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Hither & Yon: When B.A. stands for 'Big Anchor'

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As a parent, there is nothing worse than having a truism you repeated to your children over and over again proven false.

Well, possibly there are worse things but this one is right up there. Remember being told if you went outside with your hair still wet from a shower you would catch a cold?

I can’t recall a time we didn’t tell our kids that their best bet for ensuring an adequate economic future was a college degree. We’d point to studies that showed how an average yearly income rose with education, how a person with a bachelor’s degree could expect to earn double — or more — what someone with a high school diploma earned.

Could you get by for the rest of your life working at jobs that required no special skills, earning minimum wage or just above? Sure, we told them, but it won’t be easy and often won’t be pleasant.

Now, looking at the generations of young people out there now, I just feel stupid. Everything I’ve always held true has disappeared in a puff of pipe dream smoke.

Back in my day (as we oldsters say) and the days of my parents and grandparents, a young person willing to go to a state college, work hard every summer and a bit during the school year, could potentially earn a four-year degree with little to no debt — especially if they started with a small nest egg compiled from high school jobs, grandparent gifts and the like.

Then they progressed through their life (should that be what they want) in a familiar pattern: first job, first car that didn’t need to be pushed to start, a house, perhaps a family.

If you wanted it, made good choices and didn’t mind a bit of sacrifice, it was doable.

Many, many things are different now from the fairyland I built for my kids.

Grants and scholarships for college are few and far between. The income threshold for need-based help with tuition is far higher — the average working class two-income family earns too much for their child to qualify for much of anything.

All college-centered costs have gone up exponentially: tuition, books, housing. Even outright loans are harder to get, come with higher interest and more hoops to jump through.

And here’s the thing that complicates things even more: kids are different. Millennials are a new breed. It’s not so much that they are lazy, as they are often depicted, but they have higher expectations both for their professional and personal life. They feel they deserve more and won’t settle for anything less.

So as nearly all have been sold on the same myth I told my kids, most go to college. They don’t even consider learning a skilled trade, for two reasons: they’ve been told college is the best bang for their buck and because it simply doesn’t sound very rewarding.

Plus, although tuition jumps are making private schools even more expensive than they were before, just as many kids are choosing them — despite the fact that they would likely earn just as much with a history degree from a state school as a fancy private university — if they can find a job in that field in the first place.

Here’s the thing: Young people have to take on so much debt to earn a college degree that in many cases — depending on the school they choose and degree they earned —- they may have been better off had they never gone. They are leaving school with a slip of paper and so much debt they are decades away from being able to afford to buy a home or start a family, travel or pursue a dream. That’s plural. Decades. Because most cannot earn enough in their first post-college jobs to make loan payments of any significance. They do income-based repayments that stretch out beyond a time that any of we parents could ever imagine or they defer payments until they have a decent job, which may not happen for years.

I find myself having conversations with young people today I never thought I would, talks that include topics like dental hygienists, electricians and pipefitters, graphic arts and airplane mechanics. We’ve spent so long brainwashing kids that college was the only viable option for their future, it’s going to take a couple of generations to change that — assuming that we can’t solve the college debt problem and an advanced degree continues to be an anchor, rather than a sailboat.

Leslie Pugmire Hole is the editor of the Wilsonville Spokesman. You can reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..