by Jonathan Brush
Acceptance into the perfect college has become the cultural standard for personal and parental success. At every turn, heavily credentialed experts assert that higher education is the doorway to the successful life and that the college experience is the essential transition program that will take an individual from childhood to adulthood. Many consider a college degree to be a shield against unemployment and a guarantee of higher earnings and an early retirement.
Consequently, students and parents feel increasing pressure and stress in the college selection and admissions process. Students feel that their first big decision in life is one that will not only be life changing, but will also have lifelong consequences. Parents often feel that insuring their student’s acceptance into the right college is their final and most important parental responsibility. This is even truer for homeschool parents, who view the college acceptance letter as cultural verification of their counter-cultural education decisions.
With so much at stake, it’s no wonder that many students and parents approach the college selection and admissions process with trepidation and angst. Answers to questions about which college to attend, how to be accepted, which major to choose, and the cost of tuition suddenly seem vitally important to future success. As the final year of homeschool approaches, stress mounts.
But does this view of college make sense? Homeschooling parents who are accustomed to critically examining cultural assumptions about elementary and secondary education should ask some important questions about the purpose and value of higher education. In considering higher education three important questions should be asked:
- What is the purpose of education?
- What is the value of a college experience?
- Does the value of a college experience help to fulfill the purpose of education?
Purpose of Education
Let’s briefly consider each one. First, what is the purpose of an education? Too many homeschooling parents put immense effort into giving their children an education yet spend little or no time helping their children think about the purpose of that education and how it should relate to careers and vocation. What is the goal of all this education? A goal of merely getting accepted to college is too small. The goal of a homeschool education should be to help children discover their God-given gifts and abilities, identify and address their inherent weaknesses, and determine their life’s work.
God has blessed each child with unique gifts and strengths. Finding these gifts and strengths, encouraging them, and strengthening them are part of a parent’s sacred responsibility. Of equal importance is discovering a child’s weaknesses. For a person to reach his full potential, he must be challenged to address and overcome the places in life where he struggles. In this process of identifying strengths and overcoming weaknesses, the parent and student should be thinking about how these gifts and failures work together to determine the student’s life work. This is not merely career planning but a process of visioning and seeking God’s plan for the student’s lifelong vocational calling. Will higher education be useful and helpful in pursuing this calling?
Value of Education
Generally speaking, a college education provides two key advantages. The first is providing technical training for specific careers and vocations. If a student is called to practice medicine, become a research scientist, or study nuclear engineering, then college will probably be the best place to find the specific instruction, equipment, and laboratories that are necessary to become competent in those fields.
The second advantage provided by a college education is that it empowers students to engage in the cultural discourse. Our culture is largely formed by ideas. Proper worldview training that teaches students to evaluate different ideas from a Christian perspective should take place prior to college. College provides a testing ground for this training, where students will be introduced to new material, be forced to articulate their own thoughts, and gain experience in defending their positions. The end result will be a person experienced and comfortable conversing in the language and substance of the ideas that form our culture.
The college experience can be formative, speeding a student from childhood to the responsibilities of their adult lives. A college degree can be an asset in finding meaningful employment. But these outcomes are not guaranteed, a fact too many parents and prospective college students forget in their rush to procure a diploma that they think will guarantee success. Not all students are uniquely gifted for college; some may be blessed with strengths better suited for other endeavors.
A focus on the purpose of an education and a clear realization of the advantages offered by a college education will better enable parents and students to make wise decisions about how students should prepare for their life’s work. This disciplined thinking in preparing to make a decision about attending college will also bring clarity and precision to the process of evaluating and choosing which higher education options to pursue. Selecting a college should be more about choosing from a blessing of opportunities that will prepare a student to use their God-given talent in meaningful work, and less about some false sense of achievement and guaranteed success.