not shared by much of the population. Or perhaps we should say that conservatives put more emphasis on the responsibility-to-maturity connection. No doubt everyone would agree that responsibility has some role in the equation, but it’s not the only factor, and there might be disagreement about its weight and about the other factors.

    And I myself am not at all decided on the question. That discipline is a necessary component of virtue, I readily grant, but it’s just clearly not the case that loading people up with responsibility young is a surefire recipe for virtue, happiness or any kind of success. And often “anticipated” responsibility coupled with broad opportunities for personal development can produce very good results. As aristocrats have always understood. 

    Anyway, if you’re just looking to make young people’s lives harder, that’s easily done, but I don’t think that’s what most modern parents want.

    • #13
  14. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Can you define “grow up”

    • #14
  15. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    Rachel Lu:

    PC, it’s a long-running debate.  Lots to say about it, but I think the quick summary is that marry-to-mature is the more-used model historically, but mature-to-marry seems to be working somewhat better for people now.  That is, people who are young and not at all established are having more trouble making their marriages work. 

    Yeah, there’s a lot there.   I don’t want to completely drive your conversation off the rails.  Two quick aspects:

    1. Let’s be honest — the mature-to-marry model in practice is usually the have-sex-now-commit-later model.  This can create many problems, and those problems can greatly interfere with the education / work issues.

    2. That said, young couples need support that they aren’t getting today.

    • #15
  16. user_407430 Contributor
    user_407430
    @RachelLu

    Tom Meyer:

    If I could tweak the question a little and address 18-year-olds, I’d say that it’s vitally important to leave college with a specific, practical skill. At many colleges — especially the elite ones — students are regularly told that everyone has a vocation they can be passionate about and that success in life means simply pursuing it.

     Agreed, although, it seems to me like the “practical” ones mostly get business degrees, which is one of the worst ways to actually learn something in college.  Perhaps we could do better at helping people figure out how to use their real skills productively.

    Odd little example: as a kid I had no interest in computers but I was always extremely good at “puzzles”, of the sort that appear on the GRE analytic section or in the LSAT games section. I always saw it as a weird, random talent (“good puzzle solver”), like being able to juggle or being a good whistler. Isn’t it strange nobody ever suggested to me that this ability might have actual practical applications, as for example to computer programming?

    • #16
  17. user_407430 Contributor
    user_407430
    @RachelLu

    Agree to both, PC, though of course it is *possible* to wait on the sex. I did. I know lots of other people who did. But all people of serious religious commitments who had strong religious/moral motivations.

    • #17
  18. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    For young men, there are plenty of options in the trades as long as you are willing to work hard.  My father, who has been a construction supervisor for about 25 years, has a nice story about a young laborer, 18 yrs old right out of high school, named Danny.

    Construction laborers are the lowest rung in the trades and are asked to do the least skilled, boring, dirty, and sometimes backbreaking jobs on the site.  Needless to say new laborers often complain about the work, show up late, and eventually leave for easier work.  Yet Danny, according to my dad, never complained, was eager, and hustled on the job.  As my dad said, “If I told him to go another 2″x6″ he would run.”  Anyway this work ethic caught the eye of the plumber who was on the job and before the job was over, the plumber called Danny over and said, “Danny, how would you like to be a plumber?”

    Ten years later Danny was a journeyman plumber, with a growing family, and a job making more than my father.

    • #18
  19. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Rachel Lu:

    Interesting thought: would it be possible to found some kind of youth social clubs that could capture more of the social experience of college without costing $40 thousand a year?

     What exactly is the social experience of college?  The carousing?  Or just the living on campus?  Something else?

    It seems to me that very few people under 40 have had a sort of traditional college experience.  Many go part time or commute or quit or drag it on forever (me in all cases)…

    And many of those who did live on campus just suffered through it and there doesn’t seem to be much connection after they leave.  (No RAH! RAH! GO STATE! feeling.)

    So are people sending their kids to school for that sort of feeling?

    • #19
  20. user_407430 Contributor
    user_407430
    @RachelLu

    Casey, I teach at a private Catholic 4-year university, of middling ranking. When I talk to my students about why they’re in college, it’s clear that “the experience” is high on their list. And if you read people like Charles Murray, it becomes clear that that isn’t necessarily crazy. College is the gateway to elite society, or even semi-elite society, for a great many people. They meet their spouses there, or if not there than at alumni clubs afterwards. They make professional connections. They learn how to be members of “the class”.

    There are also many, many people for whom it works out badly, but I still think it’s unrealistic to sweep “the social stuff” off the table as though it doesn’t matter. It may not matter to you, but it’s a huge part of what’s keeping 4-year universities alive.

    • #20
  21. user_352043 Moderator
    user_352043
    @AmySchley

    Rachel Lu: but it’s just clearly not the case that loading people up with responsibility young is a surefire recipe for virtue, happiness or any kind of success.

     And it’s just clearly not the case that giving people little to no responsibility in their youth is a surefire recipe for virtue, happiness, or any kind of success either.

    Have you ever owned a working animal, say a horse or a hunting dog? They *need* to be worked regularly, or they become depressed, anxious, and acquire self-destructive habits.  People are the same.  We *need* to work in some way, shape, or form — whether it’s by raising kids and cleaning house, or working outside the home, or training the military, or by taking one’s studies as seriously as a job (which I’m sure you can agree that few college students do).

    Now, yes, teenagers shouldn’t just be coddled until they hit 18 and then thrown out of the house.  There needs to be a transition period of acquiring responsibilities.  But frankly, a healthy and normally intelligent young adult should be able to live independently at 21, even on a crappy job and married.

