An Open Letter about College…

Dear Parents of Teenagers,

It’s just your friendly, neighborhood thirty-something youth worker here. I know that some of you are already planning and saving for college for your teenager. I applaud you in that. I know that for some of you, getting your student into the “right school” is a huge stress. I get that. As another person in your student’s life that cares for them, I want to share something that can help. It doesn’t look like what everyone else in society is doing, and it may seem a little strange, but there is much about following Christ that fits both of the preceding statements.

As a youth worker, my calling is to help you as parents fulfill Deuteronomy 6:4-9. I am on your team. My job is to help you speak God’s truth into the lives of your students. To “be in their corner” when maybe no one else in their life seems to be pointing them to truth. I am here to help.

A couple of first questions:

1) Do you want to see your student prepared for life after college and succeed in their early adult life?

2) Do you want to see your student start life after college without being shackled by piles of student loan debt?

Any parent that cares for their child is going to answer “Yes!” to both. So let’s approach this in a way that can reduce your stress and help equip your student to boldly chase what God has called them to do in their life.

Is your child cut out for college? I do not mean this in the least as a rude, condescending question. The fact is that some students have passions wired into them that require little or no post high school education to make their life. Pushing someone like this into a four-year college is a waste of time and money. For example, My older brother is a welder. A very good one. He won a contest in high school that gave him a lot of free tuition at the local community college welding department. He has worked at several companies (his current one for several years) and has made a life for himself. He has worked on VERY LARGE mining equipment to make repairs or help fabricate replacement parts.

Maybe your student just needs a certificate from a local trade school to do what they feel led to do in life. Give your student permission to prayerfully go this track. If they decide later that a college degree will enhance what they are already doing in their career, You can cross that bridge when you get there.

Time is not of the essence. In the rat-race of essays, guidance counselors, admissions personnel, and slick college marketing packets, It’s so easy to see those “4 year degree tracks” and get sucked in. I can tell you from experience, that if your student makes their degree in 4 years, you should applaud them. However, more and more students are extending that time for good (and not so good) reasons. Some are changing majors midstream, deciding that they course they had set from day one of college was not going to work. Others are taking a lighter load in order to work, so they can graduate with less student loan debt. I did both. I finished my BS in 6.5 years, graduating with Magna Cum Laude (Second highest honors) with only $10,000 in student loan debt… From a private university! There is one key that made this happen.

Imagine the job interviews… “So you took 6 or 7 years to finish college, but worked like crazy to fund it so you could have the degree in your hand with zero debt?”… “That’s the kind of work ethic we need here!”… Hired!

Utilizing the Community College System. My first three years of that time period was spent in the ivy techCommunity College System in Illinois. I was able to take classes that would transfer to several different Bachelor’s Degree tracks for a fraction of what it cost at a State University. I was able to live at home with parents and commute, saving room and board. I was also able to schedule classes where I could take 15 credit hours in two days a week (long days, but it worked). By doing that, I was able to work a significant number of hours at my job, allowing me to “pay as I go” as I completed the first portion of college. Things like English, Math, Literature, and Business classes all transferred to the Private University I attended. In fact, I brought in a two year degree in Business, which allowed me to only have to take one more class to fill out a Minor in Business Administration!

In Indiana, they have done a great job aligning the community college with the state schools to allow the students to do a 2+2 for many majors. They take two years of community college to get general education requirements, then they go to a state university to complete specialized majors. They have made satellite learning centers all over the state. In fact, there is even one where I live in a town of 2500 people.

Check what will transfer. My wife took a little different path than I did, with similar results. She had her mind on a teaching degree. She started in Community college, but discovered that only the classes she took in her first three semesters were going to transfer. So instead of “wasting” a semester to get a two-year degree before transferring, she transferred to the four-year university at three semesters, and completed a Bachelor’s degree in 5 years, while working part time. She planned ahead for what was coming up, and worked her plan.

Don’t pay for the name.  There are many that would argue that degrees from prestigious colleges are worth more. That may be the case for a Princeton/Harvard/Yale/Stanford, but beyond that, I call “Hogwash”. Employers seeking a degree in the field are going to look at how you did in class and whether you went to class, instead of where you went to school. There are many schools that feel that they can charge a premium, just because of who they are (or were). This is not just state schools. There are Christian Colleges that also do this.

Would I love to see many students get a Christ-centered education, so they can be prepared to be a generation that changes our society? Yes. Would I like to see that at the expense of them spending the first 20 years (!) of life after college paying off student loan debt? No.

Parents, I want to see you and your family be different. In a way that honors God with the resources He has blessed you with. I want to see your students leaving the nest in a way that they can follow the dreams that God has placed in their hearts to serve Him in vivid, society-altering ways. These are decisions that can affect whole family trees.

Let’s do this.

Signed, Your Youth Worker.

 would you like to know more? Dave Ramsey has some excellent tips here on college…

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Brent Lacy

Youth Pastor. Web Designer. Homeschool Dad. Former Child Abuse Investigator. IT Technician. Writer. Lock-in Survivor. Rural Ministry Advocate. These all describe the experiences and stories that are part of Brent Lacy’s time in ministry. Brent grew up on 160 acres of corn, soybeans and cattle in Southern Illinois. He is currently a Rural Ministry Specialist with National Network of Youth Ministry (NNYM), based in Rockville, Indiana where he lives with his beautiful wife and three awesome kids in the Covered Bridge Capital of the World! His book "Rural Youth Ministry: Thrive Where You're Planted" is available at SimplyYouthMinistry.com and on the Kindle Store.

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