At 71, I’m still paying off my student loans. Here is what I learned.

At 71, I’m still paying off my student loans. (Luckily, I’m almost done.)

My experience paying off those loans — and sending four kids to college — led me to an inescapable conclusion: Not every high school graduating child should go to college. At least not right away.

Parents need to stop thinking that their children should always go to college, regardless of the circumstances. There are a number of good jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, and often pay more than someone with a college education earns. These are respectable jobs — firefighter, web developer, dental hygienist — that any parent should be proud of with their children.

» READ MORE: If your 73-year-old mother is waiting for tables to pay your college debts, the system may be broken | Will Bunch

So let’s stop with the default expectation that every child should go to college. Most 18 year olds really don’t know what they want to do with their lives. While they figure it out, let’s not push them toward a four-year degree—and the associated lifetime debt—that they may never need.

I really could have used that advice when I graduated from Northeast High School in 1968.

I wasn’t ready for college at 18. I was accepted into a hospital-based nursing school program (to be a registered nurse or RN) and left after 10 months because it was too restrictive. I became a licensed practical nurse (LPN) (which often works under the guidance of registered nurses) and worked there for 10 years before returning to community college and earning a registered nursing degree, which helped me gave more responsibilities and a better salary. It wasn’t until my late 40s that I started a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration, followed by an MBA with a focus on healthcare management, earning both degrees online. At 52, I had five children and about $80,000 in student debt.

Even though I’m still paying for my education, I’m glad I made the choices I did. I wasn’t mature enough right out of high school to have the discipline to finish the job. If I had forced myself to go to college before I was ready, I probably would have dropped out and ended up with debts and no degree to help me pay them off. Once I matured, I got the degrees I needed to have a wonderful career. So for me, all that debt was worth it. (And I only have a few thousand dollars left.)

But there’s no shame in never going to college either. It was a mindset that started years ago when immigrant and blue-collar kids felt their kids should go to college to show that their kids would have a better life than them. .

“If I had forced myself to go to college before I was ready, I most likely would have dropped out and ended up with debts and no degree to help pay them off.”

Linda Tait

The times have changed.

Secondary counselors should talk honestly with students and their parents about their goals. If this is unclear, counselors should recommend that the student work for at least a year or two to get a better idea of ​​what they might be interested in pursuing.

Of my five children, four went to college. All five have careers, but only one who started college in high school finished in four years. They needed time to figure it out, and if we had forced them to finish in four years, they probably would have ended up with a college degree that didn’t suit their interests. Think of all the money they would have wasted.

I see students going off to college and taking courses in liberal arts, business, and science. Often they think they’re going to teach or be an engineer or work in business, only to change direction when it’s time to choose a major. And that’s even if they go that far. Some drop out, others get a degree they can’t use. More often than not, these students will rack up thousands of dollars in debt and not much to show for it.

Did they need to go to college for four years to work in a restaurant as a server, bartender, or other retail environment because their degree didn’t really prepare them for anything? And if they manage to find a job “in their field”, do they earn enough to be able to live on their own and have enough to repay those loans?

There are students who would probably do a lot better considering a job that doesn’t require a college degree, where there can be more jobs, and they can be productive and not rack up thousands of dollars in debt. studies.

At 18, our children don’t always know what they want to do with their lives. Give them time to understand.

Linda Tait lives in Lansdale and recently retired from working for managed care organizations.

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