    • #21
  22. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    I agree Rachel to many people view college as a software patch for people, its all part of the “machines that poop” theory of humanity.

    The social stuff is important too, its a young person’s very first voluntary group-based self-identification.

    • #22
  23. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Tom Meyer:

    If I could tweak the question a little and address 18-year-olds, I’d say that it’s vitally important to leave college with a specific, practical skill. 

     I wish we could disentangle college and employment.

    College really should be about getting an education.  Then you come out and begin developing skills.   An educated person should be able to develop skills fairly quickly.

    I think the marketplace may split the two at some point – perhaps this tickles an answer – and we’ll have college (traditional) and college (job skills).  Instead of the current neither-nor.

    • #23
  24. user_407430 Contributor
    user_407430
    @RachelLu

    As some of you maybe already know, these questions are hard for me to consider, because I have lots of negative feelings towards universities but it’s hard to get past the fact that I think college was in fact extremely good for me. I did learn discipline there (mostly of an intellectual sort, but that cross-applies to moral discipline to some extent). And became a more broad-minded and capable person. I didn’t learn much about cooking or bill-paying, but I think the rewards of liberal education were, for me, very significant and very lasting. And there is no way I could have replicated that just with a library card; the help and mentorship of professors was absolutely crucial to developing that understanding and mental discipline.

    There are other people like this, but not as many as there could be. Universities have been pretty complicit in their conversion into social clubs, because there are just more people in the world who want that, and even those capable of advanced intellectual study often meander through college without learning much. It’s a fairly complicated problem.

    • #24
  25. user_407430 Contributor
    user_407430
    @RachelLu

    Amy Schley:

    Rachel Lu: but it’s just clearly not the case that loading people up with responsibility young is a surefire recipe for virtue, happiness or any kind of success.

    And it’s just clearly not the case that giving people little to no responsibility in their youth is a surefire recipe for virtue, happiness, or any kind of success either.

    Clearly. But I guess I’m just suggesting that you’re not answering the question that most parents are asking when they decide whether to send their kids to college. They want their kids to mature, but they want them to mature in a particular sort of way, and “apply responsibility” isn’t per se a recipe for getting the kind of development they want (though of course it’s a component, at least at some stage).

    • #25
  26. user_407430 Contributor
    user_407430
    @RachelLu

    Casey:

    Tom Meyer:

    If I could tweak the question a little and address 18-year-olds, I’d say that it’s vitally important to leave college with a specific, practical skill.

    I think the marketplace may split the two at some point – perhaps this tickles an answer – and we’ll have college (traditional) and college (job skills). Instead of the current neither-nor.

     That would be a very good thing. I’m partly thinking that reciprocating the social experience outside of university might make it more doable. People who don’t really want to study won’t go to university just for the social experience, and the students who are left might actually want to learn.

    • #26
  27. user_352043 Moderator
    user_352043
    @AmySchley

    Rachel Lu: As some of you maybe already know, these questions are hard for me to consider, because I have lots of negative feelings towards universities but it’s hard to get past the fact that I think college was in fact extremely good for me.

     You’re not facing the prospect of spending every penny you make for the next ten years [Edit: at a job for which you have no real passion and that will require you to forgo being a full time parent] to pay for your college experience, so I seriously doubt you could feel more negatively about higher education than I do. :)

    In my life, college was good for one thing — meeting people.  It’s how I met my husband, almost all my friends, and even found Ricochet.  As for the learning, I’ve yet to have a job that required anything more than a high school education.  (I’ve even had managers who would have failed out of grammar school had their primary education been taught with any rigor.)

    • #27
  28. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    Re-privatizing the student loan industry would help return economic discipline to the college/no-college/which-college decision making process.

    Private lender: “Come again?  You want to borrow how much to get a Psychology degree?”

    • #28
  29. user_407430 Contributor
    user_407430
    @RachelLu

    Amy Schley:

    You’re not facing the prospect of spending every penny you make for the next ten years to pay for your college experience, so I seriously doubt you could feel more negatively about higher education than I do. :)

    In my life, college was good for one thing — meeting people. It’s how I met my husband, almost all my friends, and even found Ricochet. As for the learning, I’ve yet to have a job that required anything more than a high school education. 

    Obviously I appreciate that the cost is a huge problem but it’s hard to figure out how to handle that until you decide what the education itself is really worth to us.

    For me, insofar as I’m employed at all, it’s in very non-lucrative work that nonetheless has some great intangible benefits (flexibility, satisfaction), and my education is definitely relevant. Obviously I would be neither prepared nor qualified to teach philosophy without a degree. As a writer, the credentials aren’t critical (though they probably don’t hurt), but I do think the education itself was hugely important to developing the relevant abilities.

    • #29
  30. user_407430 Contributor
    user_407430
    @RachelLu

    More importantly, though, I think I’d value my education a lot even if I didn’t get to “use it”. The knowledge and capacities that it gave me would make life more interesting no matter what I applied them to. I’m not so foolish to suppose that “cost is no issue”; cost is always an issue. But it’s not *always* right to insist that every field of study must have a direct and obvious professional application.

    Of course I quite understand that your education wasn’t really worth it to you given the exorbitant cost, but would really say that the learning component was of *no* value? 

    Not to be cliche, but it opened whole worlds to me. Relevant in ways that go way beyond the professional sphere. Just as one example, my undergraduate learning was hugely relevant to the fact that I’m now a committed Catholic.

    • #30

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