For students contemplating college this fall, the time has come to look at other options. So much has changed over the last year that some soul searching about the future is in order.
For decades, people have clung to the myth that higher education will automatically result in better outcomes. High school graduates are told that a university degree is a passport to success defined by the purely material standards of better employment, higher status and proportional paychecks.
This myth comes at a high price. Some unfortunate individuals wander around campus until they end up with degrees in specialized niches that render them unemployable in the real world. Others drop out of college and thus waste precious years and money when they might have explored alternatives.
Despite the oft-repeated mantra, college is not for everyone. Even the most successful students end up with debt levels that hinder their ability to set up a household. Something more is needed.
Challenging the Mantra That College Is for Everyone
The good news is that it is no longer forbidden to think outside the college campus box.
The Covid crisis has thrown the university narrative into disarray. During the lockdowns, many found no need to attend expensive institutions when online options worked fine. This disruption also opened up space for young people to enter into the workforce directly or pursue once stigmatized opportunities like trade schools.
The university’s liberal bias also disenchants students. Last summer’s civil unrest has only increased student disconnectedness as they face cancelation from the university’s “woke” culture. Universities are supposed to be portals to the truth and not places of repressive falsehoods. A 2020 survey (pdf), for example, reports that 62 percent of students said the campus climate prevents them from expressing themselves or disagreeing.
Yet another discouraging factor is cost. Over the past 20 years, tuition has increased 144 percent at private universities, 165 percent for out-of-state public tuition and 212 percent for in-state public fees. Students are getting less as they pay more to get a diploma. Thus, college enrollment fell 25 percent during the pandemic as students were forced to reevaluate what they were getting in return for their investment.
The higher education bubble is popping. The Covid crisis caused many students to delay or halt their path toward a degree. Now is the ideal time to look at more and better options. Not everyone needs to go to college.
Mixed Up About Their Future
The bad news is that young people are just as mixed up as ever about their future. The present culture stresses instant gratification and does little to prepare them seriously for life’s hardships.
For most entering college, the selection of a career is made based on finding material success. It is measured in dollars, pleasure and status. People do not consider the spiritual dimension of the personal development of character or religious devotion. Thus, college often proves to be a time when students lose their faith, become cynical and embrace immoral lifestyles.
Students need to take a second look at where they are going. They should take time to reflect on who they are and what to do with their lives.
Three Elements of Preparing for the Future
Real career preparation should consist of three elements.
First, those pondering their future should take time to reflect on their lives. They should consider the long-term effects of their decisions and not follow whims. Family background, personal talents and natural inclinations should be important parts of these decisions. People should never be afraid to pursue their passions for a profession, even if it is not trendy.
A second element is to seek the wise thoughts of others since it is often difficult to be objective about personal matters. Family members, role models and trusted advisors can help students reach decisions and not just tell them what they want to hear. Alas, so many enter their studies without counsel. So many go to college simply because others are going or they are pressured to go.
If young people take counsel, it will go a long way toward reestablishing alternative paths that will result in more satisfying outcomes. Whatever route is taken, high school graduates should not go to college or employment without specific goals; they should never enter universities without choosing their majors.
The final element of the preparation for a career should involve the spiritual component of this choice. Few consider character, honor and duty as part of their education. Postmodern individualism has centered everything on the person’s gratification and teaches that nothing exists outside this limited and stifling universe of self. Above all, when God has no role in this process of discernment, decisions can easily lead to failure.
The Notion of a Calling
Perhaps it is the case to revive the traditional notion of a person’s calling. When an individual gradually works out a future with God’s help and grace, the person senses a calling to a mission in life linked to society. This divine calling is based on a combination of factors.
This process presupposes a period of introspection and prayer whereby the person seeks to discern a purpose or station in life. This self-examination is guided by principles, instincts, inner tendencies and inclinations, that the reason must judge. In the rare silence of this recollection and prayer, the individual begins to perceive a unique calling, which is God’s plan for the person.
Modern secularists despise this approach since they deny God and any divine designs in history. They see a calling as some rigid predetermination. However, contrary to popular belief, a calling is not a direct Divine command or revelation. Instead, it is a rational, discreet discernment of meaning and purpose that allows a person to go freely toward a perceived goal. Indeed, mandated higher education for every high school graduate is much more rigid and predetermined than a calling.
A calling is also not limited to a religious vocation or state of life. Everyone can pursue a calling, which might include service in the military or law enforcement, a life to be spent in teaching, or the practice of medicine and any number of professions. A person finds a place to serve society while accommodating individual abilities.
“A calling links a person to the larger community, a whole in which the calling of each is a contribution to the good of all,” writes sociologist Robert Bellah. A calling is not a tyrannical or ordained order that is rigorously imposed upon the person as in a caste. It establishes place and purpose in life. In a calling, the person has enormous freedom to pursue numerable options that appear along the path of an ever more coherent development of God’s plan for the individual.
The Impact of Following a Calling
Reviving the notion of a calling would have a major impact on the culture and the nation. When people sense a purpose beyond self-interest and pleasure, they willingly sacrifice for the common good. They are disposed to fight the evils of the day that are contrary to their calling, community, and society at large. Nations become capable of great spiritual and cultural development since they too have callings that reflect God’s designs in history.
As high school graduates prepare for their future this summer, they would do well to take some time to ponder their callings. The crisis inside higher education provides the perfect occasion to seek out other options. The nation’s troubles make this discernment more urgent since there is a great need for those willing to serve others. Above all, young people need to turn to God and pray for His help to find meaning and purpose inside a world that rejects both.
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