Is College Necessary for All Christians?

Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.  –Acts 7:22

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written.  –Luke 4:14-17

There is a debate today about whether getting a bachelor’s degree is necessary to set a young person up for financial success. Such views are expressed in Bryan Caplan’s The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money (Princeton University Press, 2019) and by a more moderate view expressed in Ryan Craig’s A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College (2018). This second book is not so anti-college like the first one apparently is; and is endorsed by the co-founder of LinkedIn, various state education leaders, and Jeb Bush. It provides a directory of websites for apprenticeships or internship programs for software coding, which do not require a four-year bachelor’s degree.

I lean more towards Craig’s view: college is beneficial if you choose the right degree, if you have the funds, and if it aligns with your job skills and career goals. But I have personally known about six or seven people who graduated with bachelor’s degrees around 2008 and did not increase their incomes because of their degrees. After about ten years or so, one of them bettered herself by finally getting an additional vocational certification in the healthcare industry. The college degrees they got were too general and not aimed at enhancing productive labor. This contradicts what the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us: misleading us with generalizations and half-truths: that no matter what, if you get a bachelor’s degree of any type, then you will certainly make around $1,305 a week or $67,860 a year after you graduate! No matter what! I think that doctrine is a racket. They lump all bachelor’s degrees together and give you an average, so you have no way of knowing which degrees and jobs are winning and which ones are losing in the business world (see Elka Torpey, “Education pays, 2020,” bls.gov, June 2021).

Vocational certifications may be, for many middle class people, a cheaper and more practical alternative to buying random bachelor’s degrees for their children. This is probably a wiser and more affordable investment in your children’s economic future. Michele Cagan, CPA, has said that for some people, both getting a mortgage and paying tuition for their children’s bachelor’s degrees, can actually hinder people’s financial success, because of all the debt that is incurred by those two things (Budgeting 101, pp. 182, 201-205; personal email, 7/20/22). The parents remain saddled with the home loan well into their retirement; and the kids often graduate with poorly chosen degrees, do not increase their incomes, and live with student loan debt for the entire length of their working lives, as wage slaves in Corporate America. She says, “70% of students graduate with debt” (Michele Cagan, op. cit., p. 182).

Merrill Lynch financial advisors Don Underwood and Paul Brown, say that the “triple threat” of saving for college degrees, retirement, and healthcare for aging parents, makes it darn-near impossible for the lower middle class person to save much for retirement. The reality comes home when they make the point that paying for a child’s four-year bachelor’s degree is like paying for a 30-year mortgage in the space of four years! (Grow Rich Slowly, op. cit., p. 108). It’s astronomical and impossible for the working class person: unless they had the presence of mind to consistently save enough money, since the time the child was born, and they never wavered in the amounts they saved per year until the child turned 18 years of age. If this is you, and your thinking, “There’s no way I would be able to save enough money to put my kids through college, without them turning to college loans, and saddling them with student loan debt for the rest of their lives,” then don’t do it! That’s my recommendation for those people.

Yes, there will always be people who say that children who graduate with any college degree on average will have higher incomes than those with only high school diplomas. But it’s hard for me to believe that as a philosophy grad; and knowing about eight others of my 2008 class, who did not dramatically increase their incomes with English, ministry, music, psychology, mathematics, dance, and physical education degrees, because the jobs they chose to pursue were not engineering, programming, or STEM jobs. That’s the real issue with income gaps and economic inequality in the United States. And it begs the question: doesn’t it seem like the providence of God that some high school graduates have richer parents than others? If providence is not at work in the division of labor in our economy, then what else do you have to explain it? Darwinism calls it natural selection.

The only people who can pay for college degrees, free and clear, without incurring college debts, are the upper middle class and the upper class. Honestly that’s it: and that’s usually the way it’s always been for centuries, unless a student gets lucky, with an academic scholarship. College degrees are a major way that the rich keep wealth transferring down their family lines. And while I won’t say that all pursuits of higher education are inherently immoral, I think that some of them clearly are, which is why godless frats and sororities populate so many of our schools. Entitlement, elitism, snobbery, and “it sucks to be you” type thinking towards the poor, starts to develop as the rich college kid starts to realize how economically privileged his or her family happens to be, when compared with other poorer families. Nothing can be so divisive, not only among adult siblings, friends, and family, as the idea that their one golden child turned out to be a “college boy,” while the other ones didn’t have such favor shown to them.

Then again, in the case of some individuals, it may be the will of God that they complete a certain college degree. Every person’s life is different: but are you sending your kid to college for all the right reasons? Is your kid pursuing their degree for all the right reasons? Is it good for both of you spiritually and economically? It might be a wise choice for some parents, if the money is available; but a foolish choice for others, who guilt themselves with a false responsibility, that they should still send their kids to college, even without enough money.

Don’t imagine that if your kid won’t be able to get a college degree, that it’s a financial death sentence for the child. Western universities have been around since Plato’s Greek academy in the 6th century B.C. There was apparently a college in Jerusalem (2 Kings 22:14, KJV). John Gill suggests this might have been a Jewish seminary. This may be where we get the writings of the prophets from, as they were all literate men, and had books of prophecy named after themselves. We know that Moses, who wrote the first five books of the Bible, had to have been a literate prince, and was “educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). Moses was likely a college man in some way. The apostle Paul “studied under Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3), which means that he was probably educated at the same Jewish seminary in Jerusalem mentioned in 2 Kings 22:14. We know that Jesus could read and the apostles could write: their literacy is an established fact, which is why we have the Bible (Luke 1:1-4; 4:16).   

But just because these men of God could read and write, it doesn’t mean that they earned the equivalent of a four-year bachelor’s degree in the sciences, propelling them ahead of everyone else into a higher income bracket. That might have been just the case with the disciple Luke, who was a physician (Col. 4:14). But when it comes to the Old Testament prophets, Jesus, the apostles, and even the somewhat educationally privileged apostle Paul who “studied under Gamaliel,” we don’t see any evidence that these men pursued college degrees to increase their income status. Instead, they were middle class tradesmen, probably dropping into the lower-middle class, in the building, fishing, and tentmaking industries (Matt. 13:55; Mark 1:16; Acts 18:3). Even a high school education, by today’s standards, is likely better than these men received. But see how they were able to take care of themselves financially. No “bachelor’s degrees” and no big wealth accumulation either. Yet it was by developing their job skills, by apprenticeships under their fathers, that they were able to make the money they needed.

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