While the weather can still be hot and humid and the trees are still green, there are signs of autumn’s glorious arrival. The biggest (and most celebrated) indication is the highly anticipated first day of school. Whew, I made it a whole summer without going completely insane (“completely” being a key word) or selling the children on the black market. Score!

This year is a little different for me. As I gather markers, glue sticks and backpacks for the new school year, I am searching for a kind of new start in my own life. After having been a stay-at-home mom for almost 10 years, I have decided – for financial and personal reasons – to go beyond being a mom, wife and part-time writer.

So….get a job. Easy peasy, right? Well, we should all know that is no longer true. In my twenties, I never had difficulty finding work. I was employed by age 14 (babysitting much before that) and I was never without a job. Today, the classifieds are sparse and openings are hard to come by. Competition is fierce in almost every industry.

The jobs I had were certainly not positions that could support a family, but I made enough to live as a single woman. Companies that paid $14 an hour have gone to $10 an hour for the same duties a decade later. Many jobs for which I have recently applied earn little more than the last babysitter I hired.

But what has discouraged and confused me more than anything during these job searches has been the requirement for college degrees for fairly simple positions. Customer service reps needing a bachelor’s degree makes me shake my head in wonder. I worked in customer service for years and there is no way I can imagine how a BA could have helped me.

Now, we’re being told that college is simply not for everyone; that pushing college-for-all is harming our economy and all of the students who will never find careers relevant to their degree. I have heard quite a few people criticize student’s choices and their fancy, worthless degrees; that their failures are of their own doing by following a pretentious scholastic route.

I have to agree that college is indeed not for everyone. And that is okay. There should not be a stigma for deciding to go in another direction. There are many people who would fare better in a technical school, internship or apprenticeship.

Not completing my college degree has filled me with regret, and it’s now that decision is haunting me while I look for work.

College tuition has increased 498.31% since 1985. Another good reason to forgo the college expectation? Possibly. Because worthwhile or not, most people simply cannot afford higher education anymore.

I thought college was an option for me this fall. I applied for financial aid, met with an admissions counselor and picked out some classes. But after looking at the costs and our family’s budget – it became clear that this is simply not a responsible move at this time. And I have to wonder, as I am pushing 40, will this ever be a possibility for me?

We are told college is no longer necessary. Yet, most living-wage jobs require a degree – even if the degree has no bearing on that position.

Earlier this year, Governor Walker stated, “We have to market to younger people that manufacturing jobs and careers are available, and, in fact, are some of the highest paying jobs we have in Wisconsin.” But he said this on the heels of a $70 million cut to technical colleges that offer these courses and training.

The disconnect is glaring yet so few seem to recognize it.

If we are going to send the message that college degrees are not only unnecessary but often times, useless, then we need employers to have realistic and fair expectations. If we are going to celebrate job creation with loud media events, the jobs should come with a living wage and not only those paying $10 an hour. If we are going to make tech schools a viable option, let’s stop voting for people who gut their budgets.

As my kids step into their new classrooms next week, I cannot help but wonder how I will advise them in regards to higher education. Like most parents, I want better for them. I want to guide them away from making the same mistakes I made. I want to do what I can to ensure their bright futures. I do not want them sitting home at the age of 38 wondering what the hell they are going to do with their lives.  It is so difficult not to worry.

Let’s get the message straight on education and follow up with real solutions so that parents can live with a little less concern and so children have some practical and reasonable options.





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